Back in the late 50s a hit song called "Personality" was recorded by Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Lloyd Price. The lyrics went something like this: "My friends say I'm a fool / But over and over / I'll be a fool for you/ `cause you got PERSONALITY." It has endured over the years - because it's a catchy tune with a straightforward message - and as a result, even people like me who were not around when it first came out have heard it. Price must have believed in his lyrics too, because in recent years he created a line of food products, the slogan for which is "Great Taste and Good Personality."
Can a line of food products have a personality? Of course it can, and so can the company that manufactures it.
The trouble today is that lots of businesses don't give a second thought to their personalities. They can hire the best copy writers and graphic designers in the world, but if those creative geniuses don't grasp and advance the company's personality, potential clients will never see it shining through.
Many businesses seem to confuse personality with branding. Branding is something that identifies. The original meaning of the word "brand" indicated ownership, such as was documented by burning the hide of an animal with a hot iron. Hot irons aside, that is pretty much how branding works today. When you go into a bookstore and see an orange spine, you know it is a Penguin title. Likewise, you can recognize a red and white Campbell's Soup can from a mile away. Campbell's could put out a new soup concoction daily, but it would still be Campbell's, and as such, consumers would still bring to the new creation whatever assumptions they've made about Campbell's soups in the past. Branding works, as researchers have so unanimously pointed out, because the human brain responds better to well-recognized objects-for the simple reason that less brain activity is required.
Personality can be present in a brand, but it is not the same as branding. Personality is what's behind the branding, the essence of a company or business, what makes it tick. For example, take a look at Anheuser Busch. They are a company that sincerely believes enjoying work is an important part of life. If you go to the website you'll see images of people at work, all of them enjoying it. If Anheuser Busch were a person, he (and surely it would be a male) would be a typical middle-class American guy. He might enjoy sports or getting together with his buddies for a couple of beers on a Friday night, but he's also a family man, someone who is community minded. He's a stand-up kind of guy too, someone who is there when you need him. He's the kind of guy who enjoys beauty and harmony, of the sort exemplified in the Budweiser Clydesdales. Who can blame him? Anheuser Busch has personality and they know how to use it; their marketing is nothing short of ingenious.
Just as we bring a set of assumptions to a can of Campbell's, we often make blanket generalizations about what kind of personality we think a type of business might have. We may assume that the personality of a used car dealership, for example, is likely to be calculating, manipulative and crafty. Of course there are plenty of used car dealerships that don't share those personality traits at all. But if they don't let their real personalities shine through, no one will know it.
In fact, for those of us who work in industries that often take a bad rap, displaying a company personality that runs against the grain of the anticipated one provides great opportunity to gain an edge over the competition. It's like opening a can of Campbell's only to find that it is full of chocolate. All assumptions about Campbell's go right down the drain. We see this happen all the time in the world of advertising. People assume that ad agencies are slick, aggressive firms that keep their focus on the bottom line. So when they find one that's as down to earth and sincere as the girl next door, they're knocked for a loop.
Businesses don't necessarily create their personalities; it's just who they happen to be. But smart businesses with good personalities use them to their advantage. They let their personalities shine through in the way they treat their clients and their employees, in what kind of information they provide on their websites, in the decor they use in their offices ... everywhere they can.
In the end it's the people behind a company that generate its personality. Their collective personalities shine through as one. When that collective personality is a good one, it can be irresistible, no matter what they're trying to sell. Likewise, if their collective personality is ...well...blah, they can be giving away their product for free, and they still won't be able to compete with their more spirited counterparts.
Summer, with its inherent vacations and scattering of three-day weekends, is a great time to think about your company's personality. There is a reason so many magazines persist in printing personality tests: it always seems to be easier to determine someone else's personality than your own. But if you make the effort to pin down how your company comes across to others, you can use that information to create a marketing campaign that goes beyond branding… because whether you know it or not, you've got personality.
June Bisel, BBG&G Advertising