A B2B brand is made up of several elements, which I group under two headings: visual and personality.
Brand personality gets a lot less press.
This is unfortunate, because the brand your audience experiences is a cocktail made by mixing all those elements together and serving them up with your content.
Continuing the analogy, it’s not just spirits and mixers that make the cocktail experience—it’s the glass, the decorations, the way the bartender twirls the bottles and shaker, and even the way the drink is described on the menu from which you chose it.
So how is your brand’s personality defined and what will make it effective?
Importantly, does it need a “big” personality to be successful?
Brand personality exercises often start by asking team members to name an animal that best represents their company.
This creates a helpful shortcut to sets of characteristics we associate with certain animals.
For example, you and I will use similar adjectives when asked to describe a lion, a sheep, an eagle, or a shark.
While this is helpful when designing a visual identity for the brand—you can probably imagine a website with lion-like or eagle-like characteristics—it’s less informative when it comes to adopting a voice and style for your company’s content.
For that, I prefer to pull out a deck of adjective cards (example) and have the team progressively home-in on 5-6 words that define your brand (and sometimes 5-6 more that describe what your brand is not).
I define brand personality in three terms: voice, tone, and style.
Decide how your brand is going to act and always show up in character
The company’s voice should never change. You want your audience to become familiar with it in much the same way that you can easily recognize the voice of a friend or family member.
Whether you adopt a formal or casual voice, one that is more professorial or friendly uncle, witty or serious, sympathetic or insistent, the most important thing is to be consistent.
Decide how your brand is going to act and always show up in character.
The tone of a particular piece of content will depend on its format and the type of information it conveys.
For example, a product recall notice should be written in a very different tone than an op-ed piece on trends in your sector.
Nevertheless, your brand should adopt a consistent tone for pieces of a similar nature.
In other words, your blog posts should all use a similar tone, while your case studies should all be written in a consistent but different tone, and so on.
Finally, the style in which each of your content pieces is written should be consistent and conform to an established standard.
This includes things like spelling, punctuation, and grammar, the perfection of which clearly separates high-quality content from the rest.
Your audience will have pre-existing expectations for how things like white papers and case studies are laid out and written. Even blog posts, social media posts, and emails follow common patterns.
I recommend referring to a published guide such as the Chicago Manual of Style to ensure consistency across content producers and production processes.
Spoiler Alert: I haven’t discovered a secret personality formula that turns everything a company writes into effective content.
There are simply too many other factors in play for that to be realistic.
However, we know that effective content is engaging and evokes a desirable emotional response in the target audience.
Some personality types are certainly more engaging than others.
Consider the difference between an accountant droning monotonically about balance sheets and financial audits and a witty, conversational advisor pointing out the pros and cons of modern financial software.
They might be conveying very similar information, but one is going to hold your attention longer than the other.
Perhaps more important is the connection between a brand’s personality and that of its founder/CEO (or other senior leaders).
While it’s tempting to pick an idealized personality for the business, it’s equally important for that personality to be authentic.
Asking customer-facing team members to adopt a personality that doesn’t come naturally to them is a recipe for awkwardness and underperformance.
The same is true when those team members are the CEO and other senior leaders—frequently the public “face of the franchise”.
If your brand aspires to be edgy, outspoken, and inspirational while the CEO is conservative, introverted, and unopinionated, you’ve got a problem.
Similarly, if your aspiration is to be compassionate, helpful, and educational, but the CEO is a hard-charging, outspoken New Yorker, well…
Do such situations call for rebuilding the brand or replacing the CEO?
Hopefully the examples I’ve given are extreme cases but whenever there’s a meaningful gap between the way a brand is portrayed, and the way team members come across, it creates a problem that must be solved for the brand to function effectively.
A mild-mannered CEO recently asked me how much personality his company’s content should express compared to the amount of information it conveys. What he had spotted was a gap between his personal style and the way marketers—like me—were encouraging his team to think about content marketing.
I don’t have an easy answer for him or others like him (in whatever dimension their personality differs from the brand they aspire to lead).
Faking it won’t always work. People are adept at spotting incongruency and will quickly abandon a brand that they perceive to be inauthentic.
Ideally, the company’s brand will reflect the personality(s) of its leader(s), who will employ representatives with similar personality(s) in other client-facing roles.
Leaders who don’t naturally act in ways consistent with that brand personality should remain behind the scenes, off camera, and their content should be edited by someone more sensitive to the brand before it gets published.
Let’s return to the question I asked in the beginning: Does a brand need a “big” personality for it to be successful?
In this context, I interpret “big” to mean strong words, bright colors, convincing—if not controversial—opinions, and a pushy, persuasive approach to communication.
While such characteristics certainly help content to stand out from the crowd and be heard above the cacophony, they don’t necessarily translate into engagement or evoke helpful emotions.
As an extreme example, car dealerships are forever shouting at me in their TV ads. It provokes feelings of disgust and anger, which make me never want to set foot on their premises.
Suave, sophisticated brands are often successful in the B2C space, and I see no reason why they cannot work in a B2B context, provided they share relevant, helpful information in that demur style.
To be successful, the audience must find your brand’s personality attractive (it gets their attention), engaging (they want to hear more), and emotionally appealing (it evokes a positive emotion that leads to trust and positive action).
“Big” personalities can do all those things, but if they get too “big”, they can cross a line and lose engagement or evoke undesirable emotions.
“Small” personalities that are quieter and less pushy sometimes struggle to attract enough attention but, provided they’re not too “small”, can pay dividends in engagement and evoking the right sort of emotion.
If you haven’t recently completed an exercise to describe your brand’s personality, I highly recommend doing so.
The information you develop will allow you to address several key issues that are important to content marketing, including:
> Whether the brand is effective at engaging your target audience.
> Whether it evokes a desirable emotional response.
> Whether its personality is consistent across the content you publish.
> Whether your team—and especially your leaders—can authentically embody the personality you’ve described.
If the answer to any of those questions is negative, you’ll be in a strong position to design and effect changes that will positively impact the performance of your brand and the content you publish.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock