What It Is, and How to Apply Brand Personality to Your eCommerce Brand
It’s easy to be cynical about influencer culture and marketing, but it works for a reason.
There’s a sensory limit to eCommerce. Photography can’t replace the power of holding a product in your hands. And no product description or search bar can replace the personalized service of an in-store assistant.
Influencers work because it’s easier to connect with another human being, than it is a product page or an ad. We naturally relate to personal stories and experiences.
We trust people, not businesses.
And it’s this insight that is driving the “human brand” trend. eCommerce merchants are realizing that consumers still want to feel a personal connection with their brand, even though it’s online. But it can be difficult and confusing to try to pin down exactly what you need to do in order for customers to see your brand as human.
The single best tool for creating a human brand? Designing a brand personality.
What is a brand personality?
The basic definition of a brand personality is: “The human characteristics of a brand.” If your brand were a person, it’s the adjectives you’d use to describe them.
Some brands are “friendly,” while others are “sophisticated.” We’d call some “passionate,” and others “fun and care-free.”
The words and phrases customers use to describe your personality express how your brand is perceived. If you heard someone call a brand “greedy and rude,” you could probably accurately guess whether or not they’ll buy from them again.
As humans, we’re wired to connect with the world around us. We crave connection so deeply we have a habit of projecting human traits onto inanimate objects and entities (like brands) in order to form relationships with them.
We Make Brands Human
Following an experience with a brand, it’s almost impossible not to describe your impression in non-human terms. It’s something your customers will do automatically, but there are significant benefits to intentionally designing the impression you leave on consumers.
Frankly, no matter how carefully you build your business and finetune your products, the impression customers have of your brand will never fully be under your control. Just like a human personality, you can tell someone all about yourself, but how they describe you is going to come down to how they felt being around you, not what you say. And their initial impression will be shaped across consistent interactions with you.
Your brand’s personality works the same way. You can influence someone’s perception, but the last word belongs to them. But don’t let this intimidate you: when we reach our own conclusion, we’re more likely to believe it’s true, and it’s an idea that’s more stubborn to change compared to information we’re told. If your brand personality is positive, loyalty increases, and it will be harder for competitors to lure customers away if they’ve bonded with your brand. Ultimately, it’s your brand’s personality that customers have a relationship with.
Why is brand personality important?
You may be wondering that if customers will describe a brand as if it’s human automatically, and their final impression of a brand’s personality is out of your control… why does it need to be designed?
Attract the right target audience
Humans may be wired to connect, but not all connections are equal. We may be social, but we’re also fiercely tribal. Belonging and loyalty to a tribe is a deep part of our survival instinct, and it has barely lost its power to influence our feelings and behavior 200,000 years later.
We evolved to assess whether a new person, animal, or situation is dangerous within fractions of a second. Before we’re consciously aware of what we’re looking at, our subconscious mind has already formed an impression and evaluated whether the new person or thing is safe or poses a threat.
Because of our tribal natures, we’re more likely to consider people we think are similar to ourselves and out tribe as safer. It’s why we tend to create social groups filled with similar or complimentary personality types. Someone more like us is also easier to relate to.
The same dynamic is at play when we encounter brands. We take the impression of a brand’s offers, voice, look, and service policies and transform it into a personality which we either connect with, or we don’t.
Unless you are sending consistent, clear signals about who are you, customers will have a hard time describing your personality in a reliable (read: safe) way. Consumers want to know if a brand is part of their tribe or not.
In addition, individual personalities will be drawn to some personality types and traits more than others. We all have individual interests and goals that will make some traits attractive, and others irrelevant.
Creating a brand personality that aligns with your target audience’s needs is a powerful way to attract them to your brand. With a brand personality, you’re not amassing transactions, you’re building a community of loyal members.
Differentiate your brand from direct competitors
Generally, a brand personality can set you apart by making your brand immediately recognizable and memorable. If you’re sending clear signals to the market, consumers will quickly get to know your brand, and familiarity is the precursor to preference. In turn, the ability to bond customers to your brand increase loyalty.
But the right brand personality gives customers a reason to choose your products over competitors. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to differentiate your brand, especially if you’re selling a commodity product.
When consumers can’t tell the difference between two products or brands, that’s when price drives preference.
