The Rise of Pervasive Personality
Executive Strategy Director
"What you do" used to be important. Really important. Legitimately it still is, but if you told me that your company had an enduring source of differentiation that could last even a year, then it would be the end of the discussion. But that's not how things work today. The rate of change just doesn't allow for that kind of stability.
Today, "how you do it" is more important than ever—and also the true connection between brand strategy and business strategy. It's the intersection of the value brands create and how they actually prove it through action. That's the sweet spot that we at Superunion call pervasive personality.
Personality used to be defined in a ton of different ways, but we've endeavored to define it in a way that helps brands figure out exactly where they are and where they need to go. It's as simple as an ecosystem consisting of four tiers.
Tier 0 – Undiscernible personality
You don't want to be in this place. It reeks of a commodity brand and business.
Tier 1 – Human personality
These brands have often been defined as human. They engage as people rather than as faceless organizations (e.g. "how’s it hangin’" vs. "hello, it is a pleasant morning"). This was good enough 10 years ago, but not today.
Tier 2 – Discernable personality
These brands have a discernable personality but one that’s only felt in above-the-line communications. Such a brand can be exciting, but they can also cause serious disconnect when a person dials a call center and the interaction feels totally different. If that happens, this kind of personality can be borderline counterproductive.
Tier 3 – Pervasive personality
This kind of brand is magic. It's pervasive and persuasive. It starts conversations and finishes them too. Its personality is delivered across communications, experiences, and even people. When the whole brand is shaped around the personality, customers take notice and find themselves reflected in it. That drives brand value and loyalty—and creates a brand tribe.
Pulling back a moment, the topic of personality and voice is pretty buzzy these days. Everyone feels like they need a virtual assistant and, gasp, what should the voice be and what should it be called? This is important but really just a component of your brand's personality. Brand personality is more than voice (its more than verbal for that matter) both in terms of both written and spoken words. It’s a real, hyper-specific personality that you can inhabit. It is delivered through behaviors, not attributes. It's the way your people show up at meetings. It’s also the interplay of your personality in content, design, and context, which is truly where it sings.
I know this sounds great, but how do you do it? Here are a few steps to get started:
Make it collaborative, make it fun
We are a workshop-driven agency, and this is definitely one of the most fun workshops we do. You gotta try it. We engage leaders in everything from what kind of celebrity or profession the brand acts like on our best day to how it tastes and smells. I know that sounds kind of crazy, but it really works and it's a blast. Is your brand more Lego, architect, jazz musician, or cold mountain air? We'll help you figure it out. Somewhat amazingly, one of our clients recently found that three separate groups of their senior leaders independently determined the brand should feel like a mashup of whiskey and Skittles. Kind of weird, but there is a lot to love there. You can't tell me they didn't have fun doing that.
Be as specific as possible
We recently realized that the optimal personality of a financial services client was an executive chef. That's so beautifully specific and inspiring. Just think of the behaviors of executive chefs. They have a vision but sweat the small stuff. They bring a piece of themselves to everything they offer. They know what you need before you need it. Behaviors make this so much more real and, honestly, are just more useful than a list of attributes.
Build in the right amount of flexibility
You simply can't have the personality dialed up to ten all the time. That's why we think about it in modes and build it to flex depending on what you need it to do. Think of it this way: I'm Vincent at work, Vin with my family, and Vinnie with my childhood friends, but I'm still the same person in each case. I'm just tweaking how I deliver myself. Working with that same financial services client, their team needed to engage with individuals, small businesses, and enterprises, all in very different ways. So, we built guardrails around modularity into their voice. No matter how the brand interacts, it is an executive chef, but it can be so in different ways.
Create a community around it
Training isn't a new concept, but it's super important. On top of it, however, we layer in an ongoing assessment of how the brand personality is being used along with global scorecards that can tell us how we are doing. The critical thing here is enabling people to create the personality together and then setting up the platform and opportunity for them to connect and share when it's going great or otherwise. One client even created a private social media channel with us to share and comment on work. This drove both momentum and a conversation with groups of creators who had formerly never met.
Pervasive personality can clearly deliver a lot of value. It's creating a touchstone for every way in which your brand engages with consumers that gives them something real to latch onto. It's delivered through behaviors, collaboration, and hard work, but can be your real differentiator. Honestly, it's often something newly codified but was actually there the whole time, a latent source of immense value and excitement.
So, I guess the question is...do you have a pervasive personality?