What is a brand personality? [a writer’s guide]
Updated: Jun 6, 2022
The springtime sun is shining warm and bright—it’s time for a block party, baby!
Let’s check in with some of our neighbors.
Ask Horatio how he’s doing, and he always replies “surviving,” with a listless shrug. When his eyes grow large like dessert plates, you know he’s about to leap into a diatribe against kids playing ball in the street and gardeners running weed whackers at all hours of the morning.
Two doors down, you’ll find Hyacinth. She sips on boxed coconut waters, musing over which sun-splashed brunch photo to post on social media. You’re never quite sure if she’s actually paying attention to your story; she only responds by chirping whimsies about “following your dreams.” (manifestation stars emoji)
And then, of course, there’s Charlotte. Charlotte wears intellectual cardigans and raises an eyebrow whenever she overhears you talking about Abbott Elementary—you should be talking about Guernica’s latest 15,000-word think piece on the Omaha poetry scene.
Every brand has a personality, just like the quirky, idiosyncratic people in our lives we’ve come to know and love.
You probably wouldn’t walk into a stranger’s house without knowing a thing or two about them first. Just like you wouldn’t buy an expensive product or sign a contract worth thousands or millions of dollars if you knew nothing about the business.
As a writer, you have the power to create the persona that draws in interest for a company or brand. Let's see how you can use this magic power in your copy and content writing!
What is a brand personality?
A brand personality is an attitude-drenched set of traits, quirks, and storytelling tics that bring your business to life, welcoming in customers that match your vibe.
Our personalities also set an expectation.
Our friends like us because they appreciate our unique ways.
They continue to talk to us and hang out with us because they expect us to behave in the way they’ve come to love.
We’re consistent. So consistent, that after a few minutes with us, even a newcomer can get an idea for what we’re all about.
Think about how our three neighbors from the beginning would react to a slow dinner order.
Horatio: I would like to speak to the manager immediately.
Hyacinth: Hey, so sorry! I know it’s super busy, but we just wanted to check on our order—you’re doing such a great job, though!
Charlotte: It has been a while since we ordered. Do you know how much longer it might be?
Now, if Hyacinth complained in Horatio’s curmudgeon ways, you’d be floored! A brand personality works the same way—it’s the body of traits, expressions, behaviors, and qualities that you represent.
And you stick to them with gusto! After all, they’re what make you you. And studies show that customers love you and they balk at overly corporate-speak. Probably why Apple made a killing by relentlessly mocking that stuffed suit known as "PC Guy." By sounding more like the collection of people that make up your business vs. a nameless, faceless entity, you can better connect with your crowd.
A captivating brand personality serves as a welcome mat. It invites in the type of customer who can most benefit from your business, while serving as a strong repellent against those who would be better served elsewhere.
How do you use a brand personality in your writing?
As a writer, you get to curate the words, lingo, phrases, and attitude your company uses to express its personality to the world. Here are some ways a strong brand personality can help you in your everyday content writing:
It simplifies content creation: You’ll know who you are and how to talk about your company. No more wasting time second-guessing each word you write!
You’ll stand out from the competition: There are probably dozens or scores of other businesses like yours, all churning out a similar product. But developing your own identity immediately makes you more memorable than the guy who’s just plucking words he likes today from the thesaurus. It’ll also help differentiate you from similar offerings, setting you up as the go-to for your ideal customer.
It helps pluck the best ideas from the batch: Most companies have no shortage of “yes-men.” Everything goes! But a solid brand personality helps you instantly weed out the not-so-great ideas. Print it out and point to the sign: that’s just not something we would say or do!
Use your brand personality to interrupt sameness and stand out from a sea of products and services that are similar at their core.
A round-up savings app described using three different personalities
These examples are from a little game I play on Instagram called Copy 3 Ways where we toy around with describing businesses using different personalities—join us!
A brand personality brings your business to life
Many companies write up a mission statement, dust off their hands, and move on to the next project. They think the few-sentence block hidden on their website's About Us page is more than enough for potential customers to understand what they're all about.
Thousands of mission statements espouse platitudes like “customer-driven,” “approachable,” or “friendly.” But visit the other pages of their website, and it’s loaded with inside-baseball terms shared in a distant, inaccessible voice.
Your mission statement is set dressing.
Your personality and voice are the actors on stage, bringing the whole thing to life.
Your voice is the living embodiment of your mission statement. It’s where you get to work on executing your brand promises and prove to your customer base that you really are who you say you are.
You use your brand personality on your website copy, articles, social media, videos—even automatic emails confirming that a customer changed their password.
Behaving out of line can be jarring to our friends and family members, and using words incongruous with your brand personality can shock your reader. So squeeze your brand voice into all the little nooks and crannies of your business.
There’s nothing worse than being enticed by a brand using playful and witty Instagram or Spotify ads only to be rudely chided in a robo-email the minute you forget to update your credit card information. So make sure you shower all your written content with your brand personality—one outlier can scare a customer off for good!