Consider the target audiences of Walmart and Target. Although the businesses share many similarities, their core audiences are distinct. A Walmart customer is looking for the best deal, is older and more conservative than a Target shopper. A Target customer is also cost-conscious but doesn’t want to compromise on style.
Target and Walmart leverage their brand personalities to attract their target shoppers and distinguish themselves from one another. Target has a more worldly, energetic personality, while Walmart’s personality emphasizes neighborhood charm, friendliness, and value.
Deliver a more consistent brand experience
Having a defined brand personality can help you crystalize the kind of brand experience you offer customers. Personality gives you the tools to treat every customer in a consistent, reliable way – something that also makes your brand more memorable.
And when you find an audience that clicks with your brand personality, you can double down on the characteristics that attract your more rabid fans.
Brand personality traits
The first step to creating a brand personality, is understanding the options. There are two types of brand personality: dimensions, and archetypes.
The 5 dimensions of brand personality
One of the most famous models for creating a brand personality come from Jennifer L. Aaker, who identified 5 brand personality dimensions.
In psychology, there’s a concept called the “Big 5” that refer to the 5 most prominent personality traits. Each trait is a spectrum, and every individual has a unique combination of scores for each trait.
Aaker’s 5 brand dimensions follow a similar model. Although every brand will have a primary personality dimension, they’ll also have 1-2 secondary traits they’d also score pretty high in.
The five dimensions are:
These brands are down-to-earth, honest, and cheerful. Customers are attracted to their simplicity, and trustworthiness.
Brand example: Cadbury.
A chocolate brand, Cadbury thrives on the simple pleasure of sharing chocolate with loved ones. There’s no pretention about luxury or self-indulgence, just everyday joy and kindness.
These brands are daring innovators that are always on the bleeding edge of trends and are masters of creating buzz and hype around their products. Customers are drawn to exciting brands because there’s always something new, and they know the brand will make sure they’re style pioneers.
Brand example: Happy Socks.
An eCommerce sock brand that’s known for their bold designs and striking colors. The brand may sound boring, but it comes with a surprising amount of cultural currency. They’ve partnered with icons as varied as The Beatles, Snoop Dogg, and this holiday ad featuring Pedro Pascal:
This dimension applies to brands that leverage their intelligence, reliability, and hard-work. Customers appreciate their commitment to high quality standards, respect their expertise, and regard them as industry thought-leaders.
Brand example: Ministry of Supply.
A clothing brand that uses their technical expertise to engineer more comfortable clothing, without sacrificing a professional look. One of their claims to fame is they leverage technology invented by NASA in their material.
Many luxury brands will fall into this category, which describes brands that are glamorous, discerning, and have superior tastes. Customers appreciate the brand’s lavish lifestyle and quality of design.
Brand example: Omega.
A luxury watch brand that managed to knock Rolex off it’s 40-year pedestal as the watch worn by James Bond.
Omega is also a good example of a brand with a strong secondary characteristic, competence.
These brands are tough and often outdoorsy and shown off in natural surroundings. Customers are drawn to their strength and endurance.
Brand example: YETI.
YETI makes ice chests and drinkware specifically designed to handle the harsh elements. While they’d also score highly in competence, their main emotional appeal is their ruggedness.
Evaluating your brand along these 5 dimensions is a good starting point. Your primary characteristic can act as an anchor for adding more personality with a brand archetype.
At the most basic level, an archetype is a pattern. The dictionary definition is “a very typical example of a person or thing,” but this description really doesn’t do justice to how powerful they can be.
Archetypes are charged with emotion because they represent personalities and behaviors we instinctually recognize. When you use the phrase “father figure,” you’re evoking the archetype of a father. We think of qualities like wisdom, authority, protectiveness, and courage. Of course, every archetype also has a negative manifestation, for instance, the father archetype can also stand for tyranny.
But each archetype represents someone we already know, so using one to help shape your brand’s personality can have powerful results. Although the fact that they have negative incarnations is why it’s wise to design how your brand personality is expressed.
Archetypes vs dimensions
You don’t need to choose between a brand archetype or personality dimensions. They’re complimentary approaches that work best when combined. Dimensions can help you narrow down which archetype is right for your brand.
