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August 18, 2021

The Why and How of Building Your Brand Personality

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eBrandcast / The Why and How of Building Your Brand Personality

One of the reasons branding is misunderstood by entrepreneurs, is that many of its important elements and concepts sound too vague to be practical. “Brand personality” is a perfect example. It’s a term you’ve probably heard many times, but have no idea what it really is, or means. Personality in people is the fusion of their style of expression, the impression they leave on others, and their identity. In brands, when it’s done right, it’s how your brand, look, sounds, and behaves. And it’s the sum total of these elements that creates the emotional association your brand leaves on consumers.

When it’s done well, a brand personality conjures an image of your target customer, and naturally attracts a loyal following. And whether or not you’re actively shaping this personality, customers will give you one, and it’s probably not something you want to leave to chance. So in this episode, we break down what a brand personality is, why it’s important, and the concrete ways you can put it in action.

You'll Learn

The critical difference between identity and personality

The 5 dimensions of brand personality

The 3 ways brand personality is expressed… that is, how to implement your brand personality

Several in-depth eCommerce examples of brand personality at work in the real-world


Full Podcast Transcript

Hello Beings of Earth! I’m your host Neil Verma.

Welcome to eBrandCast, where we decode what branding truly is, so you can build a dominant eCom Brand.

In this episode, we’re going to look at one of the most important facets of your brand: its personality.

If you’ve been interested in branding for any amount of time now, I’m sure this is a term you’ve heard over and over again.

But what the hell does it actually mean?

And does brand personality make a real difference to your business?

Let’s start with what it is.

When we think about our own personality, we tend to see it as synonymous with our identity, it’s who we are, the filter through which we experience the world.

It’s the particular way or style in which we express our inner self.

But it’s not just how we think about ourselves.

When it comes to the personalities of the people in our lives, their personality is an impression they make on us.

In the dictionary, personality is defined as “the visible aspects of one’s character as it impresses others.”

The danger is that most of us have traits and tendencies we aren’t consciously aware of, but that are obvious to other people.

Or worse, the gap between identity and personality can be so wide that it lands in hypocrisy.

And we use the word “delusional” for people whose self-concept, or sense of identity, is totally at odds with their personality.

I mention this to point out that identity and personality aren’t necessarily aligned.

Facebook may offer a platform for friends, relatives, and people with common interests to connect,

And their mission statement might be to “bring the world closer together,”

But in practice, Facebook has refused to moderate political ads, and has knowingly inflamed social and political divisions.

They’ve also amplified destructive disinformation.

It’s fair to say that their attempt to build an identity as connectors is often directly contradicted by their behavior.

So most of us would probably describe their personality as manipulative and untrustworthy.

Because no matter what they say about themselves, that’s the way we experience them behaving.

This is an important lesson to keep in mind: 

through the process of branding, you will precisely and clearly define your brand’s identity, but that doesn’t mean this “self-concept” will translate well with your target audience.

Because misalignments can happen even when you’re not actively manipulating or lying to your customers.

Brand personality, then, is the strategy you use to ensure the impression you’re leaving on customers, is consistent with the brand identity you’ve so carefully designed.

When consumers describe a brand in terms of human traits, like “wholesome,” “funny,” or “trustworthy,” this is brand personality in action.

Whether or not you take the time to shape your brand’s personality, will not stop customers from describing it for you.

Humans have a deeply ingrained instinct to anthropomorphize familiar, though inanimate, objects.

In other words, we naturally look to make human connections with the things we care about, and so we project human traits and quirks onto those objects.

If you’ve ever found a single mitten lost in a snowbank and wondered if it felt lonely, that’s anthropomorphism at work.

And basically, if you’re not purposefully shaping your brand personality, you’re leaving it to chance, and you may not like the results.

In order to help your target customers relate to and enjoy your brand, you need to mold your brand personality around traits they’ll relate to, and want to interact with.

Don’t, however, confuse brand personality with brand image, either.

While brand personality will be largely shaped by how you want your brand to be perceived, your brand image is more closely related to the tangible physical and functional benefits your brand offers.

Brand personality, meanwhile, shapes the emotional associations customers have with the brand.

