Brand personality is a critical component of any business’s brand health. They can distinguish your brand from your competition, drive word of mouth, customer loyalty, and cement your business in the heart and mind of consumers. They are also vitally important to measure, because sometimes the personality you believe you are portraying don’t always align to the impression consumers have.
What is a brand personality?
Brand personality (also known as brand association) are the thoughts, emotions, symbols and images customers associate with your brand. Here’s a test to show you how it works.
What’s the first word that comes to mind when we say “Coca-Cola”? Was it any of these?
This is brand personality and when used in the right way, it is a powerful tool for building positive emotional connections towards brands. And emotional connection is key to brand growth.
Related content: How to track, measure and improve your brand health
The importance of emotional connection
In 2015 the Harvard Business Review ran a study on the impact emotionally connected customers had on brands. From this study, they developed the “emotional connection pathway”: a set of steps customers go through as they transition from unconnected to a brand to fully connected. These steps were: (1) being unconnected to (2) being highly satisfied to (3) perceiving brand differentiation to (4) being fully connected.
What the study found was that customers who were fully connected were 52% more valuable, on average, than those who are just highly satisfied. Moreover, moving customers from being highly satisfied (but not emotionally connected) to full connected, reaped three times the ROI of moving customers from unconnected to highly satisfied.
Personality doesn't work in isolation
Brand personality don’t work in isolation, they have a “synergistic effect on one another”, meaning that if you improve one element of your brand personality, you will also generally improve several others in your repertoire. To use the Coca-Cola example again, they might find that if they increased the brand personality element of ‘refreshing’, its association with ‘summer’, ‘sunshine’ and ‘tastes good’ also typically increase as a result. This is something to keep in mind when you’re forming any brand personality strategy.
The danger of brand personality
Just as positive brand personality can be a force for strengthening your brand, negative brand personality can weaken it, and depending on the severity of the associations of your negative personality, damage it. Take, for example, the E Coli outbreak that swept through Chipotle stores in 11 US states in 2015. Despite changes to their food preparation and hygiene practices, a campaign to remind people of their use of fresh ingredients, it took the brand years to recover from this negative ‘will give you food poisoning’ personality.
For this reason, it is important you know what your brand personality are as well as having a strategy to shift your brand towards more desirable associations if your current ones do not match the vision you have for your brand.
How to build, measure and track your brand personality
There is no one way to build positive brand personality. Instead, there are multiple factors that work together as part of a well thought out strategy. These can include:
- Customer experience
- Product/service quality
- Brand messaging and creative
- Product /service innovation
- Diversification of service/products, for example Burger King’s Rebel Whopper, a meat free alternative for vegetarian and vegan consumers.
- Corporate sponsorship
- Brand partnerships
- Alignment with social causes, such as climate change, sustainability, shop local, LGBTQ+ allyship, Black Lives Matter, the gender pay gap issue and addressing hate speech.
When it comes to measuring brand personality, quantitative surveys are generally used. In a survey, consumers and customers alike are asked a variety of questions to gauge brand personality, such as: ‘You will see a range of statements people have said about the different brands in [your market]. For each statement, please indicate which brands you think the statement applies to.’
The strength of how well these statements align to your brand as well as your key competitors can then be mapped, allowing you to see which personality associations you excel in and set you apart from your competitors.
Once your brands personality elements are defined, measured and a strategy put in place, it is important to run regular check ins to see if they are heading in the right direction. This is usually done through an ongoing brand tracking programme. Depending on your business’ maturity and the industry you operate in, you may opt to run these anywhere from annually to several times a year.
While brand personality can be a double-edged sword, building the right personality associations through your various marketing and brand activities can help drive goodwill and ultimately customers towards your business. Understanding the degree of impact various personality elements have on your brand is crucial, especially if you want to shift your brand's personality to better align with your business goals or to use them strategically. With these insights in hand and a programme to track your progress, all that’s left is to decide when and how.
A healthy brand is a profitable brand. Learn the ins and outs of brand health with our complete guide to tracking, measuring and improving the performance of your brand.
 Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas, and Daniel Leemon, 2015. ‘The New Science of Customer Emotions: A better way to drive growth and profitability’. The Harvard Business Review. November 2015.
 Maria Clark, 2021. 11 Organizations with Negative Brand Images and How They Overcame It. Etactics, etactics.com. Published June 10, 2021.