The importance of brand personality in B2B – and how to find yours

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The importance of brand personality in B2B image

Every B2B company should understand the impact of their brand personality. Sue Mizera advises how to create (or discover) your own brand’s


Brand personality may seem too ‘soft’ or ‘touchy-feely’ a concept for many B2B companies; something too far removed or irrelevant to the technology, chemistry or engineering that drives their growth and success.

On the contrary, every company, organization, and B2B company has a brand personality. And every B2B company should know what this personality is to manage and direct its impact. If you don’t define and manage your brand personality, somebody else will and you probably won’t appreciate the results.

What is brand personality and why it matters

By brand personality, we mean the personification of your brand. If it was a person, how does your brand speak, behave and resonate with your audiences so that they better relate to your brand, prefer and refer it, and remain loyal?

The impact of brand personality is far-ranging. Immediately it provides the basis for tone and manner in communications; company values and internal corporate culture; preferred hiring profiles; and directions for graphic identity. The style you adopt and the persona you put forward is why customers reach out to you, as if a person, driving customer engagement and competitive differentiation.

With B2B companies are typically awash in a ‘sea of sameness’ and shackled by procurement constraints, brand personality is a powerful, welcome differentiator. As qualitative, value-add beyond functional benefits, brand personality is nothing short of pure business strategy.

How do you create a brand personality?

There are numerous ways, all complementary, to create an organization’s personality – which also can offer fantastic team-building opportunities by combining creativity, experience, and thoughtfulness with serious fun. Personalities can be created for the corporation, a division or business unit, a product or portfolio of products, or all of the above, depending on your needs.

  • Classic method

Ask: “Who is your company, today, as a person?” Consider age, gender, family situation, the car they drive, preferred vacations, favorite movies or books. Everyone is always looking to improve: “What resolutions has your company made to improve itself in the upcoming months or years?”

This simple exercise quickly identifies stretches in business, marketing, communications, culture, and R&D that your company is looking at, and that need to be addressed.

  • Metaphors and similes

A variation of the company-as-person exercise, simple fill-in-the-blank statements using metaphors and similes can be both qualitative and quantitative.

  • My company reminds me of __________.
  • Our company is like ___________.
  • If only our company were more/less _________.
  • Our company is (an animal) _________.  Our competition is (another animal) _________.

Responses typically indicate gaps, positive and negative, in-service performance, product differences, and competitive differentiation, thus providing essential insights into a company’s direction and future vitality.

  • Consumer psychographic exercise

Another variation on the company-as-person exercise: Who is your company as a consumer psychographic type? Is your company an early adopter – explorer or reformer, or a middle adopter – an aspirer, succeeder, or mainstreamer? What goals, motivations, and values drive your company?

This exercise is based on five (of seven) globally confirmed consumer psychographic types (cross-cultural consumer characterization, or four Cs, publicly available from VMLY&R).

This exercise allows you to match the goals, motivations and values that define each consumer type with your company, and by extension, with your customer base. Are you aligned with your customers? Are you meeting their expectations?

  • Imagery exercise 

Complementary to the exercises above is the classic imagery collage. From a set of four or five magazines high in imagery (e.g. lifestyle, automotive, travel), ask colleagues to create a collage of the images that best represent your company today, and that will best represent the company tomorrow.

If you repeat the exercise or divide into groups, always use the same set of magazines and don’t be surprised if out of hundreds of different images, the same ones reappear across collages. This is a good sign, you’re on to something.

Case study: brand personality reveals surprising implications for business strategy and portfolio management

In one project for a Fortune 10 technology company, we faced a strategic business problem of portfolio management. Stock analysts asked: What was the value of four M&As that resulted in four different products effectively all performing the same ERP and CRM functions for SMEs?

To our great surprise, and in spite of impenetrable, indistinguishable tech specs which is all we had to go on, we solved the problem with a combination of metaphors, the four Cs and collages. Four products delivering exactly similar results were, in fact, entirely different in the kind of technology they offered and the process – a spectrum from easy and standardized to individualized and tailorable – that SMEs needed to apply in their use.

  • Vanilla ice cream, a golf game, an old BMW and a wild stallion were the startling and totally unrelated metaphors each product evoked.
  • Their four Cs psychographic matches – mainstreamer, succeeder, reformer and explorer – correlated to affinities each type has for simplicity, control, idiosyncrasy or complexity. (Each type predictably displays these affinities in their preferences in life, including for technology.)
  • Collages captured images for each ranging from cool blues and greens to fiery oranges and reds; from sleek sedans to off-road vehicles; from sailing and golf to paragliding and steep trekking; from hush puppies and wing-tips to sandals and mountain shoes.

These four products remain in the company’s portfolio today, just as we distinguished them some 16 years ago. They are still grounded in differences in how they are used, and are now positioned for certain specialty applications. The results they all deliver, however, remain more or less interchangeable.

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