Traits not Tinder: Understanding Your Brand’s Personality

Enjoys engaging conversation and evenings with a well-crafted cocktail and networking opportunities. Seeking like-minded individuals dedicated to growing and advancing themselves and their professional community. Smart, respected, influential. Content aggregator and creator. Open-minded and reliable.

If associations were dependent on their members “swiping right” there might be a real concern for member renewal rates. What associations aspire to be (see above) and how associations actually appear to their members and other audiences can easily become disconnected.

An important part of an organization “living its brand” is an organizational wide understanding of your brand’s personality traits.

“We’re an association,” you say. “What’s the point of creating a personality for our brand? We’re not selling products,”

Well, in fact, you are selling a product—membership in your organization and all of the benefits that go with it.

If you take a detached, clinical, or random approach to your communications, programs, and events then your “brand” will feel detached, clinical, or disconnected.

You don’t have to be “touchy feely” to get in touch with how your brand should feel. You do however need to be methodical.

What is most important for your association to convey externally to its members?

Valuable | Worthwhile | Important | Caring | Dedicated | Sincere |Understanding | Focused| Responsive | Reliable| Creative | Accountable | Flexible | Knowledgeable | Connector | Networker | Innovative | Resourceful | Critical | Mission-Driven | Playful | Witty | Serious | Trustworthy | Inspired | Capable | Scholarly | Current | Established

The possibilities go on and on and the nuances do matter.

One of my favorite exercises with clients during a branding workshop is the discussion of personality traits. We place large sheets of white paper on the walls and ask people to write down the adjectives that most or best describe the association. We then ask them to add any additional words that may be more aspirational for how they wish to describe the association.

This on-our-feet discussion is always lively. Armed with colorful sharpies, workshop participants begin to contribute their words to the page. Some tentative at first will find their “John Hancock” moment by the end.

We then ask everyone to step back and survey the results. “Huh. Oh. Really? Hmm,” are common responses as people view the pages, then the tough thinking begins.

“Pick three,” I’ll say. “Walk up to the sheet and mark the three words you most believe reflect the association.”

“Only three?”

“Yes, only three.”

This initial culling of the field can lead to any number of outcomes in quantity, but as the discussion and rounds of voting move on a refinement emerges— a level of clarity that was not at first there. Horse-trading ensues.

“Is that really how you see us?” one colleague asks another. “But what does that mean?” says another. “This is impossible to narrow.”

Ah, but you must, because in gaining clarity on who you are will help remind you that you really can’t be all things to all people.

Agreeing on a personality trait list for an organization can be an exhilarating process. How exciting to step back and think about “who we want to be?”

The questions workshop participants are encouraged to consider include:

  • How do you want people to feel about the association?
  • How does the association “speak” to people (writing, images, etc.)
  • What matters most that people know about the association?
  • What are you trying to convey about the association to others?
  • What do you need to emphasize to be unique?
  • What is it the association wishes to project to its audiences?

I’ve seen brand traits be deployed effectively to influence not only content for organizations, but also website design, material creation, event selection, swag decisions, etc. If your “personality traits” become a part of your everyday thinking, they will infuse your decisions, which will, in turn, strengthen your brand in every aspect of your work that touch.

Organizations can use surveys to gut check their effectiveness in “living their brand” by asking members or other key audiences an open-ended question of “what are three words you would use to describe us…” If the results are completely foreign from your intent, then seriously evaluation is needed. If individuals perceive some or all of your intent, evaluate, refine, and continue.

Brand personality traits are only one part of a larger brand platform. On its own, while useful, it is ineffective without the remainder of the platform.

Brand building should not be thought of as Jenga, with an emphasis on what you can remove from the process.

Rather, branding should be thought of as legos. You can assemble a lego tower in numerous ways, but there’s a smart strategy for building a solid foundation to support a lego structure as it grows. The building blocks may be the same, but each organization will adapt and build in a manner that suits them best.

Understanding if you want to be perceived as “this” or “that” as an organization matters. Making choices is what makes a brand stronger and what makes your members less likely to “swipe left.”