Use your brand personality as an invitation and a repellent
Dick’s Last Resort has diners wear funny hats while servers toss out (well-intentioned?) surprisingly acute barbs and taunts. Their attitude is their calling card—you’re not going to feel insulted because you arrive expecting the insulting treatment.
On the other hand, if you’re handed similar deep-cut disses at a high-end steakhouse, you’re going to feel true pain. You didn’t show up for this! You expect white-glove service, maybe a waiter with a false French accent—not to be the subject of a roast! You use a brand personality as an invitation: when you bring people into your little world, they’ll know exactly what to expect—and also know immediately if the room isn’t for them.
People-pleasers around the world, hear my cry!
A brand personality isn’t meant to make you likable to everyone. In fact, a properly honed brand personality will conjure true haters. By being so authentically yourself, you will actually trigger feelings of utter disdain amongst those diametrically opposed to what you’re all about. And that’s just fine!
You’ll never be everyone’s cup of tea, and by pushing those who don’t have the taste for your vibe out of the tea party, you can make room at the table for those who you can best serve. You want to be the “cool table” for people that do love your personality and are raving fans of what you do stand for. So don’t be afraid to ruffle the feathers of people who would’ve never been interested in your business to begin with.
Let’s break down 6 brand personality examples from very different brands (from Nintendo down to my neighborhood cafe!)
See how these six very different brands use specific language as a digital welcome mat, inviting customers into their brand experience.
Nintendo wants you to have F-U-N:
Joyous, playful, good-natured
Most Nintendo games capture a sliver of childlike wonder. I’ve heard one of my favorites, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, described as the back screen door of your grandparents’ house: not a rout of rock-em-sock-em, shoot-em-up explosions, but a virtual playground equivalent to running through the neighborhood until the streetlights come on. The phrases, lingo, and cute jokes they use on their homepage match the vibe, like this campy, Easter-themed promo: “these egg-ceptional games are no yolk.”
Madden wants you to feel like you’re part of the on-field action:
Energetic, fearless, lionhearted
They supercharge their words with action-packed phrases like “blazing speed” and “untouchable.” Their writing style is as fast-paced as the game, using powerful language that showcases the spectacular, star-studded fearlessness of the game.
Slack wants to be your go-to workplace companion:
Helpful, simple, friendly
Slack focuses on the workplace, but they aren’t some boorish, super buttoned-up corporate software product. They use a loose and cheerful voice that pops. They always showcase stories and examples that celebrate a convivial sense of team spirit.
Ring wants to protect you:
Safe, warm, guardian-like
They’re tough, but not steely like Liam Neeson ready to shatter your kneecaps. Ring uses a writing style that portrays them as your friendly neighbor who happens to be a cop, always keeping an eye on your home when you’re out. They fill all their copy with safe, protective sentiments.
Caley Cosmetics wants to whisk you off to self-care paradise:
Fun, peppy, playful
This brand says they live where winter doesn’t exist, and they embody that sun-splashed, always-summer persona in every word they type! Their words are drenched in sunshine. They even make mention of pineapples and mermaids—all part of their playful personality.
Millie’s Cafe wants you to know they mean business:
Snarky, pragmatic, surly
They’re welcoming, but they don’t take any crap—it says it right on their homepage through their word choice. Also, if you had any questions after reading this, their waitstaff wears t-shirts that say “service with a f&%k you,” so that should say it all.
A real-world example of a small business brand personality in action
I can hear you now! Whoa, whoa, is this another one of those “marketing tips” based on the experience of a fancy mega-brand? I’m not Apple; I’m just a little guy!
Instead of using an unattainable, castle-in-the-sky brand like Mercedes-Benz or Samsung to guide us, let’s chum up and use a small business we both know and love. It’s a little writing shop called Jargon Gist.
Conversational + Casual: In a lot of ways, I write as though I was having a conversation with you at a coffee shop. So I purposely break a lot of old-school writing rules.
You’ll find me using prepositions at the end of sentences. I lovingly split infinitives. And you might even come across sentences I rebelliously start with “and.”
Unless I flubbed big time, we wouldn’t say something like “industry-driven solutions.” I actually say right on my homepage that I actively avoid that kind of language.
Zesty: “Sorry, no yoga studios or cupcakeries!” it says in the headline of my website. While it immediately announces my target customer, it also establishes a looser, less "corporate" vibe, too. I’m pretty sure this shouts “beat it” to potential clients who are especially fond of buttoned-up folks or highly academic writing styles.
But that’s how we use a brand personality in our writing. I want to attract those looking for a snappier, more zesty style and actively repel those who I wouldn’t be a good fit for. It's a strategy I call going full pink.
Quirky: I like to use unexpected examples. You’ve probably caught me carrying on about NASA or calculus in copywriting advice articles or admitting my love for homemade cipher devices in the “About” section of this very website. A client once called me the “J. Peterman of tech topics” because I like to paint concepts in ways other sites don’t, and I usually do things in ways a clickfarm of writers can’t replicate.
4 exercises to help you create your own brand personality
Ready to cut loose from the strings and bring your brand to life? Here are four easy exercises you can toy around with.