It’s a set of qualities that describe the kind of relationship customers have with the brand, and can be a powerful way to differentiate your brand from competitors, who offer functionally similar products.

Brand personality needs to express your brand’s unique DNA.

Brand personality is therefore, closely related to your target customer.

In fact, when we describe a brand’s personality, it should conjure an image of the type of person we associate with a brand.

For instance, brands have characteristics that indicate age, gender, and socioeconomic status.

Remember those old Apple commercials that featured a middle-aged buy in a suit who was the PC, and a young, laid back, hipster as the MAC?

A brand’s personality is often a projection of the ideal customer’s persona, or aspirational self

Because we tend to choose and stay loyal to the brands we perceive to be the most like ourselves, or how we’d like to be.

The idea behind those Apple ads was that you didn’t want to be the boring, bureaucratic, and corporate PC guy. 

Likewise, Harley-Davidson motorcycles appeal to a certain personality type.

Words like rebellious, free, and loyal come to mind.

Now, don’t get me wrong, brand personality may create emotional associations, but it’s also a concrete strategy.

From the customer’s perspective, your brand’s personality is the sum total of what your brand says, how it behaves, what your brand stands for, and the quality of their experience interacting with your brand.

From your perspective as the brand manager, brand personality is the specific strategy you use to express your brand’s identity.

According to Jennifer Aaker, a marketing professor and social psychologist, customers define a brand’s personality along 5 dimensions:

sincerity, which speaks to how down-to-earth and honest your brand feels;

excitement, whether your brand is daring, innovative, fun, or more mundane;

ruggedness, is your brand tough and resilient?;

sophistication, which speaks to whether your brand is elegant, mature, prestigious, or more innocent and naïve;

and finally, competence, is your brand reliable, intelligent, and capable?

Each one of these dimensions represents a spectrum, and your brand’s personality will be a unique combination of how your brand ranks on each dimension.

Harley-Davidson would be high in sincerity, ruggedness, competence, and excitement, but low in sophistication.

And within these dimensions there’s room for difference.

The excitement of driving a Harley is going to have a different quality, than the excitement of driving a Triumph.

But figuring out which dimensions your brand emphasizes is a good starting point to getting clear on your brand’s unique personality.

Next, brand personality is expressed in 3 ways: how your brand looks, how your brand sounds, and how your brand behaves.

Once you’ve got a sense of your brand’s personality and you’ve honed it with your customer persona to the exact combination that will most appeal to your target audience, 

you need to ensure that you’re expressing that personality coherently across these 3 outlets.

Don’t worry, we’ll walk through some eCommerce examples in a few minutes, but I’ll give you the overview first.

First, how your brand looks: one of the best ways to express your personality is through your brand’s visual identity.

Your brand name, logo, color palette, and even the fonts you use, all signal the character of your brand.

The bright orange and slimy aesthetic of the Nickelodeon logo, for example, screams youth, fun, and silliness.

Contrast that against the simple, black and white, logo of the BBC which uses the same font as the London Underground.

As a news organization, the logo signals straightforward honesty, clarity, and a lack of emotional excitement.

Second, is how your brand sounds.

This is the style of voice your brand uses, the language you speak, and the relative tone of your messaging.

Whether you use buttoned-up, formal language with precise grammar, will create a different impression than a message filled with curse words and slang.

Tone is also important, does your brand keep things light, or are do you take things more seriously?

All of this contributes to your brand personality.

Finally, how your brand behaves.

This where your brand personality is either proven or destroyed.

You can look and sound fun, but if your brand makes customers feel frustrated or annoyed, you’re going to be labelled as two-faced, and untrustworthy, pretty quickly.

How your brand specifically engages customers, and how it fosters feelings of connection, are what matter here.

Of course, your brand experience will also have an impact here, but it’s best to think of how you relate to customers on a human level.

How and why do you reach out to your followers on social media?

How do you respond to customer questions and feedback?

What kinds of programs and events do you create for consumers?

What interests and concerns do you use to spark conversations with customers?

Now that you have a sense of the framework of a brand personality, let’s look at some eCommerce examples, and how other brands are shaping their personality.

We’ll go through all 5 dimensions, and look at examples of brands who are building a personality accentuating each quality.

