Personality is defined as “the particular combination of emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral response patterns of an individual.”
This is true of companies as well as individuals. In business, we call it branding.
An organization, like a human being, with a disordered personality, is prevented from reaching its full potential. My wife, who works as a therapist (and, no…she’s not done working on me yet), would tell you that a well-integrated, well-defined personality is the sign of a healthy individual. Sort of like a company with a well-articulated brand.
The key to corporate personality is to simultaneously consciously cultivate it while being authentic in the process. It’s the yin-yang of being proactive through intentionality while listening with humility to the stakeholders who can really tell you what your brand means to them.
A company’s personality/brand is ultimately defined by three sets of stakeholders:
1. Company Founders and Leaders
This is the most important competent of a company’s personality or brand. The passion and vision of a company founder or those currently in leadership is the DNA that shapes the personality of the company.
Many companies are almost entirely defined by the personality of their leadership. Steve Jobs at Apple. Jack Welch at GE. Lee Iacocca at Chrysler. And it’s not just true of the big, notable Fortune 500 companies. We see this everyday with our clients. Some are obsessed with customer service; others with technical innovation; and still others with a passion for making a difference in the world. These deeply cherished values can’t help but define the company brand. It shapes the company’s growth, the people it has hired and the customers it attracts. In working with these company leaders, our job is to further distill that vision and passion into a relatable brand that dives customer engagement.
Your customers shape your company’s personality in at least two ways: 1) what they say about you—in surveys, on Yelp, to their friends at a party; and 2) in their lifestyle and priorities as consumers or B2B decision-makers.
In other words, your brand personality is, to a large degree, the collective fusion of your customers’ perceptions of your organization and their own lifestyles and priorities. Just as the individual members of a country club define the club’s reputation, so also your customers define your brand and likelihood of attracting similar customers.
These are the folks who really know what you mean to your customers and how you really measure up to your mission statement. Internal branding is an important discipline to master—getting everyone in an organization on the same page with key messages and brand attributes. But the dialogue goes both ways. It means listening—without being defensive—to your employees and asking them how or if the company lives up to its brand aspirations. A company that can cultivate honest feedback from its employees while fostering zeal around the brand is well on its way to a well-ordered personality. You see this in places like REI, the Apple Store, Chipotle, and numerous small businesses where passion for product and customer satisfaction reign supreme. Here in the Boulder area where we live and work, one thinks of businesses like McGuckin Hardware, Left Hand Brewing or Eldorado Natural Spring Water. As it ends up, these “Davids” are able to beat the “Goliaths” they compete against.
Finally, a functional company personality means being known for one thing. Having multiple personalities is dangerous in people and equally dysfunctional in companies. Your organization can only “own” one concept in the mind of your audience. The first step to a well-integrated brand personality might simply be to ask your employees and customers—maybe even your competitors—to name the one thing for which your company is highly regarded as the best in the business. If you keep getting the same answer, congratulations. If you get a multitude of different responses, you might have some work to do.