Likewise, once you have an archetype, the 5 personality dimensions can help you dial in a unique identity. Each archetype emphasizes 1-2 of the 5 dimensions, which we cover below.
Why does my brand need an archetype?
The short answer is because they’re incredibly effective.
Every fictional character, whether the hero of a recent blockbuster, or the antagonist in an ancient myth aligns with an archetype. They’re patterns that help us quickly understand someone’s motivations, goals, and the quality of their character. It also sets out expectations for the kind of story we’re about to hear.
Archetypes therefore tap into our desires and help us connect with certain elements of our own personality. Brands that clearly embody an archetype signal to customers that they are part of the same tribe. It’s a strong foundation for building trust, and also makes your brand more memorable.
In the world of branding, because archetypes tap into our deeper emotions and beliefs, tying your brand to an archetype is one of the best ways to overcome the commodification of your products. It also provides a powerful way to differentiate your brand and offers from competitors, even if you’re selling the same items. A better question is: why aren’t you using a brand archetype?
How to use a brand archetype
Of course, choosing a brand archetype on paper isn’t going to do you much good. Brand personality is a strategy, not an internal memo.
Keep in mind, your brand’s personality is the impression your customers walk away with. It’s a deduction they make on their own, it’s not something you can advertise and expect to stick. The key is a personality it what you express, not what you announce.
So, your brand personality is expressed through 3 outlets:
- How you look
- How you sound (your brand voice)
- How you behave
How you look
This is your visual identity, the widely known elements of a brand, including:
- Brand logo
- Color palette
- Web design
- Design guidelines
How you sound
Generally, this is referred to as your brand’s voice. The words and tone you use and the ideas and images you focus on in your communication. Brand voice applies to:
- All branded messaging, including ads
- Your brand story
- Product descriptions
- Brand and product names
- Brand tagline
How you behave
This is what your brand tangibly does, and how it treats customers. This includes:
- Product and service offerings
- Customer service policies
- “Extra” services you provide
Broadly, this can also refer to the character of the decisions your brand makes.
The 12 brand archetypes
As mentioned, the 12 brand archetypes can be categorized into 4 core motivations:
Protecting Structure: these archetypes protect the status quo, and generally have stabilizing positions in their communities.
- The Ruler
- The Caregiver
- The Innocent
Exploring Spirituality: the 3 archetypes who require freedom to learn and grow, they aren’t afraid of the unknown, in fact they are intrigued by it.
- The Magician
- The Sage
- The Explorer
Pursuing Connections: above all else, these archetypes value belonging, and they are defined by how they related to others.
- The Everyman
- The Jester
- The Lover
Leaving a Legacy: these personalities are dedicated to something greater than themselves, and are willing to take great risks to succeed in their goals.
- The Outlaw
- The Creator
- The Hero
Brand archetype examples
It’s time to put all of this together. The archetypes, the 5 dimensions, and their implementation.
Here, you’ll find more details on each archetype, the primary dimensions of each archetype, and a brand example broken down by how they look, sound, and behave.
The Ruler: the Monarch, Boss, or Leader
Goal: to lead.
They are confident, polished in style, and personally stable. They also have a firm sense of right or wrong, and so are typically considered the guardians of the moral code. Rulers are reliable, tough, and often upper-class. On the negative side of the Ruler, they can be tyrants, and can be arrogant an entitled.
In terms of the 5 dimensions, Rulers score highest in Sophistication and Competence, although Ruggedness is also not unusual.
Rolls Royce, the luxury car manufacturer:
How they look: From their iconic “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament to the distinct design of their cars, Rolls Royce is well known for their sophisticated look. Like any good ruler, they abide by strict principles, including the “2:1 ratio of wheel to body height” in their cars which emphasizes the value of balance.
How they sound: As a luxury brand, Rolls Royce’s voice is formal but poignant. They continually emphasize the timeless nature of their design, and their vision is to “own the moment yet exist beyond it.” In a more literal incarnation of how they sound, they ran an ad campaign featuring the song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” in reference to their world-class design, quality, and sophistication.
How they behave: Rolls Royce understand that their customers have a high standard for design, and that many won’t be satisfied with a production line model. So, they offer Rolls Royce Bespoke, a service for handmade customizations that allows customers to have a one-of-a-kind car.
The Caregiver: the Parent, Saint, or Altruist
Goal: to serve others.
Caregivers are warm and selfless. More than any other type, they are the protectors of the vulnerable, and strive to create a more generous and welcoming society. Their goal is to be a source of comfort and reassurance to all who need it. When the Caregiver goes negative, they can be manipulative and seeing themselves as martyrs.
They score most highly on the dimension of Sincerity.
Atoms, an eCommerce sneaker brand:
How they look: Atoms has a more minimalist look with a basic color palette of black, white, and grey. The brand is focused on what really matters, and in their world that doesn’t include visual flash. Video content focuses on team members.
How they sound: This is where Atoms’ Caregiver archetype really shines. The brand’s messaging puts a huge emphasis on the comfort and support they provide customers. They want to make “something people want, that becomes part of their everyday life, that’s comfortable enough to be the ‘go-to,’” The brand is also committed to sharing community stories.
How they behave: This element of their personality comes through the attention to detail in the product itself. It reflects the commitment of the brand to keeping their word and creating tangible comfort for customers. Comfort and fit are the brand’s mantra, sneakers are designed for all-day wear, have microbial insoles to kill germs, feature elastic laces so the shoes can be slipped on and off easily. They also come in quarter-sizes, a decision that displays compassion for individual needs.
The Innocent: the Idealist, Child, or Pollyanna
Innocents are enthusiastic and characterized by their faith and unfailing optimism. They always seek the best in everyone and every situation. They’re curious but prize safety, and aren’t driven to change the world like some other archetypes. Rather, they believe in the good that already exists. The dark side of the Innocent is they can be immature, boring, and naïve.
Innocents score highly on Sincerity, as well as Excitement, and sometimes Competence.
Bioclarity, an eCommerce skincare brand:
How they look: As a 100% vegan, non-toxic, and “plant-powered” brand, Bioclarity uses a simple, natural color palette of white, light beige, and greens. All product pages include pictures of a joyful models with their creams and gels smeared on their cheeks.
How they sound: Bioclarity’s voice focuses on “goodness.” Their purpose is to “put ‘good in’ to our products and the world. And work to create super effective, kind-to-skin products that truly help you put your best face forward to the world.”
How they behave: Of course, the brand’s commitment to pure, natural ingredients is a cornerstone of their Innocent appeal. On their product pages, ingredient lists include a “nope list” of common irritants that aren’t used like sulfates, parabens, and synthetic colors and fragrance. They also have a “Go Naked” campaign which encourages customers to be proud of their natural skin and have the confidence to avoid makeup.
The Magician: the Wizard, Shaman, or Diviner
Goal: transformation, turning visions into reality.
Magicians are motivated to live by a unique vision. They aren’t concerned with what the crowd believes is possible, and don’t believe in limits on reality. They are charismatic and driven, but have a compassionate side that can be healing and faith-renewing. They’re intrigued by the mysteries of life, but aren’t necessarily interested in the answers. Dark manifestations of the magician include manipulation, and an overreliance on their powers can lead to laziness. They are also often accused of being distant.
Magicians rate highly on Excitement, Competence, and often Sincerity.
Museum of Ice Cream, an interactive retail experience based on ice cream:
How they look: Aligning with ice cream’s sugary goodness, the Museum of Ice Cream has a bright, bubblegum aesthetic. The environments are lush, and transport visitors into another world (that happens to be highly-Instagramable).
How they sound: The Museum’s voice emphasizes magic, one description of the experience explains “our friendly guides will host and present sweet treats in your journey while you experience the magic!” Likewise, their brand purpose is to “transform concepts and dreams into spaces that provoke imagination and creativity.”
How they behave: Being an immersive, real-life experience gives the Museum of Ice Cream a powerful head start in creating the feeling of a new reality. It stands apart from everyday life, and engages every sense. They also offer classes on making ice cream, and a mixology class on how to pair cocktails with ice cream flavors to help visitors take some of the magic home.
The Sage: the Guru, Mentor, or Philosopher
Goal: to deepen their knowledge and understanding and share their wisdom with others.
The sage has a relentless desire to pursue the truth and seek deeper understanding of the world. They are wise, open-minded, and often sensitive to make their knowledge accessible to others. Sages are also practical, analytical, and thoughtful. On the negative side, Sages can seem pedantic, unemotional, and self-absorbed.
As for dimensions, Sages score extremely high in Competence, and often also in Excitement since they’re on the leading edge of new knowledge and discoveries.
TED, a media brand that organizes conferences with a wide array of speakers of every background to share their unique expertise:
How they look: TED’s primary color is red, suggesting their passion for ideas, but the aesthetic of their videos and stage at conferences is scaled back. Typically, TED places their logo on stage, but otherwise, visual distractions are minimal which emphasizes the speaker. This openness of look also allows the speakers to jump between different topics and areas of expertise seamlessly.
How they sound: TED does a lot more listening than talking, and they keep their voice straightforward and accessible. They also continually emphasize the importance of ideas, and position themselves as a platform or vehicle, rather than calling too much attention to their own voice.
How they behave: Aside from the marquee conferences they’ve been hosting since the mid-80’s, TED has taken full advantage of the democratizing power of the internet. They also post every TED talk on their immensely popular YouTube channel for free, and have the TEDx program for locally hosted events. While they have several high-profile sponsors, like Google, GE, AOL, and Goldman Sachs, sponsors are not permitted to speak in order to make sure their content and perspective remains independent.
Explorer: the Adventurer, Seeker, or Pioneer
Goal: to challenge their personal limits, find new frontiers.
Explorers rarely sit still. They have a strong desire to be free and aren’t comfortable in the same place for too long. They’re more likely to describe “home” as wherever they are than as a concrete place. Explorers also prefer the “road less travelled” and are highly independent and ambitious. If they had a mantra it would be J.R.R. Tolkien’s observation: “All who wander are not lost.” The dark manifestation of the explorer can come off as flaky, self-absorbed, and restless.
Unsurprisingly, the Explorer’s primary personality dimensions are Ruggedness and Excitement, Competence is another likely candidate.
Backcountry, an outdoor gear and clothing brand:
How they look: Explorer brands tend to be highly visual as they showcase spectacular landscapes, outdoor sports like skiing and snowboarding, and remote campsites. They also use a natural color palette, and even photos of their office space shows they’ve used natural wood and stone finishes throughout their décor.
How they sound: Their brand voice is quite restrained. They certainly aren’t loud or chatty, they get right to the point and sound unpretentious and straightforward. They describe themselves in these terms: “We get people who get outside – plain and simple.” Their product descriptions focus on the real-world benefits, and content offers tips and guides for better adventures. Their social profiles are filled with the stories of adventures from their customers.
How they behave: Backcountry organizes their product line by outdoor activity, so customers can find what they’re looking for quickly. They’re also partnered with several different conservation and sustainable advocacy groups to make sure they’re doing their part to protect the “back country.”
The Everyman: the Average Joe, Regular Guy or Gal
Goal: To fit in, belong.
The Everyman is a laid back, genuine soul. They’re down-to-earth and casual but take connecting with their tribe very seriously. They’re very welcoming and open-minded, and fear being elitist, or appearing superior to their peers. They make wonderful and devoted friends. However, on the negative side of the Everyman, they can come off as too conventional, suggestible, and unwilling to challenge norms.
In terms of the 5 brand personality dimensions, Everyman brands are very high in Sincerity, and often also Competence.
Chubbies, a short-shorts brand for men:
How they look: One of the striking visual elements of Chubbies is that they routinely recruit “average” guys with “dad bods” to feature in their ads. It emphasizes their laid-back persona and their relaxed approach to life. There are no extreme sports, either. The fabric designs also have a deliberately retro feel.
How they sound: Chubbies speaks to you like a buddy, and use unpretentious, plain language. They also backup their relaxed personality with their infamous manifesto that declares “We believe in the weekend” which reads more like a slacker’s credo. The “retro” visual style also connects to the emphasis they place on honoring their fathers. This is an Everyman reflex, to create connections between generations and social groups.
How they behave: As a brand that’s all about connecting with others and strengthening communities, it’s no surprise Chubbies encourages buying shorts for group events like family trips, bachelor/bachelorette parties, frat/sorority events, and charity fundraisers. Chubbies offers group discounts on purchases for group events but request that you also send an invitation to the brand founders.
The Jester: the Trickster, Joker, or Anarchist
Goal: to challenge the status quo while enjoying life to the fullest.
