How to create a brand personality that stands out

In the field of communications, there is a rule: If you want to turn off your audience, then use Latin words! To tell you how to create a brand personality, I will have to break that rule. Bear with me. It will be worth it. I promise.

I see things with faces

We, humans, have a built-in tendency called anthropomorphism. Simply put, we cannot help but attribute human characteristics or behaviours to non-human things.

Type “#iseefaces” on Instagram and you will see more than 400,000 pictures of everyday objects that have face-like features: power plugs, cars, hangers, faucets, tomatoes, and more. Literally, there is no limit to the human imagination when it comes to anthropomorphizing.

Anthropomorphism: Things with faces

The origins of brand personality

We attribute human characteristics to brands, too. We treat them as people. We assign them “values.” We give them a “tone of voice.” Most importantly, we define their “personality.”

At the heart of every brand lies a promise of a benefit. The value proposition itself could be ordinary. But depending on its personality, how the brand expresses its promise could change drastically.

For instance, an automobile brand could be sophisticated like Mercedes or rugged like Jeep Wrangler or visionary like Tesla or friendly like Mini Cooper.

The personality of a brand is one of the most critical parts of its equity. That’s why brand managers and strategists know how to create a brand personality. Except, they do not!

The lost art of creating brand personality

Pick any brand you like and analyze how they define their brand personality. Chances are you are going to see a list of identifiers like “Expert, Trustworthy, Helpful, Caring, Innovative, Practical.” Often such listings have more than seven adjectives. There is a systemic explanation for such a confusion.

According to Carol Pearson and Margaret Mark, “the absence of a guiding framework leads brand managers to overcompensate by using complicated forms loaded with descriptive adjectives.” The result is an unpalatable soup of adjectives.

The absence of a guiding framework leads brand managers to overcompensate by using complicated forms, loaded with descriptive adjectives.

Carol S. Pearson & Margaret Mark

In all fairness, academia has tried to define how to create a brand personality. The most famous brand personality framework is the Five Dimensions of Brand Personality by Jennifer Aaker.

According to the hypothesis, the personality of a brand could be measured in five dimensions, each divided into a set of facets. Aaker suggests that any given brand would fall under one of the following five categories: Sincerity, Excitement, Competence, Sophistication, and Ruggedness.


The problem with most brand personality frameworks

While that is a good start, it is not enough. The problem with such frameworks is that they make a brand appear uni-dimensional.

At first, that might sound like a good thing. After all, most brand consultants and managers drink the single-minded focus Kool-Aid. They believe that if the competition is established and competent, then they should be young and exciting. If every other brand is sincere, then they should be rugged.

The underlying belief is that if you are consistently single-minded, then over time your difference would shine through. Unfortunately, though, data says otherwise.

The global brand consultancy BAV Group‘s study shows that over the last two decades, brands have become 200% less distinct from one another. So, it looks like neither the adjective soup approach nor the single-minded focus method is working.

Over the last two decades, brands have become 200% less distinct from one another.

BAV Group

Luckily, there is an answer to the question how to create a brand personality. It is simple, rooted in science, and highly effective. The smart guys from BAV call it “brand tensity.”

Enter: The Brand Tensity Hypothesis

The underlying idea is deceptively simple: contradictions are not only useful but also necessary in life!

For a story or a brand to be captivating, it needs to have built-in tension. Without the tension -that is to say, if it is single-minded or uni-dimensional- your messages appear clichéd, predictable, and not worthy of attention.

On the other hand, the brand tensity hypothesis says that if a person -or a brand- can find a way to integrate two seemingly opposing personality traits, then it could break away from the norm. That’s the secret of how to create a brand personality. Now, let’s see how that works.

If I person -or a brand- can find a way to integrate two seemingly opposing personality traits, then it could break away from the norm.

Albert Einstein: The Sage & The Jester

Throughout human history, many genius people have come and gone, but one of them stands apart: Albert Einstein. Having developed the general theory of relativity, he became the most influential figure in science.

The interesting thing, though, the man on the street could not name a single theoretical physicist other than Einstein, let alone understanding what a physicist does. So, why is he so famous? To what he owes his iconic status?

