Brands are like people

So create a brand that people like

by Emily van Vught — brand strategist for Faker Agency

Brand personality of Nike — Illustration by Faker Agency

The most common struggle I deal with as a brand strategist is to convince people of the importance of a well thought out brand strategy & identity. There are still people who believe that if you have a logo, you have a brand. I hope you’re not in that category, but if so, I’ll try to make you change your mind.

When explaining the importance of branding, and I have to admit it’s starting to become a life mission, I like to use the metaphor that brands are like people. Meaning that brands and people both have a certain personality and character that define who they are, what they believe in and how they go through life. These core values and traits are expressed through different things (brand touch points), for example the way you dress (brand look & feel), the job you choose (market), your friends (target audience) and of course the brands you buy (brand associations).

I think we can agree that if you only look at someones appearance, you’re being pretty superficial. But the other way around, if someone doesn’t have a nice personality or anything interesting to say, being around them quickly becomes super boring or even annoying. The same counts for brands, without an interesting personality and character, people will quickly lose their interest, how fancy your logo might be. As a brand, to ensure a longterm relationship with your audience, you have to make sure you have an interesting personality people will want to discover. In order to do so, it is essential to have your brand strategy ‘on fleek’. And this is were the fun stuff begins!

Because contrary to people’s personalities, brand personalities can be created. As a person, your personality and character is partly genetically and partly culturally defined. You are born with a certain character, that is shaped during your childhood by your parents, friends and environment. The older you get, the more fixed it tends to become, although you sometimes wish you could be a bit more patient, adventurous or structured, it’s just not who you are. The nice thing with brands is, that these character traits can be created, shaped, to match a certain image. To create a brand that will generate the most value, both economically (sales) and emotionally (brand equity). This may sound as dirty commerce to you, but I believe it’s a most interesting field where psychology, business strategy, aesthetics and anthropology merge. Where you can set the character of the brand, the brand’s essence, to create a unique brand experience that your audience connects with and will remember.

It’s the brand’s personality and character that makes a brand come to life, that gives it a soul. But just like with people, a brand is much more than just its personality. Where your personality defines you from the inside, it’s the actions you take that show who you are to the rest of the world. The way you dress for instance might say something about your identity, your culture and your background. It defines your style and reflects a part of your personality. Just like the way you talk and the words you use. These aspects tell something about your social environment and even your education and profession. This also applies to brands. A logo, typography, graphical elements, or in other words a brand’s look & feel, tell a lot about the brand’s personality and style; just like clothes do about people. The same applies to a brand’s tone of voice, the way a brand communicates with it’s audience. The quirky words used, the funny opening lines or the awkward silences, it all has an influence on the people you attract as a brand. They influence the social environment you position the brand in, which ideally matches your target group.

Brand personality of Patagonia, Chanel, Abercombie & Fitch — Illustrations by Faker Agency

Are you a sporty type, or more the classical gin-tonic guy? Do you like to experiment, try new things or do you feel more safe in the comfort of the known? These things influence the decisions you make and the people you surround yourself with. Just like these factors influence the typography and colors of a brand, the way to communicate with it’s audience, how the website or a packaging looks en feels like, etc. But if you don’t know what kind of personality you have as a brand, it’s pretty damn hard to show the world who you are and who you want to be friends with — read: sell your product to.

Because in the end, you want to create a brand (a personality) your audience wants to be friends with. However, that doesn’t mean you should copy your audience, nobody wants to be friends with themselves. Make sure the personality of your brand and those of your audience match and complement each other. Ensure they have common interests, share important values in live, have the same humor, etc. But also leave some room for differences that keep the friendship interesting. Things that challenge people to change their perspective every now and then. Brands should be ‘people’ you can look up to, that you want to have in your social environment because they ‘boost’ your image and say something about you as their friend.

Just like relationships between people: give it some time to grow. Take time to get to know each other and discover the other persons funny traits or weird habits. These are the things that make a person interesting; so make sure your brand has enough of these layers to be discovered. Although a casual Tinder date can be fun at times, you don’t want that for your brand. So allow people to peel off those layers one at a time, to slowly unfold the story of your brand, building a relationship with your audience that lasts.

Original article published on

If you’re still not convinced and need a bit more science to back it up. I selected a few articles on this topic, that also discuss the benefits of creating a strong brand personality.