We hear it all the time.

 “I’m working on developing my personal brand”.

Why are people striving to become more like brands, when corporate brands are desperately looking to humanize themselves. Aren’t these divergent movements?

It‘s about survival.

It used to be a business was a specialist worker, a butcher, a cobbler, a carpenter, a cook. With the industrial revolution, businesses scaled and became companies: Woolworths, Macy's, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Ford. 

Many companies have emotional equities that grew out of the personality of an original founder. The result of this is an unshakable authenticity. For example, Colonel Sanders of KFC, Martha Stewart or Ralph Lauren.

Brands that don't have visible founders strive to invent brand personalities and archetypes through characters, celebrities or humor like the Marlboro Man, GIECO’s gecko, Tony the Tiger, Ronald McDonald or Michael Jordan for Nike.

Why do they do it?

Brand authenticity is very hard to accomplish without “a face” associated with it. Someone to believe and to believe in. Not having a face creates mistrust. In fact, for most people, the term "faceless corporation" is associated with greed, resource pillage and disregard for human needs and dignity in the pursuit of profit. Think BP, IBM, Citibank, Exxon, Comcast, Merrill Lynch. While brands with faces; Virgin, Apple and Tesla, create a sense of ease, familiarity and foster a deeper level of trust.

When it comes right down to it, people trust and identify with brands with human characteristics. It’s what we do as humans. We anthropomorphize things. What is the value in bestowing human characteristics on a non-human entity? Simple. Studies have found that brands that adhere to brand personality archetypes are twice as successful than those that do not. [Boom, drops the mic.]

So how do companies define a personality?

Science. Corporations and brand strategy agencies use consumer insight research, macro and micro socio-economic trend, focus groups and behavioral audits to uncover the human characteristics a brand possesses. "If X-brand walked into a party, What gender are they? What age? What are they wearing? What are they drinking? Talking about?” “If X-brand was an animal what kind of animal would it be?" Brand strategists have been sharpening these exploratory research techniques for decades and know exactly how to dig into our psyches. I know, I’ve been in the focus group labs where it happens. 

Big branding gloves.

Brands also utilize a variety of strategic brand positioning tools. The most common being a “brand pyramid”, where the aspects of a brand are mapped in a pyramid shape. The bottom layers establish the functional attributes and benefits. The upper layers clarify the emotional benefits, brand personality and brand essence, the singular fundamental idea that captures what is at a brands emotional core.

Additional strategic brand foundation tools include mission and vision statements, brand values, positioning statements, aspirational consumer target maps – the list goes on. This work can fill volumes. The purpose of this strategic foundation is to assure the consistency and efficacy of brand equities, messaging, advertising, packaging, visual design – essentially every brand touch point. They also set in stone the ethos of what a brand stands for, who it’s customers are, what it delivers, what problem it is solving.

Focused brand strategies and finely tuned brand personalities resonate with consumers. Brand loyalty and affinity are achieved by making the brand feel like an old friend. This is where brand evangelists are made. If you do it right, it can be very lucrative. Just ask Apple. Nike. Rolex. BMW. Some consumers even associate their own personal identities with brands living in that rarified air.

The game changer.

There was a time when workers used to be defined by their jobs and brand affiliations. It used to be: he’s an IBM man, she’s a P&G gal, those are Met Life guys.

With the changes brought about by the internet and the dawn of the global economy, millions have been swept out of employment with corporations and set adrift. They no longer have a workplace, external brands, geography or affiliations to help them anchor their identity. The only hope of survival is self-employment in a new digital world with no roadmap, no borders and no limits. We are becoming a nation of free agents.

But while it has erased so much security, the internet has also leveled the business playing field. Now an individual can have all the media reach, technological capability and infrastructure any large company.  

Fighting above your weigh class.

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