29 May 2024, 12:15
By Colin Watson May 04, 2016

Building a brand #1 – Personality

Since it was established in 1970, the BCFA has observed the impact of various brand tactics on members’ value – both that which is perceived by customers and stakeholders, and financially. In this series of articles, the association will explore various elements of branding and the effect of each on company value, starting with brand personality …

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘brand’ as “a particular identity or image regarded as an asset” – and a brand’s personality, the characteristics and qualities which distinguish it from others, is arguably its greatest asset.

Every other element in the branding arsenal hinges on this, and the individual components which make up a brand’s DNA cannot be developed unless it is defined.

But what are the secrets behind a winning brand personality? How is it identified, developed and enforced? Is it something which can be created or, like our own identities, are aspects of it out of our control?

Brand building is, for many of us, a constant concern, especially in the social media-driven and consistently connected 21st century, and we are all working to create and project a certain image – whether on behalf of our company, our clients, or that 21st century phenomenon, brand ‘I’.

Over the past 45 years we have had the opportunity to work with top brands, from multinationals to successful start-ups, and have observed what we feel is the molecular make-up of a strong brand personality. Here, we take a look at these elements, reflecting on how, although some are very much of our time, others are timeless, and asking how, and if, a winning brand personality can be created. 

The importance of identity
Defining its identity is the most important thing a brand will do. Without outlining its values, beliefs and the key words which encapsulate it, it is impossible for a company to even contemplate exterior trappings such as websites and logos.

Just like when we are asked to describe ourselves, however, or are shocked to hear a recording of our own voice, sometimes our own identity is most difficult to recognise. What has become clear, is that however a brand’s personality and values are identified, it is crucial that these are honest and consistent. No matter what time or place, these are the building blocks for branding success. 

There are some characteristics which are particularly important in the interiors arena – design and innovation are two. Other values have grown in importance in recent years, illustrating how societal and cultural changes can affect the characteristics customers prize most. A growing awareness of, and interest in, climate change since the 1980s means sustainability is becoming central to an increasing number of companies’ identities.

Heritage is another value which has become increasingly important across all sectors. Provenance has become progressively prized, as a general distrust of brands, big business and politics has grown, and companies are now working hard to show they can be trusted.

It is interesting to note that the values of some of the world’s top global names including Google and Honda, feature the word ‘trust’. Heritage is one characteristic which works to reassure customers, suggesting a mutually beneficial relationship rather than selfish short-term gain.

Identifying the right target market 
Once a brand’s identity has been established, it can then work to identify its customer base. What has become clear, however, is that the most successful brands attract not just one type of customer.

Although a brand’s values stay the same, the type of person drawn to these can vary, and brands must use this to their advantage to thrive.

Brands must also move with the times and changing needs of their customers. Although its core values must stay constant, companies must adapt to be guaranteed a lengthy life span.

“Just like when we are asked to describe ourselves, or are shocked to hear a recording of our own voice, sometimes our own identity is most difficult to recognise”

The words a brand uses to define its personality do not need to be solely descriptive, and can be aspirational, focusing on the emotional response it wishes to elicit. Apple is one brand which reaches customers in this way – each product embodies an aspirational lifestyle, yet is designed to meet the real needs of its users.      

Although many believe the criteria which defines a brand must be truly unique, we have not found this to be necessarily true. Even if brand values are identical on paper, each company’s heart and soul will be different and therefore, like each individual, unique. A brand’s ‘soul’ will always shine through, and although this is perhaps beyond design, if honest it will endure.

A consistent persona breeds credibility
Once identified, a brand’s personality must remain constant. Faltering on adhering to values equates to breaking the customers’ trust, which is difficult – if not impossible – to forgive. It is also important for a brand’s personality to be conveyed consistently across all channels. This will build brand recognition and a company’s personality, as well as grow trust.

The benefits and impact of a consistent and credible personality can be measured in brand value – both that which is perceived by customers and stakeholders, and financially. The benefits may evidence themselves in a number of ways, including through awards, on the balance sheet and by entering new markets.

The value a strong personality adds to a company can be seen on the balance sheet – but perhaps the most important is the connection the customer feels with the company, and the enduring loyalty this secures.

Defining your brand and target market – a few tips
As well as using words to describe your brand, it can also be useful to imagine it is a person and consider its characteristics. Also, consider the emotions you would like your brand to inspire – you can then ensure your personality evokes these in customers.

It does not need to be only a company’s leaders who identify its values – employees and even current customers can be asked what they consider its characteristics to be.

When it comes to identifying your target market, writing down the benefits and uses of your product and identifying the type of person with most need for these is a useful way to work out which market is likely to be most receptive.

Once identified, obtain feedback from your customer base. This will confirm that the market is correct, and should yield interesting findings. Do not dismiss other markets – multiple customer bases may align with your brand.

Colin Watson is an industry consultant, and former MD of the British Contract Furnishing Association (BCFA), which boasts over 250 members including manufacturers, suppliers and designers. Part two, exploring brand beliefs, will follow next week.

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