Brand personality portrays the traits and emotions your customers associate with your business. A whole team, multiple departments, even a number of brands under one company umbrella can share a brand personality. That’s a lot of people communicating across a myriad of avenues. That comes with plenty of opportunities to go wrong.
A team tooled-up with what they need to communicate in one voice will be able to adapt depending on situation, audience, platform and the wider industry context at play.
They need a toolbox to work from, and this includes assets – a bank of logos, social cards, templates and guidelines to use. Here’s how to get these assembled to communicate and reinforce your brand personality:
A single source of truth
Brand guidelines that are clear and easily accessible to all who will be communicating on behalf of, or as, the brand are essential. No hasty guess work or last minute creativity will be needed in times of calm, or crisis if everything is already laid out:
‘Guidelines and messaging frameworks can take time to create, but they’re an essential part of aligning messaging across all departments,’ says DivideBuy’s senior content and PR manager Heather Wilkinson.
‘Collaborate together to agree on tone of voice, words to use and avoid, and official spelling and grammar guidance. Having a single source of truth document is great practice and allows everyone to move forward with confidence.’
‘To avoid PR and comms teams sounding like a bunch of tone-deaf amateurs, here’s the secret: create guidelines, and stick to ’em,’ adds Jade Arnell, founder of Rebellion Marketing.
‘Establish a clear tone-of-voice that mirrors your brand’s personality. Are you a sassy rebel or a refined intellectual?’
What should brand guidelines look like?
‘A brand style guide or a company communications handbook,’ says Rosser Jones, head of PR at Unlimit.
‘This guide should be used to restructure or redraft the company’s entire communications, internal and external, and it needs to be followed by everyone from the CEO to middle managers and the business development team.’
For external comms, make sure the guide is easy to work from by making it as concise as possible, says Tank’s head of PR Martyn Gettings. Include fonts, brand colours, which logos to use where:
‘Having external PR messages clarified on a single page for each client is a great way to ensure consistency across all comms. These messages are created with the core brand identity in mind, so you can be confident that they are a solid basis for the vast majority of communications. This will help the brand personality filter down through the whole team and ensure it remains authentic.’
Double-check: Is everyone onboard?
No brand personality is going to work with its intended audience if it smacks of inauthenticity – a cause of this could be team members with a reluctance to use assets they didn’t sign off on. Those at the c-suite level being hesitant to embrace and reinforce new guidelines also won’t help:
‘When launching a new brand personality, or updating an existing one, it can also be helpful to have a robust internal approval process with brand champions available to ensure nothing goes out the door which isn’t aligned with the brand guidelines,’ says Laura Price, partner at Pagefield.
‘While this can seem painful at the time, consistency and dedication to showing up with a unified brand personality is the only way to truly embed it within the audience’s perceptions.’
All aboard (E.g. agencies)
Ensuring an in-house team is all communicating in one voice is challenging enough. But what if you’re bringing in an external agency to communicate for your brand?
‘When an agency is brought on to support a brand’s PR and communications activity, it’s vital to introduce processes that support consistent and aligned messaging,’ says Jess Farmery, PR lead at SomX.
‘This can be achieved incredibly effectively with the right support mechanisms in place. During the agency’s onboarding, dedicate time to explaining and exploring your brand guidelines, tone of voice, any ‘dos and don’ts’, and contextualised examples.
‘Following this, ensure that everyone is provided with easy-to-access reference documents, templates, and further examples of how your brand guideless translate into communication content across several different channels.’
Bringing everyone on the journey (E.g. clients)
What about the other way around – when you’re an agency who has put a personality together for a client? Here’s advice from Mia Hodgekinson at Sway PR:
‘Communication is at the heart of all marketing and comms strategies, so we find that regular meetings and being kept up to speed on what they have coming up in their content calendar aligns or informs any PR activity we undertake.
‘It’s really important to visualise yourself as another cog in a big wheel. We all have our roles to play and, while those roles are different, they all need to work together to achieve the end goal – driving awareness of a brand or company.’
Repeat until you’re all singing from the same hymn sheet
Brand guidelines and the use of associated assets need time to be embedded into the muscle memory of your comms team, as well as in the culture of the company at large. This can only come with time, practice, and repetition, believes Laura at Pagefield.
‘Companies need to allocate resource to focus on this, investing time in brand and messaging training to make sure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and is clear on the dos and don’ts of the brand voice.’
This doesn’t mean army-like drills every morning (unless that works with your company’s culture…). More practically, infographics can be pinned up around the office and quick reference guidelines printed out for desks at home. Absolutely vital, whenever people are working from – a shared online resource to dip into, whenever needed.
Those truly ‘living’ the brand personality in the day-to-day – social media managers replying to public enquiries, newsletter writers, campaign creators – will still need regular reminders of specifics as time goes on:
‘It’s important to have regular brand/messaging ‘refresher’ sessions. Encourage members of the team to demonstrate and share with their colleagues how they’ve applied that tone of voice across a variety of different formats,’ adds Laura.
‘Many brands also stop after training staff members on the brand guidelines,’ says FizzBox’s head of marketing Tom Bourlet.
‘The next step should be regular quality checks. This isn’t about micromanaging, but simply ensuring everyone is communicating in the pertinent manner.’
Evolve and adapt
As times change, brand identity and assets will need to evolve:
‘Remember to keep team members and agency partners abreast of any evolutions to your brand and communication guidelines,’ says Jess at SomX.
‘The easiest way to do this is to schedule regular comms team all-hands sessions to share relevant updates. Listen to what your agency partners have to say regarding TOV, too – they are actioning the guidelines day in day out, which gives them a unique perspective on how the brand is cutting through and resonating with the media and with stakeholders.’
Review, review, review
Onboarding, training, and refresher sessions can only do so much – everyone makes mistakes. Just as there’s safety in numbers, getting as many eyes as possible on content before it goes out can avert any dangers (be that typos, or something much worse).
‘Before any content is published, it ought to go through a centralised review process to ensure consistency and alignment,’ says Jess. ‘Any edits should be collated and fed back to the relevant person(s).’
Have a ‘The Buck Stops Here’ person, or people, that have ultimate sign-off, or are available for advice and support to ensure words and imagery stay consistent throughout:
‘’Brand bibles are usually developed and maintained by brand guardians, which is a politer name than brand police,’ says Susannah Morgan, deputy MD at Energy PR.
‘When a brand is fairly new, or the guidelines are really crucial to business success, then you have to be strict. It is very risky to leave any elements of brand application open to interpretation.
‘Brands are built with consistency over time. Inconsistency is very damaging – it confuses the audience and prevents them knowing what to expect, so a clear brand is never formed. PR teams need to know what not to do, as well as what to do. What would a brand never do, look, or say, is often easier to remember than how to get it right.’
Don’t forget: Measurement is also an asset…
‘Including key brand messages in reporting processes as a KPI helps to ensure consistency in the long-term,’ says Tank’s head of PR Martyn Gettings.
‘Reporting on the cut-through of brand messages on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis makes it easy to see which elements of your brand’s personality resonate most with your key audiences. There is little point investing in a brand voice and personality unless its performance and impact are measured.’
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