With COVID-19 throwing the global economy into chaos and causing millions to lose their jobs, brand personality probably doesn’t rank top of mind with many marketers right now. Yet, in times like these, it can be more important than ever. Because we will recover from this public health and economic disaster. And consumers will remember how your brand presented itself – what you said and how you said it – during the pandemic.

In the midst of this pandemic, brands need to do two things above all – remain consistent, and make sure the messaging matches the moment. In other words, don’t suddenly decide you need a brand makeover to respond to COVID. At the same time, don’t be tone deaf to what’s happening in the world. How you deliver your marketing message needs to remain true to your brand personality while also showing understanding and empathy for what everyone is going through.

For example, many brands are pulling TV ads that feature large gatherings of people in celebratory or other large group settings and other social distancing no-no’s. Instead of focusing on the product, many ads are about human connection and how the company will be there for people in this time of need. If you have a tone deaf ad, now’s the time to discontinue it.

The Basics of Brand Personality

Research indicates that brand personality tends to fall into one of five distinct categories. A brand can be:

  • Sophisticated
  • Exciting
  • Sincere
  • Competent
  • Rugged

All brands have one of these primary personality characteristics that brings to life how the company will deliver its message and how it wants to be perceived by its customers. Many also have a secondary personality focus.

Brands personality often varies within the same industry. Consider automobiles. BMW is competent and exciting. Their creative focuses on engineering and performance. Mercedes represents sophistication – luxury, style, prestige – with a little bit of performance. Jeep is rugged, so they always show their vehicles traveling off the beaten path. Volvo is sincere and competent, with much of their creative focusing on safety and their concern for you and your family.

Personality helps energize delivery of your brand assets through ads, marketing collateral, and web sites; and it can provide a strong differentiator in highly commoditized categories. Sometimes, while the brand personality is fine, the creative execution can make a world of difference. Look at the automobile insurance category.

Many years ago, all the brands presented a personality in the “sincere” and “competent” camps – “Like A Good Neighbor State Farm Is There” and “You’re In Good Hands With Allstate” – but the ads lacked imagination and consumers didn’t pay attention. However, starting with the Geico Cavemen and Gecko, auto insurers changed the way they delivered competent and sincere personalities – through the lens of humor.

Humor has helped auto insurers differentiate their brands – Progressive (Flo), Allstate (Mayhem), Liberty Mutual (Emu and the Statue of Liberty campaigns). They found that shifting the way they delivered their personality, helped differentiate their brand message and break through the clutter. In a time of cord-cutting, these commercials are actually fun to watch.

The airline industry offers another instructive example. While everyone’s “product” is essentially the same (a flying metal tube that takes you through the air from point A to point B), most players such as Delta, United and American have done a poor job in consistently defining their brand personality. In contrast, Southwest has a clearly defined brand personality, focused on “fun” and “love”, that builds connections and loyalty with their customers. Their people smile and often tell jokes at every touch point, including the check-in counter, at the gate and even while on board. This creates a very different overall customer experience based on their personality.

Reflect Your Audience

Our previous blog talked about points of parity and difference. Points of parity are the features and benefits your business must have for potential buyers to even consider you. Points of difference are features or benefits that differentiate you from competitors and help you win in the market. And employing a distinctive brand personality can help make your strong points of difference break through.

Coke and Pepsi both have strong brand personalities, yet they are very different. Neither one focuses on their product because they’re pretty much the same (caramel-colored sugar water). Instead, they focus on the experience. On the one hand, Coke is about authenticity, connection and engagement (“The Real Thing”) and bringing family and friends together. On the other hand, Pepsi is more dynamic, energetic and on the cutting edge, targeting younger consumers who are looking for a very different experience.

Building a brand personality and then consistently delivering on it is also very important. Why? Because it creates trust and reliability between your brand and your customers. If you continually change your brand personality, your target audience won’t know what to expect, and the customer / brand bond can be damaged. And if you purposefully act in a way that contradicts your brand personality, that bond can vanish overnight.

For years, Arthur Anderson was one of the most respected “Big Five” accounting firms. Their brand personality communicated competence and sincerity (trust) – until they got caught up in the Enron scandal. Once they broke that trust, their brand collapsed, and clients dropped them immediately. The company dissolved, although the consulting arm of the business was able to rebrand itself as Accenture.

Stay in the Moment

Brands can be consistent despite the COVID pandemic, even though the tone and message may change. The key is making sure your messaging fits the current environment. This may involve adjusting your message, but not the fundamentals of your brand. Some of the ads we’ve seen on TV that fit the moment include:

  • Sam’s Club – Their latest ad thanks employees for keeping the shelves stocked so people can get the food and supplies they need.
  • Nike – Their new ad campaign focuses on how to play at home.
  • Budweiser – Their recent ad salutes the doctors, nurses, first responders on the front lines fighting the coronavirus.
  • Lexus – While most auto companies are paying attention to the moment, they’re still trying to sell you cars with no payments for three months or no interest for 84 months. Lexus is taking a different approach. They’re saying, “Don’t worry about all that stuff, we’ll continue to focus on helping people and the rest will take care of itself.”

These examples all convey a positive, supportive tone about the world we are temporarily living in while remaining consistent with the company’s brand. Conversely, any ad that conveys the message that it’s still business as usual comes across as tone deaf.

To keep your brand consistent and relevant:

Check your current marketing messaging for tone-deafness. Pull any communications that don’t fit the moment or might violate customer trust. No one knows how long this will last.

Think about how the needs of your customers will change as a result of the virus and see how your brand can meet them there. How does the delivery of your brand’s personality need to change or be adjusted, but still be consistent with your brand’s positioning? Where do you need to shift, from an operational and marketing standpoint, to be ready to meet those needs when this is all over?

If you’re uncertain what to say or how to say it, Bottom Line Marketing can help protect your brand and your business. Reach out to us and we’ll set up a time to talk.

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