Mike’s Organic is an eCommerce brand whose personality emphasizes sincerity.

The brand offers a service that allows customers to shop for produce online.

After receiving their weekly orders they fulfill them by buying from small, local farmers in Stamford, Connecticut where they’re based, before shipping them every Monday.

The brand personality is honest, caring, and helpful.

They communicate this by using soft, muted colors.

Their website is white and beige, allowing the produce itself to provide pops of color.

They also use simple, hand-drawn cartoons to give a touch of fun.

There’s nothing pretentious or flashy here.

Also, using ‘Mike’ in their name, positions their brand as a friend, not a faceless corporation.

They sound straightforward and down-to-earth.

They use clear, common language.

There are no expensive words here, and they strike a friendly tone.

Their blog posts sound like an email from a friend and are easy to read.

And aside from offering local, organic produce, Mike’s warehouse is open to visitors, and has a marketplace to let local customers shop in person.

It’s also equipped with a play space for kids and an event space to host cooking classes and seminars.

Another sincerity-fueled eCommerce brand is Rachel’s Plan Bee, a brand that manufacturers and sells handcrafted skincare products that use all-natural, organic, and fair-trade ingredients.

The brand was inspired by the sensitive skin of the founder’s son.

Like Mike’s Organic, Rachel’s also has a friendly, honest, personality though Rachel’s is more whimsical than the totally down-to-earth Mike’s.

Straightforward honesty is embedded right away by naming the brand after their founder.

The look of their website is basic: they use a plain white background and only sparingly use a very pale yellow for highlights.

Rose is used for headings, and pastel pinks, greens, and yellows adorn the flowers in their logo.

Their product photos incorporate natural elements as well.

The messaging is warm and personal.

Messages are written in italics to make them feel like a hand-written note, and each is signed by Rachel with a rose-colored heart, almost like inviting you into the family.

The messaging emphasizes being kind to your skin, and how the use of natural ingredients is a manifestation of the brand’s care for your well-being.

Rachel’s backs up this caring personality with their actions: they clearly list that all of their products are free from parabens, artificial elements, gluten, and petrochemicals, and that they only source ethically.

As for brands whose personality trades on excitement, one great example is, who sell clothing, accessories, planners, and other fun items, “curated to make you smile.”

This brand’s personality also has a heavy dose of sincerity, as they state their purpose is to help you be your best self, but fun permeates everything they do.

Their website is filled with bright colors.

They feature large photos of their products being worn and used, and add graphic elements on top.

Right on their homepage, they also provide large, bright buttons that allow consumers to shop all products in a specific color.

The letters in the menu buttons of their navigation bar, go from straight to wavy when you mouse over them, and even their shopping bag icon winks at you under the mouse cursor.

The brand sounds upbeat and positive in their messaging, and they keep their voice relatable.

Sentences are short, punchy, and easy to read, but also friendly in tone.

They’re not afraid of a few exclamation points, either.

One of the ways brings this personality to life is by partnering with independent artists, and small companies to offer their customers unique, niche items that feel special.

Their social media posts, also encourage customers to embrace their individual tastes and needs.

On the wackier side of excitement, there’s Firebox, who specialize in unusual gifts.

How unusual?

Currently featured on their homepage is a string of tiny Christmas lights and disco balls to decorate your beard.

They also sell a limited collection of alcohol, coffee, and snacks, like Unicorn Tears Gin, and Instant Regret Chili Chocolate.

Their website is also filled with bright colors, but with a decidedly 90’s flavor that looks like it came out of a Saved by the Bell episode.

Their logo also replaces the O in Firebox with a disco ball.

They make clever use of scrolling, which animates cartoons posted on various pages.

They leave lots of white space and their sense of humor to encourage you to keep scrolling – against your will, even – to read a pointless but very funny conversation on their About page.

Otherwise, they let the products exude their wackiness.

Firebox’s voice stands out: 

The first thing they explain on their ‘About’ page is that their original brand name, Hot Box, had to be changed after they discovered it was already being used by a porn company.

They aren’t shy about announcing their love of “getting pissed,” and their general irreverence can be found in how they name their products, like F*cking Strong Coffee.

One of the best ways Firebox puts this personality into action is with their ‘Crap Wrap’ service.

