The notion of a brand has gone from representing ownership or a product to personification. Brands no longer merely broadcast messages about their products, services and benefits, they have two-way conversations about it. Those that do it well communicate with people rather than just talking at them. They have an opinion on wider issues. They respond directly. They are increasingly able to engage and have a distinct voice beyond the 30-second ad or the copy-written billboard – being helpful on WhatsApp, witty on Twitter, or entertaining on TikTok.  

Great brands have always had a personality to a certain extent. But through today’s media and platforms it is mandatory. Your personality has to be at the very core of your brand experience. 

There is a handy shortcut for thinking about the essence of what you are as a brand. Why not try thinking of your brand as a person – a celebrity, say, that everyone recognises for their personality traits and quirks? Not only will this achieve all of the benefits of archetyping, but it’s a lot more fun. 

Pulling personas into brand building

Spending a day or two conjuring personas in this way is a useful exercise, one that should perhaps become a more formal element of brand building. It allows you to formulate the idea of how your brand shows up and is a useful tool when you speak to different stakeholders about your brand. Start by asking yourself about your brand, “Who would they be? How would they talk? What would they care about?” 

This can help cement certain design decisions in your mind. Should I be bolder, more expressive? What should I be aligning my brand with? What is my tone of voice? It becomes a filter and an accountability function for the decisions you make as a brand guardian. 

For example, let’s take herbs and spices brand Schwartz. If it identified with the persona of, say, late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, it would start to become more edgy. Schwartz would show up supporting up-and-coming chefs, looking at collaborations and pop-ups around travel and different world cultures. If they were more Nigella Lawson on the other hand, it would veer towards the wholesome, more mainstream, with a touch of class and seduction.  

When working with Vanish I like to think of their persona as Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness. JVN is exuberant, pushes fashion boundaries, but also sees the beauty in real people – working with them to find their inner value again. This wonderfully encapsulates what we’re trying to do with the Vanish brand, moving it from a functional stain remover to a more culturally relevant space of helping clothes last longer – all executed with the inclusive personality and mindset of JVN.

Allowing brands to flex

For long-established brands, this is a particularly interesting exercise. Imagine if a Big Four accountancy firm – in an industry where 51% of people have anxiety and depression – took on the personality of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. He immediately conjures strength and sturdiness but is also an ambassador for mental health. He has a persona of empathy, also coupled with fun and a very effective business sense – a useful lens to apply to a company striving to convey reliability with a human touch.

The possibilities for brands looking for relevance are particularly exciting. Books retailer Waterstone’s could reach a whole set of different audiences if it played with different personas to guide it. What if it identified as actress Rebel Wilson – highly intelligent, affable but supremely funny and pushing a few boundaries? It would open up a whole new audience and level of engagement and could inform the flavour of events, partnerships and TOV at the retailer.  

They are celebrities for a reason

After all, a brand without personality is doing something wrong. It’s just a question of finding and defining it. Then, ultimately, letting it help you approach brand experience through its fruitful lens. And what better place to look for a widely admired and recognisable brand persona than the world of celebrity.

Cover image source: Larry Gibson