Isn’t it interesting how we assign meaning to different colors? Certain colors are associated with certain emotions:

     I’m feeling blue today. 

     He was green with envy. 

     She was wearing a happy yellow sweater.

Some colors are considered warm colors (reds, oranges, and yellows—think sun and fire), while others are called cool colors (greens, blues, and purples—think plants and water).

Color is an important component of branding. Companies put a lot of thought into their brand colors. For one reason, different colors carry different meanings and appeal to different people. For another, the colors represent the business to customers and prospects, so the business wants to be associated with colors that make sense for their unique business. They don’t want to be associated with colors that conflict with what they stand for. 

Consider UPS. The company has used its trademark brown for over 100 years. The story goes that the young company settled on brown delivery vehicles for two reasons. The first was that brown represented “class, sophistication and professionalism”—the well-known Pullman sleeping railroad cars were brown at the time. The second is that brown was practical—it hid dirt well, meaning that the vehicles would not need to be washed as often. 

The world has changed a lot in the last 100 years, but brown is still a great color for UPS. A natural color, it represents simplicity, strength, and dependability. UPS works hard to be resilient and reliable, delivering millions of packages each day all over the world in all kinds of weather. And of course, brown still hides dirt as well in the early 2000s as it did in the early 1900s.

Do brands have personalities?

We can think of brands having personalities similar to people. People have personalities such as outgoing or reserved, energetic or calm, loud or quiet. They have character traits such as honesty, cheerfulness, kindness, and helpfulness. We can apply characteristics like this to brands, too. 

Personalities allow brands within a particular industry to differentiate themselves from each other and appeal to different types of customers.

Personalities allow brands within a particular industry to differentiate themselves from each other and appeal to different types of customers.

We began the article thinking about colors. While brand personality includes colors, it is much more than that. For example, at its best, UPS’s brand personality is steady, dependable, and responsible. However, if you’ve had bad experiences with UPS service, perhaps a damaged package or a careless driver, you would likely assign it attributes such as slip-shod or careless. 

This illustrates how brand personality is more than just how the company wants to be perceived.It includes a whole range of aspects, everything from colors and brand name to customer service and the way employees dress and act.

Have you ordered coffee at Starbucks? If so, you know that they don’t use the common sizes of small, medium, and large. That would be too ordinary for the Starbucks brand. Instead, Starbucks’ sizes are tallgrande, and venti. Those last two words are Italian terms for “large” and “twenty.”

While this is confusing for common people like me, it makes sense when you understand the reason behind it. The foreign terms were a small part of CEO Howard Schultz’s overall strategy of giving Starbucks a sophisticated personality with an exotic flair that appeals to upscale coffee drinkers. 

Brand elements that create personality 

Let’s consider different elements of a brand and how they affect brand personality. 

Brand name. Just like parents are thoughtful and intentional when naming their children, brands should be intentional about their names. Names carry a lot of connotations and personality—just consider the different personalities of the names James versus Jim, or Charles versus Chuck

Puggie’s Garage has a different personality than Lancaster Automotive. The first name may belong to a professional business that does great work, but with that name, we’re uncertain. If you were looking for someone to mow your grass this summer, would you call AAA Yard Care or would you choose Homestead Lawns & Landscaping

In her book Hello, My Name is Awesome, Alexandra Watkins provides a SMILE checklist for evaluating brand names:

Suggestive – a name that evokes or refers to something related to your brand.

Meaningful – a name that resonates with your target audience.

Imagery – a name that brings to mind something visual—a picture.

Legs – a powerful name that has the potential of going a long way.

Emotional – contains an emotional component that touches people.

Not every strong brand name has these elements, but the checklist helps us choose brand names with personality and avoid names that are dry, boring, commonplace, or confusing. Consider these brand names that Rosewood has helped create: 

  • Radiance (animal feed)
  • Duchess (paint)
  • Formwright (metal roll-forming)
  • Thundura (fabric structures)

Logo. A logo is like the identifying mark that was branded onto cattle in the days of the open range. It identified which ranch the cattle belonged to. Logos have that role today too. They are the symbol people use to identify a business or product. Logos should be simple but expressive, unique but understandable.

