Let’s Talk About Brand Personality, Voice, and Tone

When was the last time you held hands with a brand?

Felicia C. Sullivan
Feb 18, 2019 · 15 min read
Credit: Irina_Strelnikova/iStock/Getty Images Plus

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L: Hello Sunshine on Instagram. R: Hooters and Wendy’s on Twitter.
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Credit: Felicia C. Sullivan

Brand personality

Brand personality refers to the human characteristics, emotions, and attributes embodied by a brand. It’s a brand made human by the Dr. Frankenstein of marketing departments—although far less nefarious. Your brand’s personality is how it shows up and acts in front of customers. Your brand personality is composed of tone and voice and all the elements that make an individual unique and establish identity.

  • There are other people you’ll like and value in time—the relationship just requires more work. This is a brand attracting the periphery. This might be a customer ambivalent about your brand but who appreciates and values your products. In my early twenties, I had no interest in Eileen Fisher as a brand, but when I found a quality Eileen Fisher cashmere sweater on sale, I still decided to buy it.
  • Finally, there are those we dislike on first sight. This is a brand repelling customers it doesn’t want to attract.

Five dimensions of brand personality

Behavioral psychologist and Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker designed a framework that posits there are five dimensions to one’s personality, and each contains a set of facets. Each facet contains a set of traits.

Carl Jung’s 12 archetypes

If you’re a fan of old school psychology, Carl Jung might be your man. Jung was downright surgical in his exploration and dissection of the human psyche. Jung developed 12 archetypes that were emblematic of recurring behavioral patterns and motivation. His theory was that the identities are derived from our most primitive instincts and collective unconscious, forming the foundation of who we are and what stories we tell and surface in our culture. We tend to have one dominant personality, but often we’ll have a back-up dancer as well.

  • Make our mark, driven by our ego
  • Connect with others, driven by social desire, comfort, and emotional connection
  • Provide structure to the world, driven by a need for rules and order
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Credit: zionbalkon/Adobe Stock
  1. Sage: The Sage hunts for the truth and believes in self-reflection. Hungry for knowledge in all its forms, they’re detectives, scholars, academics, philosophers, thinkers, and data junkies. Brand examples: Harvard, Stanford, and Cambridge Universities (and research facilities) epitomize the perennial student and information-seekers.
  2. Explorer: The Explorer eschews boundaries and limits. Don’t ever box them in. They’re nonconformists, iconoclasts, nomads, and pilgrims. Brand example: Harley Davidson attracts older men with sleeve tattoos as well as millennial weekend warriors. At the core of their brand promise is freedom—their customers can go wherever they want, whenever they want.
  3. Outlaw: The Outlaw wants to fight the system. They’re rule-breakers and misfits who want to disrupt, shock, and destroy the status quo. Brand example: When Apple launched iTunes, iPods, and iPhones, they revolutionized how people purchase, collect, and listen to music; they transformed the phone into a pocket computer.
  4. Magician: The Magician is about making magic happen. They’re charismatic visionaries who make their wildest dreams a reality. The magician is an inventor, healer, doctor, creator, and transformer. Brand example: Disney embodies a world where we frolic alongside princesses and cute mice.
  5. Hero: The Hero’s uniform is a cape, and they’re always up for a challenge. They’re fearless, strong, competent, and agile. They’re on the front lines as warriors, superheroes, and soldiers. Brand examples: Marvel and the U.S. Army represent our imaginary and real heroes.
  6. Lover: The Lover is all about intimacy, relationships, passion, and compassion. They’re partners, friends, team-builders, support staff, and sensualists. Brand examples: Agent Provocateur, Victoria’s Secret, and Hershey’s Kisses all quicken and warm hearts.
  7. Jester: The Jester is the joker, the kind of person living their best life right now. Their goal is to get you to giggle by any means necessary. They’re comedians and pranksters. Brand example: Wendy’s annual Twitter roast made people laugh, cry, or a combination of both.
  8. Every Person: The Every Person is the one you want to grab a beer with. Pretension-free, they have solid values, are free of artificial sweeteners, and serve as a relatable neighbor. Like Patrick Bateman said in American Psycho, they want to “fit in.” Brand example: Dunkin Donuts, whose tagline is “American runs on Dunkin.” It’s coffee for the everyday person on the go.
  9. Caregiver: The Caregiver is altruistic, generous, kind, and empathetic. They believe in a life of serving others, nurturing others, and as a result, they elicit consumer trust. Brand examples: World Wide Fund for Nature, Greenpeace, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital all exude selflessness.
  10. Ruler: The Ruler wants to crush the competition. They’re powerful leaders who believe in winning as the ultimate goal. They’re role models, leaders, aristocrats, and politicians. Brand example: Tesla is a leader in the luxury car market.
  11. Creator: The Creator is the artist with a boundless imagination. They’re visionaries who use their skills and talents to represent the world in a new, unique way. They hunger for innovation, creativity, and perfection. While both Creators and Magicians inspire imagination, Creators dig in tactically to create covet-worthy products. Brand examples: Crayola and LEGO are prime examples of Creators.