This is an option you can choose at checkout, to have your purchase gift-wrapped with intentional carelessness.

Complete with rips, tears, and “pathetic attempts at folding,” by their warehouse staff who are given “full creative freedom.”

Moving to ruggedness, this is a common personality dimension for brands that have outdoorsy products.

Yeti, a brand that sells coolers, drinkware, and apparel for outdoor adventures.

They manufacture their products for the best performance and durability.

Their personality is dependable, grounded, and tough.

Their website uses dark greys and blues as accents, and they make good use of large lifestyle photography that features their products being used in remote settings.

Unlike most other eCommerce brands, the font they use for headlines is serif, meaning it has feet.

This gives their brand personality the feeling of balance and strength.

Their voice implies an openness to adventure, and a love of the outdoors.

For instance, “Built for the Wild” is their tagline, and their product descriptions reiterate their items can handle whatever journey you have in mind.

But they also stick to practical, descriptive language, that gives a clear picture of how their ice chests work, and why they’re superior to other options.

They don’t hide their product dimensions and specs, either, instead they offer large graphics that give you every detail you need to make up your mind.

Yeti also puts their values up front, and prove the reality of their personality by showcasing their dozens of partnerships with conservation and wildlife organizations.

You can also browse profiles of their brand ambassadors, all of which feature interviews that highlight the ambassadors outdoor passion.

You can even filter the list by outdoor interest, like fishing or hiking.

Enlightened Equipment also has a personality centered on ruggedness, but more in the sense of portability than toughness.

They create ultra-lightweight sleeping bags and quilts for camping and backpacking.

Their personality is less pronounced and more minimalistic.

They have a cooperative, helpful personality, one that’s open for any adventure.

Their website is more minimalistic.

While they feature lush photography right under their navigation menu which is dark grey, the rest of their site features plain product photos and easy ways to filter and view search results.

Their voice is also practical and down-to-earth.

Their copy emphasizes product features, and they give extensive details in bullet-points about each product.

They even have an entire section of their support service, just to deal with product specifications to help you find the right match for you.

There are no frills here, just what you need to get on with what counts – your adventure.

Their actions reflect this ethos, too.

Their Instagram page, for instance, is filled with photos of their happy customers out in the wild with their products.

They also run a blog that gives practical advice for ensuring you stay healthy and more comfortable on your outdoor trips.

For Enlightened Equipment, their personality is more subdued to allow yours to shine.

This is reflected in everything they do, including their core brand purpose to make adventuring easier by lightening your load.

They make you more rugged.

On the other end of the spectrum is sophistication.

An eCommerce brand that appeals with a high degree of sophistication is Tamara Mellon, a luxury shoe and accessory retailer.

Tamara Mellon co-founded Jimmy Choo in the 90’s, so she brings her high-fashion qualifications.

The brand personality exudes elegance, luxury, and is fashion forward.

Their website uses a silver palette with black and white highlights.

The photography is very reminiscent of Vogue magazine and fashion run-ways.

Even the colors of the products themselves are gemstone and precious metal inspired.

This feeling of richness and luxury even leaks into their brand voice: “Let’s talk business, in 14k gold” is how they introduced their new line of anklets, for instance.

Their copy is straightforward but formal.

In only a few lines they explain the materials used and where it was made.

This stripped-back, emotionless style lets the product photos do most of the talking, and gives the feeling of exclusivity.

You need to have a sophisticated appreciation of the materials used and what “Handcrafted in Italy” means, in order to find their products appealing.

And like most luxury brands, their sophistication extends to high-end services they offer customers.

Like their complimentary Cobbler Concierge service, that allows customers to get their shoes expertly repaired for up to 2 years after purchase, they even cover all shipping costs for you.

Similarly, Baudoin (bodwayne) & Lange (lanje), also a luxury shoe retailer, present a sophisticated personality that emphasizes timelessness and luxury in the sense of comfort, rather than high fashion.

When you arrive at their website, you’re treated to photography that takes up all the real-estate on your screen.

What’s unique about their photos is they emphasize the texture of the shoes.

It seems like you could feel the leather through your screen.

They also feature videos of their shoes being handmade, and emphasize the art of shoemaking as being passed through generations.