A good logo carries subtle signals about your company. The UPS logo, while it has changed several times over the last century, has always been the shape of a shield. A shield carries connotations of protection and strength as we link it to a warrior or knight carrying a shield into battle. 

The DeWalt logo is simply the brand name in block letters with a line above and below. This fits well with its market in the construction industry, where builders aim to construct buildings that are strong and straight. 

Colors. The colors of a brand have a big impact on personality. A brand theme with pastel blues, greens, and pinks might have a playful feel, such as a brand that makes baby items. 

Other colors that evoke play are a combination of bright colors that appeal to children. The LEGO logo is formed with a rounded informal white font on a red background with an outline of yellow. 

If you are considering choosing brand colors, it is best to enlist the help of an experienced brand designer who understands the different connotations of colors as well as how colors interact with each other. As we discussed earlier in the article, the color brown carries certain meanings. That is true of other colors as well:

  • Black – power, elegance
  • Red – energy, action, danger
  • Green – life, nature, new growth
  • Blue – calmness, stability, trustworthiness
  • Purple – royalty, wisdom

Fonts. Fonts are the way that letters and words appear. Fonts are easy to overlook because many people do not think about them. However, fonts are everywhere (note the different fonts on this page) and even if people don’t notice them, fonts have a subconscious effect. Often headlines are in one font, and the rest of the text is in another font.

We’ve already mentioned the fonts used in the DeWalt and LEGO logos. Fonts can be used to evoke all kinds of personality traits: informal/formal, playful/serious, elegant/rugged, soft/rough, personal/corporate, calm/energetic, and so on. 

Can you imagine the DeWalt or Caterpillar brands using a fancy and elegant font? That would conflict with their brand personalities and send a muddled message. When fonts, colors, and other brand elements are aligned toward a common goal, the brand personality and identity become clear. That clarity helps customers as they learn your brand and make purchasing decisions. 

An experienced brand designer can ensure that the fonts you choose to represent your brand support your goals and your brand identity. 

Tone and word choices. The wording in your marketing materials is another component of your brand personality. Are you unsure whether the language used on your website and in your ads can actually make a difference in how customers perceive you? 

First, how a person talks tells us a lot about their personality and who they are as a person. Do they use big words or simple words? Do they talk quietly and confidently, or quietly and hesitantly? 

Second, let me use the book title Hello, My Name is Awesome (mentioned earlier in the article) as an example. That’s a business book about brand naming, and the title has a cheery and informal feel. Contrast that with two other business books on the same topic: Brand New Name, and The Naming Book. Can you see how these two titles are much more formal and business-like than Hello, My Name Is Awesome?

A brand that wants to portray a strong, energetic personality will use short punchy words, whereas a brand that wants to be seen as intellectual will use longer sentences and bigger words. 

And more . . . The personality of your brand can extend even further to things like the following:

  • Look and feel of your products
  • How your employees look and dress
  • Policies and customer service
  • Cutting-edge or traditional mindset
  • Fast or methodical in embracing change or risk

Does my brand need a personality?

First things first. When starting a business, a brand is not the most important thing for your success. A successful business starts with a useful product that people have demonstrated a willingness to buy. Without that, investing a lot of money in a logo, brand colors, and brand personality may be useless. A strong brand must be preceded and supported by strong business fundamentals.

As your business develops a solid financial footing, developing a brand is important for continued growth. The word “personality” is just one perspective or lens through which to evaluate your branding efforts. As your business grows, it will develop a personality organically, but you should also shape it intentionally as described in this article.

About the Author: Marvin Martin is head of sales and marketing at Rosewood. He provided the inspiration for this article and collaborated with the Rosewood Messaging Team to produce it. Contact Marvin at marvin@rosewood.us.com