The Jester can manifest anywhere along the scale of charming and alluring, to loud and obnoxious. Their only real desire is to have fun, and the only commitment they have is to not take life too seriously. They are refreshingly carefree and love using humor to connect with others (life should be a party after all). Darker manifestations of the Jester can turn the fun into cruelty if taken too far, and carefree can often be mistaken for meaningless.
The Jester rates highly in Excitement, and in some incarnations also Sophistication.
Birddogs, a shorts brand with built-in underwear for men:
How they look: Birddogs has vibrant, action-oriented lifestyle photography. These images often capture pranks in motion or hilarious disasters in progress. They even produced a video that mocked the style of “informercials” to explain that their brand was in fact real.
How they sound: Their brand voice is where Birddogs’ personality really comes through. Blog post titles include “69 Jokes We Made Wearing Birddog Pants,” and “We Asked for Honest Feedback. And Some of You Were Extremely Childish.” Their call to action to follow them on the socials reads “Follow us. If you don’t we’ll auction off your browser history.” And the narration of one of their videos (filled with beeped out swear words) explains one of the benefits of having build-in underwear, is that if someone “pantses” you, you can “give them a full show.”
How they behave: The social networks of Birddogs looks like it could be managed by life-long frat boys, but we say that with love because it’s all part of their charm. They share more funny videos than promotions, and stage good-natured pranks like getting 2 different pizza sellers on the phone with each other to see what happens. One thing to notice here is that even though Chubbies and Birddogs are selling in the same product category and appealing to many of the same customers, they each have a distinct personality and it’s easy to tell them apart.
The Lover: the Seducer, Beloved, or Partner
Goal: intimacy and building deeper relationships.
The Lover is a highly alluring figure, and appreciates the finer things in life including art and food. They’re highly sensual and prefer experience over philosophy. Their greatest desire to create deeper connections with those they love and they fear being rejected. Uniqueness is also especially important to the Lover, they can’t stand to be one of a million, and prefer to be “the one.” While they are passionate, the dark manifestation of the Lover can be hedonistic and tip into obsession.
The Lover’s primary personality dimensions are Excitement and Sophistication, along with a good dose of Sincerity. Although this is a case where we can see the limitations of using the 5 personality dimensions alone, as there are significant differences between the sincerity of the Innocent, and the sincerity of the Lover.
Alfa Romeo, an iconic Italian car manufacturer:
How they look: Like many luxury brands, Alfa Romeo’s visual style is rich. Their photography and video is highly expressive to accentuate the car’s curves, speed, and the thrill of driving. Also, they lean heavily on the color red, and ads often features a pair of cars.
How they sound: Their brand voice accentuates beauty, love, and passion. For instance, their Twitter feed is filled with captions like “Beauty that refuses to blend in,” and “These curves were made for cruising.” The invitation to visit their website is to “Enter the Alfa Romeo world, where driving passion, fine design, and exciting feelings have excited lovers of this amazing & unique Italian brand.”
How they behave: Alfa Romeo keeps the focus on driving, because they understand that love is an experience. So, there are call-to-actions everywhere to find a dealer near you. They are also a long-time constructor for Formula 1, which is the playground of the world’s top car manufacturers. Again, this is another opportunity to compare two brands offering similar products, Rolls Royce (our Ruler brand) and Alfa Romeo are both high-end car manufacturers, but they are targeting a different customer by appealing to vastly different emotions.
The Outlaw: the Rebel, Maverick, or Revolutionary
Goal: to disrupt the tyranny of authority and live free.
The Outlaw doesn’t stand on ceremony, and doesn’t abide social norms if they stand in their way. They are tough, determined, and aren’t afraid to take risks. They are, however, afraid of feeling trapped or being forgotten. In some incarnations, the Outlaw wants to change the world, while in others the Outlaw is happy to ignore civilization all together. While disruption can be a highly creative act, the negative manifestation of the Outlaw can be nihilistic, cynical, and destructive.
The Outlaw scores strongly across several personality dimensions, including Excitement and Ruggedness. Depending on the individual manifestation, they can also be high in Sincerity and Sophistication.
