Nailing down exactly what defines a brand can be tricky. Is it defined by fonts, colors, graphics and logos? Is it defined by the words and tone in the written and verbal messaging? What exactly does a brand represent anyway? A brand persona can help us define that and we’ll get to that in just a bit.
A brand is not unlike an individual’s personality. In its highest form a brand reflects the core beliefs of the company, person or products it represents much like our personality reflects our personal beliefs. The most enduring brands are the ones that have a clearly defined set of beliefs and values. In other words they are clear about what they stand for. More importantly it’s clear to their audience and this is where true brand loyalty comes from. Does your audience know what your brand stands for?
“Why” is Why People Buy Into a Brand.
“People don’t buy what you do, the buy why you do it.” according to Simon Sinek, author of Start With the Why. We can find proof of this in brands like Apple, Nike, Southwest Airlines and Red Bull. Brands that have a clear sense of self transcend the superficial layers of typography, design or color schemes and engage people on a much deeper and emotional level.
Look at any point of consumer contact from Apple and it’s easy to see what they believe in: design, simplicity, quality and challenging the status quo. Everything they create reflects these values and yet each touch point, whether packaging, website, display, TV commercial, or advertisement does it without the need to look exactly alike. Because of this clear sense of why they are free to explore different ways of communicating and still create a seamless experience across all points of interaction. Few brands enjoy the loyalty given Apple by consumers because of this clarity.
Red Bull and Nike are also great at pulling this off, each in their own unique ways. While Red Bull leans heavily on their color scheme throughout their campaigns, it’s the adventurous lifestyle they embody that truly defines their brand. Go to any event, look at any advertisement or commercial and it’s not the red and blue of the brand that stays with you it’s the excitement generated within us that resonates.
Nike tells us to “Just Do It.” They believe that getting out and being active is the key to living a great life. Every touch point they put in the face of consumers communicates this loud and clear. It doesn’t matter whether images, fonts or colors are identical so long as it comes across that you get out and get active. They, like Apple, can now just place a logo in an appropriate context and set an expectation for the consumer experience.
The Face of a Brand
When we think of these brands and others like them that have strong “personalities” it almost possible to envision an actual person for each. Hell, Apple even went and put a face, other than Steve Jobs, to their brand for a while. The Mac Guy embodied many of Apple’s core values, mostly notably that of challenging the status quo. He let us know that computers don’t have to be complicated to use, that they could in fact fit into our lives like an easy-going friend.
Can you envision a person that embodies the essence of your brand? If not, then you likely are not completely clear on why your brand exists. When I say why I’m not talking about the obvious “so we can make money”, that’s a given, I’m talking about a deeper meaning like “to challenge the status quo” (Apple) or “to be the low-fare airline” (Southwest). These beliefs serve the audience and in turn the companies prosper.
Every decision that’s made by a Southwest Airline employee is evaluated against the core belief “the low-fare airline” to see if it delivers on the promise of the brand. Clarity of purpose benefits both company and consumer alike by establishing expectations.
Brand Personas Can Help
In UX design we often create user personas that describe an archetypal user that reflects the personality, character traits, and behaviors of our target audience. Aaron Walter introduced us to design personas to help humanize our sites and imbue them with personality in order to engage visitors on a more emotional level. Brand personas can offer many of the same benefits to building a brand that builds consumer loyalty.
A brand persona should detail the qualities that define the core beliefs and values, personality, and aesthetics of the brand. We can think of the beliefs and values as the “why” of the brand. The personality will describe “how” it communicates those beliefs and values. Finally the aesthetics are “what” we show people.
Every one can likely tell you “what” their company does or produces. Some can even tell you “how” they do it. But it’s when a company and more importantly it’s employee’s can tell you “why” they do what they do that you stand on the threshold of true success. Delivering a clear and compelling “why” to your audience, beyond the fact that you want to make a butt-load of money, is the most direct way of creating brand loyalty.
As individuals we each have our own personal set of beliefs and values and they shape how we interact with others. They influence whether we’re playful and light-hearted or serious and straight-forward or somewhere in between. This is what we usually refer to as our personality. Our personality then manifests itself in how we present ourselves through behavior and outward appearances. How we speak to others, how we act around them, our choice of clothing, hair style, the car we drive, our hobbies and much, much more are all reflections of our personality, beliefs and values. When we live a congruent life, one where our beliefs and values, personality, and aesthetic all align, it’s easier for people to trust and engage with us. They know where we stand and in turn where they stand.
If we take the time to detail out these key attributes of a brand and ensure that the beliefs and values, personality, and aesthetics align we can build a brand that builds trust. Trust is what transforms a transaction between two parties into an engaging relationship where both sides benefit.
How to Build a Brand Persona
- Start a brand persona by clearly defining “why” your brand exists. What are the core beliefs and values of the brand? Be explicit and honest here. Any ambiguity will leave your audience unsure of your intentions and untrusting of your brand. If your only value is to make money, then best you can hope for is to manipulate their behavior through discounts and special offers. Ultimately they’ll leave your brand when someone else comes along with a better deal or more clear and compelling why.
- Develop a full personality profile of your brand based on the companies beliefs and values. If your brand were a person how would it talk to others about itself? Would it be friendly and casual or serious and business-like? Remember, no one likes someone that brags about themselves all the time. Spewing all your feature and benefit statements and why you’re so wonderful at your audience won’t win you loyal fans. Think about the people you like to engage with, maybe even call your friend. Ensure your brand knows how to converse with others rather than speak at them.
- Describe your brands aesthetic much like you would describe a personal wardrobe collection. Your fonts, colors, graphics and images should reflect a palette of choices not a few specific ones. Let me be clear though, you should definitely define the ideal look for your brand, like a personal power outfit. I’m talking about that outfit, suit or dress that makes you feel absolutely unstoppable and confident when you put it on. But that’s not the only choice in your wardrobe, is it? Like your wardrobe, your brand can have many outfits that still clearly reflect what the brand is all about without getting boring and repetitive.
Be sure to share the brand persona with everyone in your organization and make sure that they are all in agreement with it. If you have team members that don’t believe in the persona they will likely fail to execute a congruent user experience across touch points.
Better yet, developed the brand persona openly and in collaboration with all core team members and then some. The more involved your team is in the development of the brand persona the more clear they will be when they move on to developing the consumer touch points they’re responsible for. This will lead to a more cohesive overall brand experience.
If you’re looking to build a lasting relationship with your audience you need to be crystal clear why you do what you do. That’s what people are buying in a brand. You need to be congruent in every point of contact with your audience, beliefs and values, personality and aesthetics must be aligned. Your brand’s front facing appearance should reflect its personality which in turn should clearly communicate its beliefs and values.
Take your time and dig deep. People want to know they are getting involved with others that believe as they do. Don’t be afraid to get personal. The more people can relate to your brand the deeper the relationship between them and your brand.