Following an experience where a hotel offered him the opportunity to sing in the shower, Ian Truscott explores the art of creating a brand personality.

Staying in a Holiday Inn in London recently, I saw a sign in the shower – all the normal dull stuff about how the water might be hot and you should try not to fall over, but it finished with “Enjoy… Singing is optional”.

Now, I’ll be honest, I’ve been spending way too much of my life in hotel rooms recently and it made me smile. Not just the singing bit, but the idea that someone wished I would enjoy my shower, with a little bit of silliness.

As a marketer, it got me thinking about the context of the message and if it fitted in with my overall brand perception, and the service I’d received. Get the product wrong, and being a little silly is vaguely insulting. Imagine if there was no hot water, or a missing towel. That little sign could light the blue touch paper of a pissed off guest.

“This is the thing about brand personality. It’s part of the promise that branding makes. It can’t be like a dull accountant that wears loud ties or crazy socks to create the illusion of personality.”

This is the thing about brand personality. It’s part of the promise that branding makes. It can’t be like a dull accountant that wears loud ties or crazy socks to create the illusion of personality.

It has to be delivered within the context of the product, service and real customer experience – the delivery on the brand promise.

If you wear the loud tie, you’d better be fun to spend time with. The initial ice-breaking conversation about the tie is only going to cover up a lack of fun for so long. And it’s exactly the same for brands. No amount of personality is going to cover up a shit customer experience.

To quote Pulp Fiction on the merits of eating pork (the argument against being that pigs are a “filthy animal”):

Vincent: Ah, so by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he would cease to be a filthy animal. Is that true?

Jules: Well, we’d have to be talkin’ about one charming motherfucking pig. I mean, he’d have to be ten times more charming than that Arnold on Green Acres, you know what I’m saying?

Like Jules, we naturally lean toward personification and anthropomorphism, giving things human characteristics. This is what we’re appealing to when we create a personality for our brands. A brand personality that jibes well with our audience’s world view creates trust, loyalty and advocacy.

A brand personality also defines the nature of the relationship, i.e. how you should behave, or use the product. Thankfully for room 505 and 509, I did not take up the Holiday Inn’s offer to share my rendition of “My Way” during my morning bathroom routine, but it did tell me that this hotel is a casual space.

Therefore, first step to defining a brand personality is to figure out who you are. Who you really are, not what you aspire to be.

The way power works at every level, at the United Nations or in your neighbourhood, is, do you have a community that stands behind what you stand for? And if you do, you’ll have more power. And if you don’t, you won’t.

Former US President Barack Obama

One important thing to note, this “who you are” needs to not just resonate well in a marketing campaign. First, has to resonate with the leadership team, investors and employees, and in the hiring process of new employees.

Especially if it’s a change from before, and to bastardize one of my favorite quotes (that apparently Gandhi never said) “everyone has to be the change you wish to see”.

Fail on this and you probably have the wrong story, but you will definitely, definitely fail to deliver this convincingly to your audience.

The materials for creating “who you are” is in the way you go about creating your product, how you deliver the service, why the company was formed and the world view of the leadership team. Your story, basically. If you are an engineering focused German software business, own being that.

I worked for an agency whose CEO’s mantra was “hire smart happy people”. This shaped the agency, and as a people business it infected the service being delivered. If you hire smart, happy people, they’re going to provide a different service to the client, rather than if you just hired the brightest people.

You also create a culture of “smart and happy”. You give permission for people to pursue not just the smart bit, but the happy bit too. You also set the expectation with the client that these folks may wear jeans to your office.

Which brings me to the second important step; know your audience.

If you are in the business of selling financial liability consulting, then a jolly, smart, happy brand personality is probably not going to create trust. It’ll be your loud tie, something folks will need to look beyond before getting to know you. It would be inconsistent with the promise you want to make with that audience.

It’s also worth mentioning that defining brand personality is like describing yourself as cool. That’s for others to decide. Your brand and its personality traits are not wholly owned by you, they lie in your audience’s perception of you, in their minds. (I talked about this more in a recent article here: Battle of the Brands).

Therefore, the process of defining a brand personality is really about deciding how you would like to be described by your audience and then how to create the credible stories, services, products and customer experience that will support and reinforce that perception.

And singing, in my case, is definitely optional.

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