A ‘brand persona’ is a brand’s own personality in the marketplace, and it can be far more important than you think. Brand persona can heavily influence the way a customer, or those around them, feel when they utilise a certain product or service. It could be when they walk into a specific store, when they wear a certain pair of shoes or when a particular brand of watch peeks out from below their shirt cuff during a business meeting. Brand persona contributes to price and, of course, to brand value.
So what is it, exactly? Brand persona, from my perspective, is in the words that people attribute to a brand. It is what the brand means to a person on an emotional level. An obvious example is Apple, because it is clear to everybody what the brand stands for. It’s not just about a product, it is about quality and reliability as well as finesse and prestige. For this reason, people will naturally and happily pay more for Apple products. They will also be attracted to Apple stores and will proudly show off their Apple technology. The brand persona is so strong that it reflects back onto them.
Making an impression
How does brand persona reveal itself to customers and to the market more generally? It’s mainly through tone of voice and, more importantly, consistent tone of voice. In other words, the persona being utilised in major marketing campaigns is the same as the one experienced via social media channels. That same voice is reflected through call centre interactions, web chats, social media messages and emails. Success is about consistency of communication, attitude, language etc across all channels.
When people build a brand and get the persona right, it’s not often a result of the ‘what’ but rather a result of the ‘why’. Great brands don’t just try to wrap their brand around their product, which is the ‘what’.
This means that there is strong messaging around why you should use products from this brand, and why the brand is in the marketplace. And it’s not just about products, it’s also about services. Brand persona can create gaping differences in perception of brands such as EY and KPMG, CBA and ANZ or Telstra and Virgin Mobile.
Personality of the founder
Virgin Mobile is actually a good example of a brand that does persona well. From its on-hold messaging to the language used on its website to the personalities of its call centre staff and the special offers made to members (free streaming of Spotify, sponsorship of music festivals etc), the market is never in doubt as to the brand’s young, funky, music oriented persona.
Why do some businesses lack a brand persona? As previously alluded to, it’s because they’re simply trying to push a product. Products are very quickly left behind in today’s market. If Apple had shaped its brand messaging around the iPod, it would no longer be relevant. Instead it concentrated on the why, on messages around design excellence, high-end innovation, quality technology and simplicity of function.
Some businesses develop their brand persona around an individual, typically their founder. For examples of this we’d look to people such as Richard Branson and Virgin, Elon Musk and Tesla, or Coco Chanel and Chanel. Success in this case, once the individual has stepped down or passed away, comes from the brand carrying on that individual’s persona and maturing on its own. If the person has a fall from grace, then the brand can go down with it.
Richard Branson is the personality behind the Virgin brand.
If a brand is able to achieve its own persona it is a powerful tool in a crowded market. Persona defines where products and services sit in the marketplace and offers customers an emotional attachment. We all want to be associated with great brands and when we are, we want those brands to grow with us. We actively want them to survive and thrive in the marketplace. Their customers become more than customers, they become active supporters. The market itself becomes, if you like, the brand’s cheer squad.
Conversely, if a brand’s persona is tarnished (as has been the case with Uber over the last 12 months) then people move away very quickly.
Establishing your brand
So we come to the big question – how does a business create brand persona? At the core, it is about figuring out why the business is doing what it’s doing, then defining a clear brand voice based on the brand’s objectives, strategic plans and mission. It is not about the product being produced or the service being offered, but rather about why the business is producing or offering it. The business must develop a very clear message around its reason for being.
That message, which must be clear and consistent across all communication channels, explains why the product or service is in the marketplace and also helps build the culture of the brand. This relays in to the culture of the company’s workplace and reflects outwards in everything the business does, from product development and marketing to social media presence and the expectations the business has of its suppliers. The brand persona is a promise that is just as important for staff members, and for new hires, as it is for the customers.
It also affects what Salmat do for brands in terms of the types of people we hire to work on specific projects – the personalities we choose to fill a contact centre, for instance. The team we’d choose for a business such as a major Australian bank would be very different to the team we’d choose to man the phones for an indie Kiwi fashion brand. Within organisations the types of personalities being sought, and the levels and types of training that staff are offered once on board, has a powerful influence over that brand’s persona.
Change with the times
A brand persona is always growing and evolving. As an example, look at the Guinness World Records persona. The brand was born almost six decades ago. It's ‘why’ was to solve arguments in British pubs – the business produced a book that was intended to sit behind a bar and be consulted when factual disagreements arose amongst the bar’s patrons. Today it is a multimedia brand intended to communicate the wonder of the modern world to an international audience of youngsters and to be the single authority around general record breaking.
The Guiness Book of World Records started out life as a pub trivia almanac.
Great brand personas can become a liability if they don’t evolve. Look at the example of Nokia – perhaps they were not guilty of doing anything wrong, but they absolutely were guilty of not doing anything. Evolution of a brand persona requires insight that can only come through data about customers, attitudes, what needs your business serves and how people relate to your brand. It also comes from data about the current marketplace, how it is changing and what it will look like in the future. If Nokia looked at this sort of data then the company’s brand persona would possibly look very different today.
In order to offer some of this insight, we often have the management teams from client brands come out to sit with the frontline staff to understand exactly what customers are saying. Customer touchpoints are the perfect place to gather data around product and service offerings, around customer frustrations and around changes that customers hope they might see in the future. This all comes together to gently influence the business’s ‘why’, which is where brand persona must always begin.
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