When it comes to voice, they also use subtle, formal language that assumes your inclusion in the club.

For instance, the brand features a unique seal of three dots on the heel of every shoe.

Each dot represents one of their values: fine craftsmanship and materials, timeless design, and contemporary functionality.

But they describe it this way: as a “sign of recognition for those in the know.”

Also, they invite you to visit their “Ateliers” for a fitting – assuming you appreciate what atelier means (it’s just an artist’s private workshop).

They also go into great detail about how they source their materials, and the quality of craftsmanship behind each pair.

The brand’s personality really comes through in the emphasis on the individual artists and craftsmanship that go into each shoe.

Baudoin & Lange’s social posts, for instance, primarily focus on the shoes themselves, and the tools used to create them.

There are very few models, and even then, they’re usually photographed from the waist down.

They also exude their exclusivity with photos of their displays in high-end, but legacy retailers like Selfridges and Harrods – again underlining their timelessness.

Finally, there are the brands that trade on competence.

Eye Love is an eCommerce company that sells supplements, eye drops, and other products that promote healthy eyes.

They personality is based on trust, expertise, and reliability.

They communicate this with the design of their website, which is white with blue accents, a color highly symbolic of trust and security, and is widely used in the healthcare industry.

They also prominently feature their average 5/5 star product rating, as well as where they have been featured in the press.

Quizzes and other resources to learn more about eye health are readily available as well.

Their voice sticks with medical, scientific language but makes it relatable.

The product description for one of their eye drops explains that the product is, 

“a true solution that keeps tears on the eye surface, to relieve the irritation, gritty, sticky-lid sensation that is commonly experienced with dry eye.”

There’s no slang or attempt to inject too much personality into it, other than to address the medical needs of the customer.

The brand follows through on the use of natural, organic ingredients.

Their products are also cruelty-free, and made in the USA, giving consumers an insight into their ethical business practices.

Minaal is the manufacturer of durable travel bags and accessories that are minimalist, but optimized to organize your belongings.

Their competency-based personality emphasizes productivity, durability, and a stress-free experience.

While Minaal definitely has rugged traits as well, I’ve chosen to use them as an example of competence, because the design of their bag interiors are smart, 

allowing you to store more to maximize space and make finding individual items easier.

Their visual identity reflects their minimalism and compact approach.

Their site uses plain, and off-white shades, with sparing use of red for their call-to-action buttons.

Like Eye Love, they also prominently feature their press mentions, as well as use plenty of lifestyle photography, to suggest the practical nature of their bags.

Their voice is straightforward and practical, as well as thorough.

For instance, the list of features for their Carry-On 2.0 bag includes that it’s within US and European airline carry-on limits, and that its laptop compartment is Devicenest shock-proof.

The main features aren’t just listed, either, but shown with multiple photos that include both plain product close-ups, and pictures of the bag in use.

Every signal indicates that every inch of the bag has been intentionally engineered, and thought through.

To back up this personality with actions, there’s probably no greater mark of competence than a lifetime warranty on all their products.

Their brand also accepts a very wide range of payment options, and ships worldwide in order to cater to a jet-setting, global customer base, making ordering easy.

Hopefully, walking through these examples has shed light on what brand personality is, and why you need to design a 3-pronged strategy to clearly communicate your brand identity to customers.

By distilling your brand’s personality from your identity, and defining the emotional associations you want customers to make with your brand, 

you can get a clear direction on how to shape your brand’s visuals, voice, and decisions.

Not only will this make for a more aligned, authentic brand, it will also help you more deeply connect with like-minded consumers.

Having a clear brand personality will not only differentiate you from competitors, it will give everything your brand does a unique signature – helping customers recognize your messaging in the market.

Personality can also support your brand in finding the best partners and sponsors to amplify your brand to new audiences.

Most importantly, I hope you now appreciate that brand personality isn’t just a list of adjectives you’d like customers to rattle off when they think of you.

It’s a strategy to frame and support an emotional connection with your ideal customers, that’s totally unique to your brand.

The real lesson today?

Don’t leave your brand personality to chance.

Make sure you’re taking the time to translate your carefully built brand identity into a personality that leaves the right impression.

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