How personality helps in differentiating brands

Consumers prefer those brands which symbolize those personality traits that customers already have or aspire to have

How personality helps in differentiating brands
Personality is an intangible differentiator that connects with people emotionally

By Harsh Pamnani

Over the years, superhero movies have gained monumental popularity. Superheroes such as Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, and others have become influential brand names with a huge fan following. They are supremely talented, possess extraordinary powers, use their talents to do good for the world, and win over supervillains. Though they have the mentioned commonalities, they also have many dissimilarities. Superheroes appear differently, speak differently, look differently, think, and behave differently.

For instance, Iron Man wears a red and gold armor suit and demonstrates traits like bold risk-taking ability, imagination, caring nature, and a sense of humor. On the other hand, Hulk is a green-skinned, hulking, and muscular character who usually portrays a high anger level. Every superhero has a strong, distinctive personality, which enables them to tap into their target audience’s emotions. Sometimes, to imitate the characters they admire, children even dress in their favorite superhero costumes. To sum up, people connect with personalities, and different personality traits can be more or less appealing to different people.

Like in the case of superheroes, personality is an essential dimension in the case of brands. A brand personality can provoke imagery associations defined by adjectives like sophisticated, caring, tough, and friendly; demographic characteristics like gender (masculine or feminine), age (mature or young), social class (elite or mass), and so on. For instance, a sophisticated personality relates well with Mercedes-Benz, and toughness relates well with Mahindra Scorpio.

Let me explain why personality is vital for a brand. In any category, there are multiple competing brands. Chances are, a brand’s offering is similar to that of competition’s. It is difficult for a brand to continuously differentiate itself on tangible benefits. So, a brand also needs to differentiate itself on intangible benefits that are extremely difficult to copy. Personality is an intangible differentiator that connects with people emotionally. The sharper the personality, the more is its effectiveness. Let’s have a look at how personality could differentiate a brand:

Personality can build a relationship beyond the product:

The way we spend time with people we like, we spend time with brands we like. A brand that makes us feel “this is my kind of” connects with us better. For instance, in carbonated drinks, a divide between diehard fans of Pepsi, Coke, and Thumps Up has always existed. If we look in terms of taste, Pepsi has a citrus flavor. It is sweeter than Coke, which has a raisin and vanilla flavor. Thums Up is known for its stronger, fizzier, and slightly spicier flavor. In terms of personality, Coke can be perceived as happy and playful, and Pepsi is often perceived as more young. Not only in taste but also in personality, Thums Up differs a lot from Pepsi and Coke. Thums Up can be perceived as bold, confident, adventurous, and masculine.

Personality can establish a brand as something for someone:

Consumers prefer those brands which symbolize those personality traits that customers already have or aspire to have. Earlier, a watch was just an instrument for showing time. Gradually, it has become an expression of one’s personality. To cater to various market segments, Titan has created different watch brands such as Raga for progressive Indian woman, Fastrack for irreverent youth, Sonata for value-conscious consumer, Nebula for affluent and luxury-seeking consumer, Aviator is a collection of sportier and masculine watches targeting youngsters, and Zoop is designed keeping in mind the playfulness, vivid imagination and the cool attitude exhibited by today’s children.

Personality can create a community around a brand:

Renowned psychologist Henri Tajfel and John Turner introduced the social identity theory, which states that your self-image is defined in part by the social groups you consider yourself to be part of. Let me share an interesting example of a campaign that helped people to associate themselves with a self-image. From 2006 to 2009, Apple ran the “Get a Mac” campaign. In this, a man dressed in casual clothes personified as young, creative, and attractive presents himself as an Apple Macintosh computer. Another man in a suit, personified as formal and polite, presents himself as a Microsoft Windows personal computer. The ads played on Mac OS’s strengths and the perceived weaknesses of non-Mac personal computers. After the start of this campaign, Mac sales picked up significantly.

Personality can help a brand stand out in a saturated market:

When a market gets saturated, room for growth can become extremely limited. However, if a brand can make customers feel different, then it could attract people using a competing brand. In India, there are numerous detergent brands catering to the premium, mass, and lower end of the market. Earlier, communication from various brands covered tangible benefits such as dirt removal, whitening, fragrance, etc. But, over time, brands have started communicating more about emotional benefits. For instance, Surf Excel’s ‘Daag Achhe Hain’ campaign relates well with lovable, determined, and confident mothers passionate about child development. This campaign also highlights children’s imaginative, curious, and open-minded personality.

Personality changes reflect a changing brand:

While personality traits are relatively stable, they often change when a baby grows into a teen, or a person becomes a parent. Along the same lines, a brand’s personality could also evolve during situations like mergers and acquisitions, expansion into a new market, and so on. When new traits are added to a brand’s personality, changes are reflected in its visual language and employee behaviour. Let me share an example. For a long time, top consulting firms have been known for expert strategy guidance. However, with time, these firms have moved into downstream implementation and have included areas like design, digital, and analytics in their portfolio. Because of these changes, the personalities of firms are also evolving. Recently, BCG dropped ‘The’ from its full company name (Boston Consulting Group) and changed its visual language. The new identity seems to help the brand look techie and less formal.

Personality is a much-neglected, but a crucial aspect of branding. It provides direction for a brand logo, color, fonts, packaging, language, stories, spokesperson, overall marketing, and customer service style. Having a personality that goes well with the customers helps a brand to connect easily with them. However, customers prefer that brands are honest over anything else. So, a brand should not try to showcase itself as someone it is not in reality.

The writer is the author of the book Booming Brands. Views expressed are personal.

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