Choosing Brand Traits

Kyler Nixon
March 28, 2022
5 min read

A few weeks ago, I visited a company website while doing research for a client in their industry. The homepage was stoic, cold, and professional. For the industry they were in, I didn’t think much of it.

I then went to the “About Us” page, which was a completely different experience. They had super fun staff photos, cheeky language, and seemed to be a totally different company. I realized that these two pages were probably created at different times and by different people, both projecting their interpretations of how they perceived the company.

Neither was right or wrong… they were just different. The problem is, having competing or different brand traits can be confusing to customers because you’re sending a different message on every page. On one, you say, “we’re professional” and on the other, you say, “we’re fun and quirky.” If your website or marketing collateral feels a bit disjointed like this, it might be time to create brand traits for your organization.

This 3-step quick overview of the process that I take my clients through and I’ve seen it help create consistency and a visual brand that matches who they really are.

Step 1: Choose 3 Traits

The first step to choosing brand traits is to sit down with your key players and talk through some traits that might describe your brand. Here is a list of some basic ones to get you started:

  • Professional or casual?
  • Boring or fun?
  • Quiet or bold?
  • Stylish or classic?
  • Personal or distant?
  • Rigid or flexible?
  • Young or mature?
  • Charming or cheeky?

None of these are right are wrong. I want to express that upfront. It’s not wrong if your brand is professional, quiet, and mature. If that’s what your audience is looking for, and it’s who you are as a company, go for it! The goal of this exercise is to create consistency. When you start choosing your traits, I want you to come to the table with a “no bad ideas” policy. Let everyone throw out any trait about your company that comes to mind.

A couple of guidelines here, though: they have to be a common word that people understand and they should describe your brand (an adjective rather than a verb or a noun). After you’ve created a long list, narrow it down to your top three.

For our fake company, let’s choose the following traits: authentic, fun, and personal.

Step 2: Create Trait Descriptions

After you’ve nailed down your traits, you should create simple, one-sentence phrases that describe the traits. For example, if one of our traits is “bold,” we might say, “We’re not afraid to dream big and take risks.” I try to avoid using the actual word itself in the description and use common language here as well. These descriptions may even come from your core values and could be used to cast a vision to your organization.

For our fake company, here are our descriptions:

Authentic: We’re real about our stories – we don’t sugarcoat it.

Fun: We don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Personal: We speak more about our customers than ourselves.

Step 3: Create Dos & Don’ts

Okay. We have our traits and our descriptions. Are you starting to see how you can use this for your organization? For the third and final step, we want to identify how we’re going to use these traits AND how we’re not. Not only is this helpful for you as the creator of your brand traits, but it’s also helpful for any contractors, new employees, or really anyone who comes in contact with your brand.

These dos and don’ts are the “bumpers” for your brand.

Here are the dos and don’ts for our fake company.

Authentic: We’re real about our stories – we don’t sugarcoat it.

  • Do: We share our story, we speak clearly, we engage our customers online
  • Don’t: We don’t use insider or confusing language

Fun: We don’t take ourselves too seriously.

  • Do: We make appropriate jokes, reference culture, use a little sarcasm
  • Don’t: We don’t use too much slang, lose sight of the mission, or make inside jokes

Personal: We speak more about our customers than ourselves

  • Do: We use pronouns like “you/yours,” and cheer for our customers
  • Don’t: We don’t isolate people or forget about their needs and wants.

There you have it! It’s really that easy. Those brand traits can be thrown into a word document and shared with stakeholders in your organization to help you cast vision and get to the heart of what your organization is all about.

Kyler Nixon