The answer lies in the duality of his personality. On the one hand, Einstein was an incredibly gifted prodigy. On the other, with his simple lifestyle, egalitarian political views, expressive face, and humourous nature he was a poster child for the common people! The hundreds of papers that he wrote granted him the utmost respect of the science community. However, it was the contradiction of his personality that made him an iconic figure in the minds of the public.

Albert Einstein’s unique personality

Marilyn Monroe: The Seductress & The Innocent

Here is another example. Of all the attractive women in history, how did Marilyn Monroe became one of the greatest cultural icons? It is said that no other star has ever inspired such a wide range of emotions – from lust to pity, from envy to remorse. The answer lies in the dichotomy embedded in her personality.

She was the sex symbol of her era. However, she was also known to use a breathy, childish voice in her films, and in interviews, giving the impression that everything she said was utterly innocent. The tension between her sexuality and innocence made her irresistible.

Marilyn Monroe was an icon of both sexuality and innocence.

The high-profile examples are plenty. Did you know that Lady Di was the “world’s most photographed woman?” Why? For sure, she was a noble, elegant, and stylish lady. However, she was also a compassionate caregiver, who the man on the street saw as “one of us.”

Spiderman: The Hero & The Regular Guy

One final example… Did you know that, globally, Spiderman toys and merchandises sell twice as more than those of Batman and Superman’s combined? How is that even possible? Again, we have to turn our attention to the contractions.

On the one hand, Spiderman is a hero (a superhero to be precise.) However, on the contrary, he is the ultimate representation of the regular guy. An orphan and a geek, who has problems paying the bills, keeping his work, maintaining his relationships, and from whom the public fears. Peter Parker is the perfect blend of duality.

How does the brand tensity model work?

Granted, the idea of the duality of personality is not something that the marketers invented. The legendary psychologist Carl G. Jung believed that duality is the fact of human nature. He famously said: “Every creative person is a duality or a synthesis of contradictory aptitudes.” Consequently, he built his entire framework of psychology on duality.

OK, but how does the dichotomy of personality manifest itself in brands? This is where BAV’s quantitative research comes handy. The BAV model collects a battery of 48 image dimensions against which brands are evaluated.

The 48 emotional imagery attributes tracked by Brand Asset Valuator

To study brand tensity, the analysts focused on commoditized sectors and analyzed the imagery patterns of highly-differentiated brands. What they realized was that breakaway brands delivered on the perceptual expectations of their categories, while also leaning toward imagery that opposed those category requirements.

Breakaway brands delive on the perceptual expectations of their categories, while also leaning toward imagery that opposed those category requirements.

BAV Group

Iconic brands with two faces

Take Harley Davidson for instance. On the one hand, the brand promotes outlawry. It offers an expressive benefit to riders, allowing them to show their rebellious side. On the other hand, Harley Davidson is a community builder. It allows riders to socialize, blend in, and experience genuine camaraderie (an emotional benefit.)


Target is cheap. But it is also chic. Land Rover is rugged. But it is also luxurious. IKEA is stylish. But it is also affordable. Tesla is environmentally conscious. But it is also upscale. Actually, the dichotomy of the last one is so powerful that a new category is born out of that tension: eco-superiority. Turns out, that is exactly how nature works!

Duality: the key to flourishing ecologies

Ecologists state that there is a greater diversity of life in the region where the edges two adjacent ecosystems overlap, such as land/water, or forest/grassland.

Ecologists state that there is a greater diversity of life in the region where the edges two adjacent ecosystems overlap, such as land/water, or forest/grassland. The transition zone called an ecotone is where you can find species from both of these ecosystems, as well as unique species that aren’t found in either ecosystem. This is called the Edge Effect, and it is perfectly in line with the predictions of Jung: “If a union is to take place between opposites, it will happen in a third thing, which represents not a compromise but something new.”

In short, BAV’s brand tensity hypothesis does more than just differentiating a brand. If properly leveraged, the duality could give birth to a new category, which is the ultimate strategic advantage in marketing.


Click below to learn how to create brand personality in six different ways.


6 Replies to “How to create a brand personality that stands out”

  1. I am working on a project related to this and the article has helped me. Thank you. Please let me know if you find more information on the same.

    1. Hi Deeksha,

      Thanks for your comment. Over the next two months, I will write more about this topic. Actually, my latest article, picks up from where this one left off.


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