Sleeman, a Canadian beer brand:
How they look: Bottles of Sleeman beer come without paper labels, and rather feature textured glass, a minimalist approach that de-emphasizes an overly gaudy design. Their visual style tends to be dark, or uses high-contract lighting which makes the beer’s color stand out (see the ad example below).
How they sound: Their tagline is “Notoriously Good Since 1834,” a gamble as the adjective “notorious” carries largely negative connotations in polite society. They also emphasize their “craftier thinking,” which once you know their history, can mean anything from “creative” to “slightly outside of the law.” Either way, it suggests that Sleeman is a brand that doesn’t fit the same mold as other options.
How they behave: Sleeman’s ads don’t fit in with he rest of the alcohol category. There are no parties or rounds of beach volleyball here. Instead, Sleeman celebrates their “shady” past which includes ties to (literal) piracy and Prohibition smuggling – which led to the brewery’s closure for 51 years until their recipe was discovered again in a family member’s attic in the 80’s. Sleeman isn’t just explaining their own history, from pirates to bootleggers, they’re celebrating the figure of the Outlaw.
The Hero: the Warrior, Knight, or Soldier
Goal: to make the world a better, safer place.
The Hero archetype is the most well-known on this list because it’s the most used in storytelling. The Hero is focused, strong, and seek to prove their worth. They are driven by ideals and beliefs that are more important than their own self-interest, and so are willing to sacrifice themselves, if necessary, to make sure the world is left in a better place. Heroes are genuine and tough, and also often wise and compassionate. They want to master skills and push their personal potential. They’re often intense, and in their darker manifestation can seem aggressive and unrelenting to the point of foolishness.
In terms of the 5 personality dimensions, Heroes rate highly for Ruggedness, Excitement (as they’re typically adventurers), and Competence. Sincerity is often a strong secondary characteristic. Why so many positive associations? Because Heroes represent the best of us.
Nike, the iconic sports brand:
How they look: Nike might be an obvious choice here, but they’re a well-known Hero archetype brand for a good reason – no one does it better than them. It starts with their celebration of every athlete, a figure they describe as “anyone with a body,” so their brand images include everyone from professional athletes to everyday people struggling for better health. Nike very rarely showcases plain product photos, they almost always in motion on a human body.
How they sound: Nike are masters of brand voice, with taglines that have transcended their role in advertising to personal mantras for millions of people, like “Just Do It,” and “Find Your Greatness.” Their storytelling centers on the determination required to overcome your internal obstacles. This is, essentially, what makes Nike’s use of the Hero archetype stand out. Nike positions the customer as both the Hero and the Villain of the story. Nike’s Heroes are staring down the tyranny of their own inner critics and worst instincts, which requires real strength.
How they behave: Nike has developed a series of apps, like the Run Club and Training Club, to deliver everyday motivation to its users and tips for more effective workouts. As a fitness brand, Nike also prefers in-person events and challenges, like Reactland, a playground similar to a real-life Super Mario level complete with an obstacle course. In other words, Nike doesn’t just talk the talk, they create real tools to help people be Heroes in their own lives.
The Creator: the Innovator, Artist, or Mad Scientist
Goal: to create something new and leave a legacy.
The Creator is the genius compelled by a vision no one else can see or appreciate – until they make it a reality. Creator’s admire other innovators, and nothing excites them more than a new idea or insight. Individuality is extremely important to them, and they’re value the freedom to make mistakes and get their hands dirty experimenting. Others sometimes think they’re crazy idealists, but they don’t worry about what other people think of them. While they celebrate the pure joy of creation and expression, in a darker light they can be seem as narcissistic and perfectionistic.
In terms of the 5 personality dimensions, the Creator is primarily driven by Excitement, they’re also Sincere and follow the beat of their own drummer. Many are also Sophisticated when they’ve reached the level of mastery in their craft.
LEGO, the beloved children’s building block brand:
How they look: LEGO is known for their vibrant, multicolor palette, although their 2 main brand colors are red and yellow, the colors of excitement and joy. Their social profiles are filled with creative LEGO builds and many of their video promos featuring new sets use stop-motion to show the set being built. Emphasizing the build, the process, is the heart of LEGO’s brand.
How they sound: Although LEGO appeals to humans of all ages, their brand voice takes on the lighthearted, wonder-filled quality that speaks to children. They’re also continually inviting customers and fans to share their own creations with the brand.
