There’s no denying Ronald McDonald’s appearance is iconic. In 2004, documentary Super Size Me demonstrated first graders could identify Ron a lot better than they could Jesus. Alright, he’s associated with fast food, which tends to be more exciting to six year olds than three wise men in a manger. But he’s also characterised by his ‘role’ as a clown.
What do clowns do?
Bring joy to children.
Think of a character. Any character, from any medium. Now visualise. They may have an iconic look of some kind. A monobrow and an eye tattoo, or a yellow motorcycle suit and a katana. But if they’re a good character – ‘good’ in the sense they’ve been well written – you’ll have remembered them for the things they say and do.
In other words, a character’s most colourful traits aren’t purely physical. Unless pertinent to plotline, looks are often secondary. Interesting characters – the characters we engage and identify with – always give us something more.
So what else does Ronny advocate? Ronald McDonald House; a charitable, international organisation for the families of seriously ill children. To paraphrase the conglomerate’s former CEO, Jim Skinner: “Ronald is an ambassador for good.”
When it comes to structure, personality and character development have many parallels. We’ve drawn on the most useful of these similarities to help you shape a more effervescent brand.
The fundamental truth to characterisation – whether you’re writing a script, novel or personality – is that your subject has to really, really want something. The greater the desire, the more captivating they become.
When it comes to characterising a colourful brand, we must remember our aims differ slightly to fiction. We don’t want to cause the same kind of drama that drives a story. We want to develop compelling engagement. So, we have to treat our businesses as people.
Have you ever asked your business what it wants to achieve? No. You've only been thinking of yourself. (Totally understandable if you're the face of your brand.) But if your identity isn't personal – as most identities aren't – then it's probably time to probe your brand with a few questions.
Hey business, what’s your goal?
Long term? Short term? You don’t have to solve the world’s problems – you just have to put some ideas in place.
So, then what’s your motivation?
Are you likely to go into business with a middle-aged, unemployed freeloader who still can’t do laundry? ‘Cause that’s your brand personality without motivation.
And what’s your purpose?
This one’s pretty basic; what does your business do? If you can’t tell yourself, you can’t sell yourself.
Finally, what’s your fear?
Don’t be shy. Distinguishing your brand’s biggest fear is the best way to counteract it.
Never underestimate the importance of solid groundwork. Both stories and personalities need a core incentive. Otherwise they’re just a string of words.
Now we’ve done our basic development, we’re beginning to understand drive. Let’s push it one step further by translating motivation into something more tangible.
In screen and playwriting, character description is very basic:
This excerpt communicates name, gender, age, nationality, passion, and action in one sentence. It paints enough of an initial picture for any actor, director or casting agent to understand Amelia’s social conscience, cultural background and extroverted nature. The format doesn’t have time to muck around. Everything you need to know is there.
In literature, descriptions generally detail physical appearance:
This description falls within the greater context of a story, so it serves to raise as many questions for the reader as it answers. The girl’s eyes are expressive; what has she seen? Her knee is injured; how was it hurt? She is behaving strangely; what is wrong? We gain a preliminary image of this girl, but for the moment, we don’t know what it means. And here that’s okay, because we have the entire tale to find out.
But in branding, an identity becomes the visual component of your description. You don’t need to waste breath describing your logo as a ‘big, red K with a little, blue mart next to it’ because people have eyes.
What can’t they see? The big, dynamic way you bring your entire brand together. The way you entertain, and engage, and keep a consumer coming back for more. Your personality.
Time to sit your business down for another friendly chat.
Brand, you need a voice.
How do you sound? What language do you use? Are you exceptionally formal, or just ‘super whatever’ about things?
Now, what’s the right tone to take with people?
How do you communicate with customers? Do they like emojis? Do you like emojis?
If you were a person, who would you be?
Age, occupation, distinguishing features, weird habits.
Describe your best traits.
Which qualities would your brand list on its Tinder profile?
Any dos, don’ts or safe words?
You know, like, ‘we never substitute ‘and’ for an ‘&’ because it’s an over-used and often incorrect abbreviation’.
What do you value most?
Excellent customer service? Quality products? The extra flavouring at the end of the BBQ Shapes box?
If your personality’s still straining to find its voice, here’s an example we prepared earlier:
A brand description will always to differ to a character description. But if you engage the same methods to get there, you end up with something a lot more human.
We’ve got drive. We’ve got depiction. Now it’s time to channel them into dialogue.
Dialogue isn’t about exact replication. Rather, it creates an impression of speech. In stories, it has an active function; it serves to propel the plot forward.
But in branding, you’re conversing with consumers to further engagement, trust and sales. If the things you’re saying aren’t pushing those goals, cut them. Immaterial content and dull phrasing have the effect of an infomercial. Don’t give people a reason to change the channel.
Let’s imagine Bob and Sally head to Big Daddy’s Texas Steakhouse for lunch. The online menu says they offer ranch dressing as a side, but the cashier insists they don’t. So they ask Facebook. And Big Daddy replies:
It’s an answer, sure. But there’s nothing evocative or exciting about it. Bob and Sally might be pleased with a 20% discount, but they’re unlikely to remember the exchange.
What if Big Daddy were to draw on his southern charm instead?
This response is coloured with the charismatic colloquialisms expected of an oil tycoon. Language is so indicative of personality you can practically see his Stetson. In comparison to the first response, it’s like a big, warm hand has reached out to pat Bob and Sally on the back.
In turn, they’ve gotten to know the Big Daddy brand better. They begin to think of him not as a restaurant, but as a Texan gentleman extending his infamous southern hospitality. And in spite of the missing ranch dressing, they’re inclined visit again.
Before your brand goes running its mouth, think carefully about what you’re saying.
Does it have a purpose?
Are you saying this just because you can?
Does it characterise the brand?
What do the guidelines within the brand description suggest? You’re not making Sylvester Stallone sound like Mickey Mouse, are you?
Does it communicate relevant information?
Is everything your consumer needs to know there? Are you giving appropriate answers?
Does it engage consumers?
Does your response sound like it’s been computer-generated by a spambot?
After doing all that, follow your instincts. You’ve put all the steps in place to craft a considered personality. The rest is fun from here.