Dust off this English class lesson to totally nail down your brand’s personality

“I say, Mr. Crocodile, it appears that you, too, have been personified.”

“I say, Mr. Crocodile, it appears that you, too, have been personified.”

My high school English teacher was a character. Ms. Grow loved the subject and taught passionately, but would also occasionally stop students and make predictions about their lives—begging them to “change course before the tides of time made it impossible,” or to “embrace and exploit the gifts the universe gave them.”

She openly foretold which high school sweethearts would marry and later divorce, who would become addicts (of either the drug or alcoholic variety), who would rise to meteoric success, and who would sputter and crash by their 30s. She was almost always ignored or chuckled at.

The thing was, I still keep up with or at least know about many of the folks who had her for a teacher, and most, if not all, of her predictions came true. The woman had a gift.

Ms. Grow also had a flair for helping me remember nearly every English lesson she taught. One of those was on a frigid day in January, when we were diving deep into various figurative tools writers use to enrich their stories—hyperbole, metaphor, simile and personification, among others.

To this day, I often tap figurative language in my own creative work. I love it, because it makes writing rich and palatable. But figurative language has also proven extremely useful in another, unlikely way even Ms. Grow couldn’t predict: It makes great exercises for brand workshops.

We often help our clients launch products or services, or revitalize those that have seen better days. Branding something is tough work—often, our clients are WAY too close to what they do or produce to be objective about it. So we’ve designed our workshops to get the information we need to create or refresh their brands, but in a way that’s fun and interesting.

Personification is great for this.

Here’s a quick refresher on personification: You apply a human attribute to something that isn’t human. An example: I watched the moon play peek-a-boo behind the tall evergreen in our backyard.

Personification is a great method for revealing the personality of your brand. This is the exercise we typically do in our workshops, and people have a blast with it:

The craziest thing just happened. Your company, all its products, employees, locations—everything—suddenly metamorphosed into a human being! Let’s take 20 minutes, in teams, and your job is to describe that person as thoroughly as possible. Leave nothing out! Talk about his or her appearance, dress, personality, accent, strengths, weaknesses, ticks and habits—you name it. The team with the richest description wins a prize.

You’d be amazed what people come back with after an exercise like this, even after a short period of time. They get really into the details—how that person walks, talks, socially interacts, laughs, what he or she does for entertainment and lots more. People always end up enjoying themselves.

Most interesting, though, is how many of the teams’ descriptions go to the same places. Details may differ, but the big picture stuff is remarkably similar. The person everyone collectively paints from this exercise feels real, like someone you know.

Now, if I had asked: Please describe the personality of your brand, I would’ve been met with (A) A sea of blank or distraught faces or (B) Corporate language that doesn’t help anybody with anything: We are an organization that is dedicated to innovative solutions. (I just threw up in my mouth.)

Here’s how the personification exercise is useful: It sets the tone for nearly every communication piece you create—from broadcast to social media.

Your brand is more than talking points, differentiators and positioning statements. Your brand’s personality is the roadmap to the words you use… the images you choose… the tone you take… the way you react to a happy, or nasty, social media post… even the background music you’d choose for your corporate videos.

You simply ask: Does this choice fit our personality? Is it us?

Today, catapulted mostly by the social media phenomenon, brand personality matters to customers. People want to identify with many of the companies they buy from:

  • Apple® users enjoy seeing themselves as cutting edge and cool… especially the ones who camp out in front of the Apple store for the latest iPhone.
  • Harley-Davidson® riders like to think of themselves as individualistic and anti-establishment. It’s about the open road and having a say in your life.
  • Amazon® users look in the mirror and see digitally savvy types who know how to find anything, at a good price, delivered right to their door. They fancy themselves as smart and knowing how to find things to make life better.

Give the personification exercise a shot. It is amazing what it can uncover. To paraphrase Ms. Grow, it may very well help your brand “embrace and exploit the gifts the universe gave it.”

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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