This article is sponsored by Briteweb.
What is brand personality—and why is it important?
If your organization were a person, what would they be like? How would they look, speak and move? Would they be the life of the party, or more subdued?
These questions might seem silly, but in nonprofit branding, they’re anything but. In fact, when we do stakeholder interviews for a brand strategy project, they’re among the most important questions we ask.
Why? Because they’re helpful in understanding and articulating an organization’s brand personality: how it looks, how it acts and how it makes people feel. Brand personality is one of the most important components of a brand strategy, for a couple of reasons.
First, in a saturated market, it can be difficult for an organization to differentiate itself on services or products alone. The difference between similar organizations might be negligible. Brand personality is one way you can differentiate from your competitors and stake a claim in the hearts and minds of customers and donors. Consider LensCrafters and Warby Parker. If you’re familiar with these brands, you’ll know that they both sell eyeglasses. You could probably find virtually identical products at both retailers. But their brands are about as different as can be—in large part because of how they show up on their websites, in their stores, everywhere. That’s brand personality.
The second reason is a big one: brand consistency. Brand personality touches every part of the brand experience, from your logo to your colors to your style—even the way your staff answers the phone. When each of these things is derived from the same core principles, they make for a consistent brand. Research shows that consistency breeds familiarity, and familiarity breeds trust. And what’s more important to a nonprofit brand than trust?
When I’m leading nonprofit brand strategy workshops, I often use the analogy of a person at a party. If you met someone who was shy and reserved, then two minutes later you witnessed them interacting with someone in a loud and brash manner, you’d likely be confused. You might question their authenticity—which one was the “real” one? Or is there a real one? An inconsistent brand can have the same effect: turning people off, or driving them away. In contrast, consistent brands are magnetic.
What is a brand archetype?
When defining a brand personality, some agencies simply refer to a list of character traits. Traits can be helpful, but it’s hard to picture a three-dimensional person from a list of characteristics. And the more vividly your team can conjure the “person” associated with your brand personality, the more deeply they’ll understand them. They’ll be able to consistently bring them to life throughout your organization.
That’s where brand archetypes come in. The good news is, even if you’ve never heard the term “brand archetype” until right now, they’re not actually new to you. You already have a deep understanding of them without even realizing it. If I say “jester,” you can automatically picture that figure. The same goes for damsel in distress, warrior or activist—they’re archetypes.
According to both comparative anthropology and Jungian theory, an archetype is a figure or symbol that consistently recurs in literature, painting and mythology, across cultures and throughout time. When we encounter these familiar figures in art, literature, religion or advertising,or in individuals, groups or organizations,they evoke deep feelings within us.
How can I utilize brand archetypes?
There are dozens of well-established archetypes. When we’re working on a brand personality for a client, we consult a book called Archetypes in Branding. The book has 12 archetype families: the Maverick, the Jester, the Lover, the Nurturer, the Regular Guy, the Innocent, the Ruler, the Sage, the Magician, the Hero, the Creator and the Explorer. Each of these families has five archetypes within it, for a total of 60 well-established archetypes.
Because we all have a shared understanding of these well-established types, your brand archetype will ensure your team is on the same page with your brand personality.
I’ve seen for myself how a brand archetype can affect not only marketing communications, but organizational culture. I was once in an operations meeting with an organization for whom we’d done brand strategy. When it came time to make a decision, the team was at an impasse. Then the CEO suddenly said, “Wait. Let’s take a step back. What would the Innovator do?”
As a brand strategist, that was music to my ears.
Examples of archetypes in branding
If great brands are consistent brands, and brand personality is a means of ensuring brand consistency, it should come as no surprise that some of the world’s great brands have clear brand archetypes that guide how they appear to the world.
Below are the brand archetypes for three top-tier brands. See if you can guess which companies match these archetypes.
First, let’s look at the Magician archetype. The Magician wants to create new and exciting experiences for customers. Not content to simply make an existing product or service better, they want to change the world and make the impossible possible. Their goal is to make dreams come true.
Sound familiar? Can you guess which world-famous brand is embodied by the Magician?
Next, the Hero. The Hero also wants to make a difference, but in a different way. They seek to overcome injustices and problems faced by those around them. The Hero is a lot less subtle than the magician, telling the world about their accomplishments and constantly seeking ways to prove themselves.
What brand or brands does this remind you of?
Finally, the Rebel—otherwise known as the “Outlaw” or the “Revolutionary.” Rebel brands are committed to challenging the status quo and creating a unique path for themselves and their customers. In so doing, they often inspire a cult-like following.
Can you think of any brands that embody the Rebel?
Here’s a clue: these are the brand archetypes for Nike, Harley Davidson and Disney.
If you guessed that Disney is the Magician, Nike is the Hero and Harley Davidson is the Rebel, you’re right. And the fact that you were able to figure it out is no accident. That’s branding—and specifically brand personality—done well. Done brilliantly, actually.
And though these are all for-profit mega-brands, brand authenticity and consistency is no less important to you than it is to them, whether you have a team of four or 400.
I’m sold. I want a brand archetype. How do I do it?
When undertaking a brand strategy process, we usually recommend working with an agency. Having an objective team with some distance from the organization can help you understand how both internal and external stakeholders experience your brand. Brand agencies are also specialists in brand personality and how it fits in with the rest of your brand assets.
If you choose to do your brand strategy yourself, asking yourself the questions above is a great start. Asking your colleagues and some friends of the organization—like longtime supporters and volunteers—will also give you a broader perspective. This will help to more clearly understand what your organization looks and feels like from the outside.
Questions to ask yourself
- If our brand were a person, what kind of person would they be? How would they act? Speak? Move? What character traits would people use to describe them?
- If our brand were a person, what would their relationship to our most important stakeholders be? A friend? A mentor or coach? A colleague? A boss? A peer? An ally?
- How does our brand want to make our most important stakeholders feel?
- What are the archetypes of our major competitors or closest peers? (If it’s impossible to guess, they might have brand personality inconsistency).
- If money and reality were no object, and you could hire anyone in the world, alive or dead, fictional or real, to be your organization’s spokesperson, who would it be? Why them? What about them makes them a good representative of your organization?
Once you’ve asked yourself, your team and your stakeholders these questions, we recommend using the Archetypes in Branding book to find an archetype that feels like your organization. If you need to tweak an archetype or combine a couple of archetypes to create the right fit, that works, too. There are no rules—what matters is that you establish a brand personality that feels authentic, then stick to it, always.
Whether you’re looking for some additional support, have questions or want someone to take the lead, feel free to drop me a line. I’d be happy to help!