How they behave: As a legacy brand themselves, LEGO also frequently share tidbits of their own background, including how their Creator values are still alive today in the fact that any modern LEGO brick will still fit with the original bricks produced back when LEGO launched in 1932. It’s a decision that suggests they care more about limitless creation that their bottom line, and they position LEGO as a toy that can be passed down through generations and not lose its magic.
How to design your brand’s personality
There are a lot of moving parts In an effective brand personality, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With the 12 archetypes and 5 personality dimensions in your back pocket, follow this simple process to lay the foundation for your strategy.
Brand personality tips
Above all, the strategy you implement for you brand personality must be authentic. If your personality doesn’t resonate through how you look, how you sound, and how you behave, customers will likely get a mixed message. And in practice, causing confusion will be interpreted as insincerity.
So, don’t think of brand personality as something you’re imposing on your brand. Instead, approach this process as if you’re conducting a psychology profile of the qualities and spirit inherent to your business. The other tip is that personality is a matter of degree. Too much and you’ll be a caricature consumers read as insincere or sarcastic. Too little and no one will pick up what you’re trying to say. The best thing to do is to prioritize consistency over volume. Staying consistent over time will have a much more powerful effect than a single in-your-face campaign.
Step 1. Trust your gut.
As you read through the 5 brand personality dimensions and the 12 brand archetypes, you probably naturally resonated with some personas more than others. If there are any archetypes you can dismiss out of hand, do so. Archetypes are universal you’re already familiar with, so trust your instincts about the potential fits for your brand.
Then take another look at the 5 brand dimensions and identify the 2-3 that seem to fit. This will help you narrow down the list of archetypes and provide guidance going forward without locking you in.
Step 2. What’s standard in your category?
Remember, one of brand personality’s strongest benefits is its ability to differentiate your brand from competitors. Take some time and evaluate what’s standard in your industry. The Hero archetype, for instance, is very common in the fitness world, and the Explorer is also saturated in the outdoor gear/apparel market. If you have a strong connection to a common archetype, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it, but it does mean you’ll have to give extra care to finding a unique way to express your archetype or find a unique set of characteristics to showcase.
Step 3. Who are your customers?
Something we haven’t yet discussed is that while your brand will fit an archetype, so will your customers.
BUT! And this is crucially important: the archetype that describes your customer will probably not be the same archetype you choose for you brand personality (you’ll see why in the next step).
For now, figure out which archetype fits your customers’ goals, motivations, and larger psychographics. Challenge yourself to find a single archetype, but not more than 2 that sums up their behavior and characteristics.
Step 4. What’s your role?
Now, keeping your customers’ goals and archetype in mind, ask yourself what role your brand plays in their lives.
For example, your customers might be Heroes in every sense, but your brand’s role is to arm them with the right knowledge and wisdom to pursue their goals, which would make your brand’s archetype the Sage.
Or, are your customers Rulers who crave the innovation and inspiration of a Creator brand?
Knowing what journey your customer is on, and how your brand compliments that journey is often the best way to identify the ideal brand archetype.
Whatever you do, don’t lose sight of your customers’ needs. If your customers are coming to you for comfort and reassurance, they’re probably not going to appreciate a Jester brand.
However, it’s important to end right where we began: archetypes are deeply imbedded in our psyche. If there’s an archetype that you’re connecting with, trust that intuition.
Step 5. Dial it in.
Now that you’ve chosen your brand archetype and dimensions, dive more deeply into researching the archetype, the fictional characters who align with it, and other brands that leverage its persona. There are many shades of each archetype, so find the details that will help you stand out.
Step 6. Implement!
Once you’ve defined your brand personality, it’s time to put it into practice. Imagine your brand archetype as a guide for every decision you make with your brand. Let their voice be heard in how you look, how you sound, and what you do. A personality strategy is a daily discipline.
Before you go…
Brand personality is one of the single more powerful tools you have implement in your eCommerce business, but it’s often ignored because branding itself is underappreciated.
If you haven’t gone through the branding process for your business, that’s the strongest foundation for a brand personality that connects with consumers. It also makes implementing a personality strategy easier because everything in your business is already aligned.
Personality just adds the emotional case for why your brand is your customer’s best choice.