Why Character is a Branding Essential


Russel Davies, a leading ad executive from the UK, is quoted as saying that a brand’s first job is to be interesting. While that is true, there is more than one objective when it comes to building a brand. I contend that brands also must deliver on their promises.

We’ve seen plenty examples of bad branding, but a brand approach doesn’t have to be poor for the outcome to be weak. Even great branding can lead to a less-than-wonderful outcome if the brand doesn’t convey what it has to offer.

I’m talking about brands like VaselineXerox and Kleenex. In these cases, the brand may have hit the jackpot because people say things like “pass the Kleenex” instead of “pass the tissues.” That’s brand recognition, right? But it’s also brand ubiquity. When a brand gets to the point of being omnipresent, it kind of fades into the background. Though Xerox and Kleenex both made the Forbes list of top brands last year, these brands do very little to stand out. They have very little character.

Making the case for character

When a brand faces ubiquity, that means it is vital more than ever to inject some personality into the platform. Between logos, taglines and color palettes, companies invest a lot in their brands, yet many ignore the quality of character. That charisma is precisely what transforms a brand into an icon.

In many ways, the name Xerox is very popular and everyone knows what a “Xerox machine” is—even if it is, in fact, a Canon. On the flip side, though, no one knows what the character is of the Xerox brand, it’s just become another name for copy machine! The brand doesn’t deliver—how can it effectively compete in today’s crowded marketplace?

Beyond unique

How do brands avoid landing in the black hole of ubiquity? They have to differentiate themselves and show how they deliver. We wouldn’t dare confuse an Apple with a computer because Apple computers stand in a league of their own for performance and aesthetics—they are not necessarily better than other products, but they do have their own edge. No one ever says, “I have a Mac” when in fact they have a PC. You expect a superior Apple product that offers innovative features—and you get it. (Apple topped Forbes list of World’s Most Powerful Brands in 2012…it’s so easy to reference this particular brand because it’s a glowing example of good branding.)

Even when you go to Best Buy to shop for an Apple product, the brand has differentiated itself with spacious, modern sleek display areas—while the rest of the computers are lumped together on standard store shelves. It shows how it delivers something special. You step inside a world of Apple, even though you can just as quickly step back out into an aisle in the store. This is just one way that Apple stands out and has infused character into its brand. That personality is more than just an appearance; it’s an experience.

Dig deeper—and ask more of your brand—to build character

How can you build character, or brand personality? It involves more than just visual appeal, it requires thinking about human characteristics. Will your brand be a Puffs, which is known for soft-as-a-cloud texture and beyond-soothing moisture that really comforts congested consumers, or will it be a Kleenex that simply lets them blow their noses?

Some questions brands need to ask themselves in order to identify and formulate their personalities include:

  • What do you want your audience to see or feel when they connect with your brand?
  • If your brand were a car/magazine/public personality/music genre, what would it be?
  • What colors, textures and visual components do you connect strongly with when you think of your brand?
  • What is your brand’s sweet spot?
  • What are some of the words that come to mind when people think/ see your brand?

And for fun, does your brand pass this personality test?

Think about brands that have an edge, then pinpoint the characteristics of that personality. I like how Open Sky’s model manages to stay fresh in a world of e-commerce, or how Nike inspires us go be adventurous—even if we don’t buy their sneakers.

How does your brand connect with consumers in a way that ensures it will never fade into gray?  What can it do to add another layer of color?

About Author

Ayesha Mathews-Wadhwa

Ayesha Mathews-Wadhwa is Founder + Creative Director at PixInk, a San Francisco-based Digital Branding microagency serving a macro niche: The 20 trillion dollar female economy. She nurtures emerging brands and strengthens iconic ones through powerful design, insight and a deep understanding of the woman consumer. Her client experience includes working for brands such as Apple, Facebook,Oracle, Cat Footwear, Riverbed, Camel, Sephora and Insight Labs, amongst many others.

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