We’ve all heard trust is the foundation of any good relationship, whether in a friendship, a marriage or between coworkers. The same is true for building a company’s brand and the relationship between a company and the customer. Identifying a brand character establishes this brand trust by allowing immediate infusion of trust cues from a familiar (and trustworthy) persona into messaging.
The purpose of a brand character is to define the way a brand connects to an audience in a human way, staying away from robotic, idealistic properties and giving a brand the dynamics of a person where minor flaws make them relatable and endearing.
Before even thinking about a brand character
Don’t let the idea of picking a brand character excite you into prematurely picking someone who will not truly embody your company. Before fleshing out a brand, make sure to develop your roots. If the company or leadership isn’t built on solid values and beliefs, your brand will come across as inauthentic and will ultimately fail. A branding effort needs to start with deciphering those agreed upon traits to ensure it holds true to them.
After determining your company’s values and beliefs, you may move on to thinking about brand character.
The qualities of your brand character
Start with identifying the qualities your company’s brand character needs. One way is to use a brand archetype wheel, a spectrum of powerful character traits segmented to give structure to complementary but noticeably different relationships. No singular character archetype is agnostic of the others. In order for a character to have depth, it must possess elements of all other archetypes, if only in subtle forms.
The concept of archetypes dates back to the 1940s when Carl Jung, commonly referred to as the father of analytical psychology, identified several key archetypes, images and thoughts that have universal meaning across cultures and may show up in dreams, literature, art or religion. Since then, the archetypes themselves evolved and vary depending on who you ask. The structure in which to visualize them also differs depending on whether they follow a linear or wheel-like model.
Characters divide into the selfless and selfish. The core brand motivations must be selfless, but in order to be relatable, brands should exhibit traits of selfish archetypes. They just can’t be led by them.
It’s not hard to think of a business built on the more selfish attributes of the champion archetype, for instance. In sometimes spectacular fashion, these brands charge into success with winning as the core motivation only to end up in complete ruin for the same. Significant lawsuits, press nightmares and wrecked consumer confidence are all hallmarks of an unchecked champion brand.
Alternatively, consider the rebel archetype. On the surface, most companies would want to stand for challenging the status quo. But the rebel can’t be a rebel without a cause. If a brand isn’t challenging the norm to deliver positive change to its customers, then the rebel is just a selfish rockstar—fun at times, but no one wants to live with them.
For example, when a company goes to establish its brand, they might settle on a brand character embodying both the qualities of the sage and the rebel. The rebel is fired up and ready to change the status quo, and the sage uses empathy, strategy and a measured approach to deliver on that charge.
How to pick your brand character
After determining the core archetypes that reflect your brand, it is time to pick a specific brand character. Don’t enter this process believing one particular character is right for you and avoid any preconceptions of the end result. Keep an open mind.
Ask yourself if you will create an original character or if you will choose an established character. Each has its own benefits: An original character allows you to make the character exactly as you want, but it will take your internal team and customers longer to completely understand who they are. Choosing an established character allows your team to easily recognize the character traits and quickly develop cohesive and true messaging. If the team has done its job right, the traits of an established character will be easily recognized by your audience, and the connection will be immediate. The potential downside to this approach is the inability to alter traits not completely aligning with your brand, and as we all know, no one is perfect.
Every company needs to define its own brand character for—if nothing else—the learning experience the process provides. It ensures a company’s values are aligned with its actions and aids in establishing your brand’s identify at a high level. Once you find a character, new or existing, truly in sync with your brand, it improves your team’s understanding of your company, the public perception of your company and, ultimately, builds trust among customers.