Building connections with brand characters
At the start of a branding project, companies often have a similar goal: to differentiate themselves from competitors in their industry. There are several ways to achieve this, but one that tends to be overlooked, particularly in B2B contexts, is the use of a brand character.
The desire to maintain a professional image sometimes hinders the exploration of more imaginative branding approaches. But this doesn’t have to be the case. In truth, leveraging an underused approach might be the crucial factor in breaking through the noise and crafting a unique identity.
A unique differentiator
Whether a company is targeting other businesses or consumers, generating buy-in is crucial. For some organisations and products, achieving this may be relatively straightforward. However, for those in highly competitive markets like connectivity, telecoms, or software, cutting through the noise becomes more challenging. A competitive edge is needed, a unique aspect that not only captures customers' attention but also keeps their brand at the forefront of their minds. This is where brand characters have power.
Go Compare and Compare the Market are examples of businesses that have successfully employed mascots to enhance brand recognition, recall, and visibility. Despite being unrelated to the products, both mascots have become closely associated with their brands over time.
By playing on human traits — and giving each character the opportunity to further share unique characteristics through audio — these brands have become multi-dimensional. What started out as a pair of financial comparison sites has become relatable and engaging. These companies are no longer perceived as dry organisations dealing solely in financial matters; they’re associated with having a personality.
The use of characters in B2B
An illustrative example in the B2B realm is demonstrated by Cloud Gateway, a company that equips organisations with the essential digital infrastructure for achieving success. In this case, brand characters are employed in a professional way, each possessing distinct personalities to showcase and differentiate various service offerings. Striking a delicate balance between professionalism and personality, these mascots add an element of relatability without deviating too far from industry norms.
Similarly, Salesforce, a leading customer relationship management (CRM) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) brand, incorporates a range of mascots to infuse personality into its offerings. SaaSy serves as the primary character, followed by the warm and popular Astro, who acts as a welcoming "face" for customers. These characters are accompanied by a team of additional "friends'' that assume diverse roles. Some characters exemplify the traits of different departments within the company, while others represent values associated with enhancing the customer experience.
Together, these characters play a vital role in enabling the business to convey its mission, values, and offerings in a more personable and relatable manner. Through the use of mascots, Salesforce's social media channels adopt an unexpected identity within its industry, not only establishing a unique selling point but also generating heightened interest among clients.
Context is key
Characters, when employed thoughtfully, can serve as a valuable means to convey brand values. However, if not carefully examined, they can also become a source of controversy, especially for companies dealing with highly regulated products like alcohol, cigarettes, and sugar, or those catering to more protected target markets, such as children.
An illustrative example can be observed in the UK. In recent years, several brands faced scrutiny due to increasing concerns over sugar content, leading the government to implement a tax on sugary products. Consequently, a few supermarkets opted to remove characters from their own-brand cereal offerings to distance themselves from promoting unhealthy products to children. This highlights the importance of contextual analysis and risk assessment when making decisions around brand strategies.
Questions to ask include:
Is a human or cartoon character more appropriate?
Could there be an audio element?
How prominent should the mascot be and how/where will it be utilised?
Are there any unintended negative associations that could be made between the brand and character?
As the saying goes, ‘people buy from people’ or, it seems, fictional characters with humanistic qualities. Maximising opportunities for customers to create a connection with a brand and get to know its personality and values presents an amazing opportunity — but considering risks and acting on them appropriately, is an exercise that should never be overlooked.
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Written by Doug Main
Co-founder Doug’s obsession for typography and killer attention to detail result in brilliantly unique, creative concepts for our clients.