Brand persona as a concept has been gaining ground as businesses seek new ways to differentiate themselves and gain competitive advantage in the face of increased competition and generational shifts in loyalty. Differentiation through personality is a way to keep consumers loyal to a brand even though other elements may resist differentiation (i.e., service, product selection, and price).
A recent study by Zion & Zion took a deep-dive look at the brand personas of 26 top quick-service restaurants by ranking them in five personality areas: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness. The study notes that while some characteristics like sincerity are universally desired, others like sophistication are positioning-specific. For example, Starbucks ranked very high in sophistication, which is in keeping with its positioning, while McDonald's would not want to be perceived in this way—so a low ranking in this area is fine.
It's unlikely that your brand or client will spend the resources to develop a similar study, so how can these insights benefit you in your daily work?
"What this study shows is that brands can and do differentiate themselves on the five brand personality dimensions, and if you’re not thinking about it and, ideally, measuring it, then you’re missing out on an important factor in achieving competitive advantage," said Zion & Zion CEO Aric Zion. He suggested that PR pros take a look at the 42 adjectives listed in the study and try to be objective in evaluating your brand. "Look at customer satisfaction surveys and what your customers are saying about you on social media, to see what the chatter suggests," he added.
Some brands like Lockheed Martin have also found success by creating audience personas, so that they can better understand who they are trying to reach and thus, better understand what they want and how they want to be reached.
One thing Zion said surprised him in this study was that several brands that massively invest in advertising like McDonald’s, Burger King and Jack in the Box were some of the across-the-board lowest-ranked food service brands. "However, we suspect that the massive investment in advertising is an attempt to counter what these brands already know about themselves: they are scared to depart from the way they’ve traditionally done things, in order to innovate and gain new customers."
Measurement is key, and social listening can help you understand how public perception of your brand, and your brand's personality, is shifting over time. If you notice that your persona deviates from your positioning, you can use adjectives that define the five brand personality dimensions to change your messaging and approach to customer service.
Also essential is that you use the data gleaned from measurement to direct your actions for future growth, innovation, and increasing your customer base. One that appears to do this well is Chick-fil-A, which scored high across all personality dimensions. "Chick-fil-A invests in more than just their advertising, they invest in the customer experience. Their employees are consistently polite and friendly, their restaurants are consistently clean, the food quality and taste is consistent, and that investment pays off."