Brand personality paradox

Organisations, markets, people and personalities are not one-dimensional... why should a brand strategy be worded in one-dimensional keywords?

I came across Tom Dorresteijn’s concept of using “the power of paradox” to bring brand personality to life when starting work on an internal rebranding project last year:

“…organisations are not one-dimensional, markets are not one-dimensional, people and personalities are not one-dimensional. So: why should a brand strategy be worded in one-dimensional keywords? Why is it that three or four keywords should stand for the eternal truth about the brand?” [1]

This made a lot of sense to me - I felt the brand personality section (using single keywords) of the project I was working on quite limited:

  • The list of keywords could have applied to a multitude of companies, with totally different brand personalities.
  • Single words have broad meanings and are too open to interpretation (brand personality could loose direction)

Dorresteijn’s example showed how this could be avoided:

“Right now I am involved in the strategic development of a European brand. One of the keywords of the brand strategy is ‘innovative’. This word is meaningful and meaningless at the same time. After reading and talking about the project we defined the paradox ‘innovative - mainstream’ to replace the singleminded ‘innovative’. And then you feel energy: a brand that should be innovative and mainstream. That is much more like real life, much more exiting, much more strength and power. And: much easier to conduct creative reviews in developing the brand and to organise internal governance once the brand is on the market. I can tell you from experience.” [1]

After switching over to (sort of) paradoxical pairs (for the aforementioned project’s brand personality), we noticed how useful this system was when the agency we were working with reformatted the words into a list of single words. They then became the “meaningful and meaningless” words Dorresteijn talked about - the brand personality now lacked clarity. The new list didn’t seem authentic or unique - it read like business spiel. Somehow the tension between the two paradoxical words does create an energy that is missing from the list of single words.

Now further into the project, I can concur with Dorresteijn's view that using paradoxes make creative reviews much easier when developing the brand. When reviewing copy and visual work we often found ourselves returning the paradoxical pairs, checking the work represented the paradoxical pairs as a fused word (e.g. technical - helpful). If an element of the work didn't fit the brand personality it would often be the case it was overbalanced in one direction, for example the work could be too "technical" and not "helpful" enough.

[1] Creating a Brand Personality (from Internet Archive)