Your brand personality is a combination of factors - customer experience, core values and business ethics. And as Natalie Calvert explains, brand personality is now your main tool to differentiate from your competitors.
It’s very difficult to differentiate a business today. Product development and manufacturing costs are expensive, meaning that often outsourcing is the only cost-effective way to build and ship stock. Global competition and the internet mean it is very difficult to compete purely by virtue of inhabiting a particular region. Any business, anywhere in the world, can compete with yours.
It’s arguably even harder for service providers. These businesses can only succeed if they have a cost-effective proposition backed by a high standard of customer service, otherwise they will never retain any customers. For these, and indeed all organisations, the traditional business differentiators are fading and are being replaced by something new: brand personality.
What is brand personality?
When we consider a brand, many people think in terms of logo/colour scheme/strap-line. However, the more enlightened understand that a brand is about much more. It's about passionate people infusing values and a vision into the organisational structure. It's about how a business 'feels' and interacts with customers. It's much, MUCH more than a logo. And it also happens to present your business with its best opportunity to stand out from the crowd and establish a loyal customer base.
Have you ever encountered a brand that you feel an immediate affinity with? A brand that makes you think “these are my kind of people”? That happens because that organisation has used branding that reflects and communicates its values, its people and its understanding of you as a customer. This is very difficult to do, but the impact is immediately powerful. It ‘talks’ to you as a customer and draws you in, often to a long-term relationship.
Let’s break this down phenomenon into its constituent parts.
Brand promise and values
The first elements you noticed about an organisation are what it’s offering you and the ‘feel’ of the brand.
As already mentioned, few organisations have a unique “what,” e.g. the service or the product, making differentiation very difficult. The proposition either appeals to the audience or not. The ‘feel’ is where things start to get more interesting. The visuals and wording that comprise the brand only deliver a positive customer reaction if they are aligned with something authentic. This means you can’t just have a pithy advertising campaign. The approach and values that underpin an organisation must be conveyed in the brand. In other words, customers respond positively when they sense authenticity. Like meeting a 'fake' person, brands can quickly fail if they feel disingenuous.
However, a skilful marketing company can present a false impression here. Good marketing can showcase a brand and give it the characteristics, look and feel that appeals to customers. But while this may hook in customers, the true personality of the business defines whether they stay as a customer.
Once the brand has caught the attention of the customer, the next stage kicks in. They are likely to visit the website and try to do something: learn more, answer a question, or hopefully subscribe/buy something. And this is where personality begins to emerge. How easy was it to do these things? How well did the brand communicate? And the customer digs deeper, is the promise of the brand delivered?
You might think that problems at this stage are caused by bad website design. In other words, a technical issue. But this is a misconception. Strong brands ensures that their ‘voice’ - the same voice used to attract the customer to the website in the first place - is used on the website. Therefore, the website will be designed, managed and maintained by the people who understand the personality of the business. This means that whatever the customer tries to do, the response will reflect the personality of the business.
This is a tricky concept to understand for many businesses. who consider business elements such as branding, marketing, and web design to be separate from customer experience. All of these elements - and indeed many others departments such as fulfilment, billing, and customer support, which directly affect the customer, are what ultimately define the personality of the business.
Customer support is critical
Clearly, the customer support experience is critical to defining the brand personality. After all, the in-store interaction, phone call or chat session are often the only time the customer actually speaks to the business directly. This will have massive influence on the brand personality that either builds a connection with the customer, or alienates them. But it’s crucial that organisations understand that just as the customer experience is defined by myriad factors, not just a shop worker, or contact centre agent, brand personality is a far more complex, multi-faceted element.
In fact, the brand personality arguably is the visible manifestation of EVERYTHING that organisation does. It is by seeing the inner workings of the business - its methods, its values, its outlook and crucially the people that power it - that we ultimately decide whether to not to be a customer. And this is why brand personality has become the primary business differentiator.