Brand tone of voice

Your brand’s core personality, disposition, outlook, and spirit shape its voice, tone, tenor, and temperament. As a result, the tone and voice drive how you communicate in all your brand’s actions and interactions. Your voice, tone, and temperament should be wholly distinctive and consistent in all aspects of your brand. Wouldn’t it be odd to connect with a super familiar, warm voice on Instagram and then visit a site that’s cold and impersonal? Your customer would be confused by that kind of bait and switch, and confusion drives brand abandonment.

How to capture and craft your tone and voice

First things first: Get in a room with a whiteboard, lots of paper, pens, markers, and food. Yes, you’ll need food. And water.

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Credit: Lindsay Humes
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Credit: Carolyn Farino/Dribbble
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Credit: Dingo Creative
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Credit: Wade Roush/Xconomy
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Screenshot: Skype’s Brand Book
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Credit: Gather Content via Buffer
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Credit: Hebert de la Vega/Slideshare

Tips for Brand Voice and Tone

  • Don’t be a copycat version of someone else. Just because a voice works for one brand doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Cultivating a voice isn’t a plug and play. Parroting invites parody.
  • Being authentic is about acting natural, relatable, and human. If your brand’s voice feels awkward and forced, it isn’t your voice.
  • Lean on your story. We talked about how to craft stories for your brand that are impassioned and compelling. If you get stuck, talk about what’s familiar and meaningful to you. Use details, examples, and anecdotes. You’ll find that your voice will rise seamlessly to the surface.
  • Step outside your industry and search for voices and vibes you admire. When you hover too close to home, you inadvertently pick up phrases, turns of speech, and other brand -isms. Seeking inspiration beyond your competition will give you a fresh perspective.
  • Point of view matters. If your voice is in the first person, it’s the most intimate. Typically, this works best for small businesses and creative entrepreneurs. Many companies love the royal “we” because it feels warm and inviting without being intrusive.
  • Don’t be all things to all people. Brands are scared. They don’t want to lose a sale or alienate a customer, so they pander to everyone. In an effort to appeal to the masses, their message and uniqueness can become dulled and diluted. The most influential brands alienate people because they know this one simple truth: If everyone is your customer, no one is your customer. For example, if you sell $100,000 cars, own it. Don’t create value and budget messaging. Your brand targets a specific audience and you have to cater to that audience. Don’t worry—if your products are solid, you will also attract the periphery.

Additional resources


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Felicia C. Sullivan

Written by

Marketing Exec/Author. I build brands & tell stories. Work in Human Parts, OneZero, Forge & Marker. Hire me: t.ly/bEnd7 Branding & Freelancing eBooks t.ly/ZP5v

Marketing Made Simple

F*ck faux marketers. You’re getting 21 years of my data-driven marketing & brand experience

Felicia C. Sullivan

Written by

Marketing Exec/Author. I build brands & tell stories. Work in Human Parts, OneZero, Forge & Marker. Hire me: t.ly/bEnd7 Branding & Freelancing eBooks t.ly/ZP5v

Marketing Made Simple

F*ck faux marketers. You’re getting 21 years of my data-driven marketing & brand experience

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