Grab this list of 100+ adjectives to help define your vibe
Here’s a handy worksheet I put together with 100 adjectives that'll help guide your word choice when writing content or copy for your brand. Each one represents qualities different from any of the others!
Pick 3–5 that best describes the vibe you want to capture. Use them as a guiding light when working on your next writing project.
Download the PDF here:
Observe your competition
Sometimes it is easier to decide what we are not.
It's funny; when I ask clients about their brand's values, many instantly compare themselves to one of the other guys. “Well, we definitely aren’t stuffy like the crew over at Founders, Inc.!” or “You can always reach us on the phone, unlike the cold shoulder you’d get from XRT Co.!”
Check out this example from Lyft where they define themselves by pitting adjectives against one another, like “convincing but not corny.”
Make a mood board
Now this one might sound a little frou-frou for the sophisticates among us, but for people who thrive on visuals, a mood board is a strong way to establish the dos and don’ts of your brand.
Let’s use the example of a cheerful brand, compared to a more rebellious brand.
Brand personality mood board example #1: cheerful
A moodboard of fun, sunny images like a girl goofily holding donuts, a Greek statue wearing party favor sunglasses, and candy—lots of candy.
Brand personality mood board example #2: rebellious
A mood board of more rebellious imagery like punk rockers, spiked clothing, and lots of devil-may-care attitude.
Grab a dozen or so images from Pinterest or Canva that embody the qualities you want to hit. Glance at your mood board when you're mulling over your next content or copywriting project. Do the words and phrases you’re thinking of using line up with the vibe?
Personify your company in a short story
Are you the daring thrill seeker that pushes your reader to embark on adrenaline-drenched risks?
Maybe you’re their protector, standing firm as a vigilant sentinel against a danger.
Or maybe you are their chummy companion, one of the pal-brands sweeping Twitter giving pep talks and calling everyone your “bestie.”
Think of your business as a person and describe them in vivid detail. It’s easy to read something and decide whether it’s something our grandmother, best friend, or boyfriend would say. You’d know immediately if it’s a turn of phrase they wouldn’t be caught dead using! So set up an imaginary person to serve as your guide next time you’re getting ready to write.
When it comes time to write your next blog post or product description, consult with your imaginary guy or gal. Ask questions out loud or compare what you’ve already written to how they would behave.
What words would they use to describe the item?
What phrases would they not be caught dead saying?
How do they fill their free time? What kind of friends do they hang out with?
What pieces are so clashing with their personality that friends and family would whip their necks around in disbelief?
Read what you’ve written out loud: Do you feel like you just hung out with the invisible person that represents your brand, or does it feel like somebody else?
Here’s a quick one I wrote about a guy named Andrew Cortez.
Andrew Cortez is a 29-year-old account manager for a sun-kissed Santa Monica digital advertising agency that focuses on adventure sports brands. You’re going to hate this: but right now, Andrew is the guy perched on an ocean bluff, logged into his laptop on a Wednesday afternoon. He’s doing it, he’s really doing it: Andrew can work from anywhere, and his family hates him for it.
Following your passion is a bit of a wisecrack amongst the elders of his family who guffaw at his truly oceanfront office. Surfing, mountain biking, snowboarding, he loves it all. Whether that’s escaping up to Big Bear for an impromptu snowboarding trip with friends or surfing in the morning at Lot 5 before work.
When all’s said and done, he and his friends like to wax poetic over a few small-batch IPAs at a local brewery that Jeremiah, an ex-Wall-Streeter who now handcrafts candles with scents inspired by national parks, started out of an abandoned schoolhouse. Once a month, Jeremiah closes up the brewhouse and takes Andrew—Drewski, Mountain Drew, Scooby-Drew as he’s called after tasting a flight of creative new brews—up to his rural studio in Joshua Tree where they hike, rock climb, and mull over what aromatic notes properly represent Denali or Yellowstone.
If he’s lucky, Kenton, who recently sold an app idea he invented when he was eleven and a half, will pull up with his vegan taco truck, Lettuce Pray. Andrew isn’t a vegan, but his culinary tastes are as adventurous as his soul, and while eating three Broc-and-Rolls, he loves hearing Kenton’s stories about growing up in Chile. Last year, they banded a few bucks together to support a Kickstarter. A 10-year-old invented a way to filter the oceans for the ten trillion tiny plastic pellets that spill off cargo ships every year—and Kenton and Andrew have one of the clean-up voyages named after them.
Find your brand personality—and stick with it!
If you’re anything like me, you’re obsessed with the recent spate of shows featuring entrepreneurs behaving badly. In WeCrashed, Apple TV+ showcases the idiosyncratic co-founders of WeWork.
Rebecca Paltrow Neumann (played by Anne Hathaway) coined the organization’s mission: to elevate the world’s consciousness. She deputized herself as the brand sentry on an endless plight to “safeguard the soul of the company.”
While the show portrays her as a bit of a kooky nymph, she was definitely onto something—at the heart of any well-played brand personality is consistency. So once you settle on the details—stick to your guns, don’t waver! Just like the friend you text each and every day, make your company the one people keep coming back to.