I often use analogies that refer back to high school because those years are so relatable and impactful in regards to the trajectory of a person’s life. In fact, a study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that an individuals’ social status in high school has a sizable affect on their earnings as an adult.
The social dynamics of high school students not only have a significant impact on their earning potential as adults—they also play a huge role in the development of their character.
So, since something that most people would probably perceive as insignificant such as a person’s popularity and personality in high school could have an impact on how much money that they earn as an adult—I think it’s pretty obvious that a personality for a brand would also have an effect on its earning potential.
And while many branding experts are staunch followers of social psychologist Dr. Jennifer Aaker’s five brand personality dimension model—I believe that a more relatable template for cultivating a personality for a brand is to simply recall your high school days and think of some of the personalities of your former classmates.
Here’s a fun way to do that to create a great brand personality for your startup.
How do you see yourself?
Think back to your very first day of high school. If it was anything like mine—you probably were a nervous wreck the first time you stepped foot on campus as a freshman. The reason why most of us were so nervous on our first day in high school is the same reason why most startup founders are so nervous when they first start their new business—you’re not exactly sure where you’ll fit in amongst your peers, and whether you'll be accepted or not.
But in both high school and entrepreneurship—you’ll realize fairly early that there really wasn’t anything to be all that nervous about… especially once you understand who you are and how you want to be perceived.
In branding, like in high school—perception is everything. The way that others perceive your brand will have an enormous effect on the way that they’ll treat you, as well as what they’ll expect from you. Before you can create a brand personality—you must first have a vision of what makes your brand special. Then, be prepared to tell the world.
“Branding is about taking the image you hold of yourself or your company and turning it into society’s collective vision about you.” Says author Gregory V. Diehl, in his book, Brand Identity Breakthrough.
When you have a clear understanding of the way you see your brand, you can then identify what makes it different from the others in its class. Do you see your brand as outgoing? Preppy? Astute? Nerdy? Hip? Quirky? Rebellious?
Once you have a clear vision of the way you see your brand—you can begin taking the actions necessary to create a brand personality that’ll ensure your target audience will view your brand the way that you’d like them to. However, to do that—you must identify your target audience. One way to do that is by answering the following question.
Where do you want to sit?
Brand positioning is also similar to your very first day of high school. How, you ask? Think back again to your very first lunch break in high school. Can you recall how anxious you were? Your anxiety levels were probably at an all-time high because it was at that moment—you had to make a decision that would likely set the stage for how the next few years of your high school experience would turn out.
That decision was… you guessed it—where should you sit? And more importantly—who should you sit with?
The group of people that you sit with for lunch initially has a huge impact on your social status in high school. Do you sit with the athletes or mathletes? The cheerleaders or the chess club? Those that'll be in the running for class valedictorian or class clown? A pretty big decision for an adolescent to make.
As a founder, you’ll also have to make a similar decision where you want your brand to sit…in the mind of your ideal audience that is. To do that, start by thinking of the types of people that you’d most like for your brand to serve. In other words, who are the people that you’d want your brand to appeal to the most?
What are they into? What do they like? What do they dislike? How do they make money?
Once you have the answers to these questions—it becomes much easier to craft a brand personality that’ll appeal to them. A brand personality that they'll embrace as a friend. A brand personality that would be deemed relevant enough to their interests that it would be invited to sit at their proverbial table.
Who’s being ignored?
If you’re having a difficult time deciding exactly which group of people that you’d want your brand to appeal to, and therefore—cannot figure out a personality that would resonate with them. Don’t worry, I’ve got the perfect shortcut for you.
A great hack to find the crowd to align your brand with (one that would also help students make friends in high school lunchrooms) is simply this—look around for the people that are being ignored—then, shower them with attention.
In just about every high school, there’s a number of students that are ignored by the students in the primary groups because their personalities don’t align with what bonds those groups together. These students are considered misfits.
In every industry, there’s also a group of consumers that are being ignored by the primary brands. These consumers are waiting for a brand to come along that’ll address their needs and speak directly to them. The popular brands have neglected these consumers—which is a great thing for your startup.
Once you identify these misfits—think of a personality and an approach that would be most appealing to them. As authors and branding experts Tonya Eberhart and Michael Carr say, “If you don’t know who you are talking to, you won’t know what to say.”
One of the best examples of a brand that identified a group of people that were being ignored by bigger brands and cultivated a brand personality that would appeal to them is ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s.
After opening their first ice cream parlor in Burlington, Vermont in 1979, the brand’s founders—childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield identified that there wasn’t a company in the U.S. market that publicly used its power to speak to consumers that cared about social issues. The duo decided to use their ice cream to connect with people and communicate with those that also believe in justice, equality, and fairness.
By choosing to openly discuss progressive issues—Ben & Jerry’s created a personality for their brand that those who also support those issues could relate to. These days, whenever most people hear the name Ben & Jerry’s—they either think of an ice cream brand with cool flavors. Or, they think of a brand that speaks to those that are against injustice and inequality—a group that other brands had previously ignored.
Putting it all together
Now that you have an understanding of what your brand is and how you’d like it to be perceived by your selected audience. It’s time for the most fun part of the process of creating a brand personality—putting it all together to create an avatar for your startup.
To do that, take the following components into consideration and combine them to build an avatar that’ll encapsulate every aspect of how your brand will communicate with your audience:
Do you want your audience to view your brand as serious, humorous, exciting, or insipid? The answer to this question will determine just how you’ll communicate with your audience moving forward.
Does your brand have an opinion on social issues like Ben & Jerry’s does? Is there a wrong in the world that your brand could make right? Or, do you simply want your brand to only be viewed by your audience as a financial transaction for the goods or services you’re selling?
The answer to this question will determine whether or not your brand will speak out on certain social issues that are sure to arise.
If your brand was a person, how old would you like for it to be? Would it be male or female? What would be its hobbies? Who would be its favorite actor? Who would be your brand’s hero? Which celebrity would be its best friend? What other brands would it associate with?
Once you have the answers to those questions—use them as a muse that’ll influence every image that your brand presents to the public.
Regardless of which target audience that your brand aims to appeal to—that audience will have its own aspirations. And as a founder or brand manager, it’s your job to understand the aspirations of your audience and align them with your brand's personality to help make their aspirations a reality. As Gregory V. Diehl said, “Find out what people want and then emphasize those aspects of our brand’s personality.”
Creating a personality for a brand is absolutely one of the more entertaining aspects of building a business. But it’s also one that is very tedious. That’s due to the fact that it’s so important to get it right initially. As the old adage goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression—so it’s imperative that you make the first one count.
After creating a brand personality for your startup—be prepared to stick with it because consumers that’ll gravitate towards your brand will do so mostly in part to what your brand represents to them—which is why consistency is so crucial.
Lastly, keep in mind that whether chosen or not—every brand will always have its own personality in the mind of its audience. As a founder and brand manager, take the initiative of directing the way the public will perceive your brand by intentionally creating and assigning it an appealing personality that'll make it the most popular... amongst those that count the most—which is your target audience.