Making sense of Brand Values, Character and Personality

Ryo Leong
7 min readMar 20, 2019
Humans are complicated… so are Brands

Whenever we touch on branding, we will come across various “components” or “elements” of a brand. Not only can they be confusing, they are also somewhat inconsistent in the industry with each agency creating their own “proprietary” insights (are there 5, 7 or 10 elements?).

As branding evolves as a discipline, we have embraced the concept that a brand is just like a person. A person would have values, character and personality. It is therefore natural to extend the same thinking to brands. With brand stories become more and more important, it is imperative that the brand be seen as a “person” in order to be part of the story in a personable way. Hence, Brand Values, Brand Character and Brand Personality would be three of the many components that require clarity for a good brand story.

Brand Values

Just like how our values define us, brand values define the business. I believe that brand values form the Content Compass that will direct how the narrative of a brand story will go.

Brand values represent what is important to the business, its beliefs. The brand purpose answer the “WHY” question to a business’ existence while brand values reflect the inherent convictions on “HOW” the business should conduct itself. These are the foundation to generating trust (a notion made popular by Simon Sinek).

Simon Sinek — “First why and then trust”

Brand Character

Human beings are complicated. In order to try to understand them better, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung came up with twelve Character Archetypes based on four psychological needs. Character is therefore the image projected based on our response to the needs that motivate us most. These psychological needs would tie in with and explain the values that we have. The archetypes provide the framework for us to group people into more predictable moulds.

12 Jungian Archetypes Map. Source: Iconic Fox

While there are many articles on the internet on the 12 Jungian Archetypes and how to use them for branding, I found the one written by Stephen Houraghan of Iconic Fox Brand Agency one of the most extensive and complete.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks on the usage of the 12 character archetypes is whether to use them for the customer or the brand (some have called them “brand archetypes”). Since the brand is to be treated as a person, it is accurate to say that the 12 character archetypes can be applied to both customer and the brand. In fact, the framework can and should be applied to all characters in the brand story.

Instead of working on which character archetype to apply for our brand, we should first identify which to apply for our target persona.

In brand story inception, the lead character in the story is NOT the brand but the customer. We should thus align the brand’s character to that of our ideal customer (ie., target persona). To connect with our target audience, the character archetype for the brand and the customer should be identical.

There are exceptions though. Sometimes, the customer is not the consumer. For example, when doing a brand story for a non-emergency ambulance service, the user (or consumer) is the patient who needs to be ferried. However, the customer is more often than not the family member who has to pick up the expenses. It is natural for the brand to use a “Caregiver” character archetype, a “person” who provides safety and stability for the user who is in need for safety and stability. Yet if the brand story is addressed to the customer, a “Magician” character archetype may appeal more as a “brand person” who has the “power” to overcome the disruption to the customer’s life caused by the patient’s condition. Alternatively, a “Lover” character archetype who is most concerned with the intimacy and relationship may appeal to both customer and user in their time of need. Hence it is important to first identify who we are communicating to.

Houraghan also mentioned about the need to address brand differentiation. If the healthcare industry calls for a “Caregiver” character archetype, how do you differentiate from other providers? By devoting 70% to the core archetype and working on the remaining 30% to create an influencer archetype. This archetypal mix provides the “same-same but different” character for the brand. In the example above, the core archetype can be “Caregiver” but the influencer archetype can be a “Magician”, with the latter used especially when directing at the “customer”.

Archetypal Mix proposed by Iconic Fox

Another confusing area comes from how a brand may be used by different authors to illustrate different archetypes. For one, a brand’s character may evolve. Houraghan illustrated the example of Apple, which was a “Rebel” when they launched the Macintosh with the “1984” ad but had changed to a “Creator” by the time Steve Jobs got the brand to “Think Different”.

The other consideration is how the influencer archetypes may be more dominant for a particular campaign addressing to different target segments. For example, Toyota Motors has taken on a “Creator” core character archetype as a “brand person” who works on innovation to provide a “predictable” quality to the way of commute. However, they will put on a “Lover” influencer character archetype in the campaign below when selling their “safety sense” auto-braking function.

Loving Eyes -Toyota Safety Sense

Even for the same model, Prius, the brand has shifted from appealing to environmentally conscious “Innocent” character archetypes to the “Rebel” in the bid to broaden the appeal of the car (targeting at a new segment).

Toyota Prius appealing to the environmentally conscious
Toyota Prius as an escape vehicle for robbers

But amidst all, the core brand character of a “Creator” remains, aligning with the then slogan of “Moving forward” (Toyota has since changed their slogan to “Let’s go places” in 2012 not without criticism).

Brand Personality

People with similar values and character may still do things differently due to differing personality. Hence, a brand personality refers to the outer appearance and behaviour of the business as it reacts to various scenarios. It is the tone of voice in the communications. While the Jungian character archetypes do give some insights into each character’s personality, there are personality frameworks to assist in analysis better:

Modern personality frameworks/tests can have up to 16 different personality types based on 4 variables (eg., https://www.16personalities.com/). However, for brand personalities, most will still use J.Aaker’s Five Dimensions of Brand Personality.

Source: Superskill

While differentiation can be achieved by looking into the “influencer” character archetype, it may be easier and more effective to look into “Personalities” (or tone of voice) especially if there is no predominant “industry core character archetype”.

As mentioned, humans are complicated. As such, when we treat the brand like a person, its personality can also be complicated. Aaker’s five dimensions of personality are not mutually exclusive. Hence, it is totally possible to have a “mixed” personality (eg., competent yet sincere, or even a combination of all 5 to various degrees). Note, however, that the more “complicated” the personality, the harder it is to communicate it to your customers.

So how do we decide on the personality of the brand? Once again, we look to our ideal customer. What sort of personality will appeal to our target persona?But at the same time, this personality (the exterior) must not clash with the internal motivation (character) and values (beliefs).

Unlike Character Archetypes where we typically adopt the same archetype as our customer, it is possible and may even be better, to mix in slightly different personalities in some cases. Example of such scenarios would be “The Quest” type of brand stories, where the brand plays the role of a supportive and loyal friend to the customer on his/her journey.

Think in terms of your close friends. Do they all have the same personalities? Chances are, you will be attracted to people who are different from you. People with different personalities may bond and complement each other better, although they are likely to still have similar values and character.

Always #LikeAGirl campaign

As a sanitary pad brand, Always takes on an Innocent character archetype, believing in positivity, that girls should not be labelled and restricted. When taking on the brand story, they have increase the “Competence” personality to support their customers who may skew more towards “Sincerity”. They want to be reliable and confident to complement the customer on her growing up journey as a “girl/lady”. This tone of voice establishes Always as the brand to be trusted on a girl’s “quest”.

In conclusion, Brand Purpose and Values are the DNA of a business and should always be the true north for the Content Compass. As the business looks into its ideal customers to serve, they can then establish their Brand Character and Brand Personality. Slight variations can be made with different communication pieces in order to talk to different sub-groups of customers or to add in a dash of sophistication to the brand. However, the core character and defining personality trait should be consistent and predominant in the majority of content produced over time.

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Ryo Leong

Content Strategist, Content Play — Helping to craft your stories to date and chart your stories to come.