A few months back, I posted a little Instagram carousel about the brand personality cards I created for a client in Singapore. I’ve finally gotten around to recreating them, and you can now buy a deck or download a free, printable version of the first 24 cards. If you do check them out, I hope you’ll leave a comment or reach out and let me know what you think. I’d love to know how you’re using them to identify, articulate, or fine-tune brand personality traits for your brand or your clients’ brands.
Why I made the Brand Personality Cards
As I mentioned in a recent post about brand personality, when choosing traits, you should “steer clear of clichés and ’empty’ adjectives.” That’s what led me—about a decade ago—to the idea that it might be useful to think about personality traits as “opponent pairs” (a term I borrowed from psychology). Forcing a choice between two “equal and opposite” traits helps ensure the brand personality is more than just a handful of vapid superlatives (“We’re nice, smart, and cool!”). Relying partly on the traits in Jennifer Aaker’s 1997 paper, “Dimensions of Brand Personality,” I created a simple tool*—a game of sorts—to help my clients think about, deliberate, decide on, and articulate their brands’ personalities.
How the cards work
Every card in the deck contains two traits, one on each side. The tricky part about making them was ensuring the traits felt like opposites but could both be perceived as positive. The opposite of daring isn’t dull—it’s reliable (because if the alternative is dull, everyone will say their brand is daring). The implication is that, while I suppose it’s possible for a person or brand to be both daring and reliable, the two don’t typically go hand in hand. So it forces a choice: Is the brand more daring than reliable, or more reliable than daring? And of course, strategy is all about making choices (i.e., making the best of finite resources).
How to use the Brand Personality Cards
When I created the cards in 2012, I had a specific plan for them. It worked so well that I’ve recreated the cards, and I recommend you take the same steps I took back then:
- Give each member of the team a deck.
- Meet in a conference room (or online), and have everyone spread their cards out on the table.
- Ask them to flip cards over one at a time until they feel the face-up traits are the best fit for the brand’s personality.
- If neither side of a card applies, that card can be pushed to the side (but keep as many cards in the mix as possible).
- Optionally, participants can group related traits and prioritize groups to better describe the personality.
- Take a picture of each team member’s final, face-up brand personality traits as input for the brand personality. (Do this first, as cards often move around during the discussion.)
- Discuss. Point out similarities and differences in each team member’s deck—why did everyone choose a certain trait? Why did some team members use one side of a card while others flipped it over? Why are certain traits grouped together?
- Take notes! The conversation and debates prompted by these cards are often as useful as the traits themselves.
Ultimately, this exercise is simply intended to inform the final expression of the brand’s personality. The idea isn’t to pick three or four traits from the cards and be done with it (although there’s nothing wrong with using the words on the cards). The cards are a tool to help you (and your clients) learn more about which traits matter and why, then use that information—along with other input, like competitive analysis—to arrive at a richer, more accurate, and better articulated set of brand personality traits.
To try them out, download a free, printable set of the first 24 cards (you’ll have to glue the fronts and backs together) or buy a deck with all 36 cards. And I’d love it if you’d share your experience with them on social media or in the comments below!
Rob Meyerson is a brand consultant, professional namer, and host of the How Brands Are Built podcast. He is also principal and founder of Heirloom, an independent brand strategy and identity firm in the San Francisco Bay Area.