In this highly visual and over-saturated retail market, having a strong identity and unique brand personality is key to standing out and creating a meaningful long-lasting relationship with consumers. Brand personality by definition is a set of human characteristics that serve a symbolic function. Personality is a vehicle to create emotional branding which focuses on inspiring the consumer, aligning with their passions and life stories. But, it has to be authentic in order to evoke an emotional response – consumers will see through it otherwise!
Technology. More specifically smartphones, that allow consumers to shop online and access social media (where the medium really is the message) have changed the game for brands. They have revolutionised consumer knowledge and brought creativity into the palm of everyone’s hands through simple user interfaces. Marshall McLuhan (the man who predicted the internet 30 years before its inception) was right, the way we are viewing and creating content is directly affecting us. Instagram especially has allowed anyone to become a creative stylist and cultivate his or her own brand. As a result, our ability to unpick branding and messaging is more sophisticated than ever.
Brands are realising that their increasingly shrewd audience will see straight through any superficial branding attempts; this audience wants to see an original personality that aligns with their own values. Research has shown (Belk 1988) that the personality of a brand also enables today’s consumers to express his or her own self through the use of a brand – in a way it is an extension of the consumers own personality. Therefore, creating a brand personality that consumers can directly identify with is key to being an engaging brand.
Brands are being bolder in terms of their visual language, tone of voice and how they convey their values and intent to align with their audiences. Here are some killing it.
Underwear brand Thinx’s personality is refreshing in a market saturated with traditional narratives of beautiful – predominately white – women dancing round in their underwear. The values of consumers have changed, and, perhaps because they’re jaded by an overtly sexualised world, they see through superficial and traditional marketing conventions.
Furthermore, the advert, with it’s tonal, muted palette, bare-faced model and simple, slightly rounded font is more akin to a double-page editorial in a magazine like The Gentlewoman than a sexy underwear advert – perfectly aligning the brand with the sort of visual language Thinx’s target fourth-wave feminist audience is used to. Thinx’s language is factual and down to earth. It directly references periods and has reclaimed the lexicon, giving it a new contextual acceptance, and saluting fourth-wave feminism.
It’s therefore perplexing that Outfront Media, the company that sells subway advert space, sent back Thinx’s advert after expressing concern about its content. There’s nothing offensive about it – just look at it in comparison to the above Victoria’s Secret‘s advert. What Outfront Media took offence to was the language used. This clearly demonstrates the power of TOV – evoking emotional responses that may strongly engage some and strongly repel others.
Thinx’s carefully honed personality is present in all areas of the business including customer service. For instance, when you ring up the customer service phone line, the advisor on the end is cheery, but straight talking and greets you with the brand’s motto, “Thinx for women with periods, for women who think”.
Missguided’s purpose is to empower girls, consequently, it has developed a bold, playful and confident personality that resonates with its female 16-25-year-old audience. This has been achieved in a number of ways; through its zeitgeist-driven TOV, defined social media identity that gives equal space to Britney Spears memes and slick campaign content, playful online messaging and its bold store design that puts social interaction at its heart.
When we were briefed to create Missguided’s first physical retail environment we had to make sure the brand’s inimitable personality could be felt in every corner. Yes, this included the signature TOV, but also bold shakeups to the traditional store model – e.g. bringing the changing rooms to the front of the store and recasting the area as a social space (perfect for Missguided’s hyper-connected customer). We also wanted to include moments of retail theatre that were suitably confident and Instagrammable – note the striking visual merchandising props, vivacious mannequins, screens playing of-the-moment content and so much more.
Missguided has made sure its personality and language is unique and ownable; it has a unified tone across all its channels. Missguided’s idiosyncratic hashtags (e.g. #babesofmissguided) are used by thousands of its customers – not only reinforcing the brand’s personality but also creating a community. Read more about the project here.
Online store Mr Porter is another brand with a strong personality. Its carefully honed gentlemanly persona lends the supremely expensive clothes suitable gravitas. High fashion has a tendency to alienate the average man, but with its authoritative, sensible tone of voice, Mr Porter has become a trustworthy style bible to both the snappy younger dresser and the quietly luxurious older gent.
The Mr P lexicon is more akin to the time of F. Scott Fitzgerald and little touches like using prefixes, e.g. Mrs. when describing someone reinforces this nostalgic quality. Equally, the art direction is rooted in a classic aesthetic. Photographs are soft rather than shiny and tailoring provides the backbone to most of the editorials. The above editorial is inspired by ‘year-round style’ not fast trends, and the male subject is driving a classic car that denotes exquisite taste and is wearing a timeless sweater.
Mr Porter’s online magazine or ‘journal’ is the antithesis of a lad’s mag – this is a publication for and about grown up, sophisticated men. You will find no sexy images of women here, and rather than stumbling upon an article on how to ‘pick up in a bar’ you are more likely to find one on how to ‘break up gracefully’. Mr Porter makes much of being decent, classy and stylish.
Athleisure brand Lululemon is bringing its inclusive, welcoming personality to life through its stores by transforming them into community centres. Lululemon had a vision to win London, and we, therefore, decided to create a flagship that would be a social hub, attracting locals and tourists alike – an inviting space where anyone would want to stretch, sweat and connect.
Therefore the upstairs space is dedicated to yoga and fitness classes and features a café where customers can hang out and enjoy a healthy snack. ‘State your ambition’ boards inspire staff and customers alike to achieve something through the Lululemon community, encouraging them to not only spend time in the store but rely on Lululemon as a vehicle to transform their lives – building deeper connections and brand advocacy.
Working in the store are not ‘sales assistants’ but ‘ambassadors’ rightly named as they really do represent Lululemon’s persona. They’re approachable and trained to talk to guests (not customers) about their favourite products, local healthy eating spots, running routes and much more. On the back of ambassadors’ T-shirts features an ‘ask me anything’ slogan, encouraging guests to communicate with staff.
Through its well-executed store concept, Lululemon personifies the clean-living, happy, can-do person its customers aspire to be.