3 Reasons Your Brand Needs a Character, and How to Deliver

Embrace the power of cool, cute and funny

When I was a kid, the Pillsbury Doughboy was usually top of mind after school. Or really, my mom's Pillsbury Doughboy cookie jar was.

Back then, I thought a lot less about advertising and the Doughboy's role in selling products, and a lot more about the cookies inside that jar. But years later, I had the opportunity to run a few campaigns for Pillsbury, and my first week on the job, I was handed the "Doughboy Bible." That's when I began to understand the significance of brand characters. A few more years and a few more brand characters later, and I'm a firm believer in their effectiveness. The evidence supporting them doesn't hurt either.

Cartoon, CGI or human, brand characters have the power to increase sales and share of voice, regardless of what they're representing. In fact, they can increase profit and emotional connection with customers by a whopping 41 percent. While it's not always obvious, brand characters are really good at their jobs.

If boosting your bottom line doesn't drive you to develop one, here are three more reasons why your brand needs a character:

Characters create meaningful brand value.

At the end of the day, every brand wants to be seen as valuable—as the ultimate choice for whatever it is they're selling. Characters make achieving that image possible by assuming the role of a conversational brand champion people actually want to engage with. You can't communicate your unique advantage over the competition if consumers don't want to hear it. And let's be honest, most consumers don't want to hear it. Brand characters work to emphasize what your brand is all about in a way that's entertaining, enticing and meaningful to your audience. 

Characters bring brands to life.

I can't think of a more unappealing subject than insurance. I know it. You know it. And companies like Geico, Progressive and Allstate know it, which is exactly why the Geico gecko, Flo and Mayhem exist. When brands take on a human touch, they become far more approachable and relatable. And you can bet connecting with your audience is a prerequisite for creating any sort of real impact. Characters can give brands with even the most commonplace (and painfully boring) products or services legs. Literally. 

Characters tell customers who to trust.

It doesn't matter what you're selling. If you want your business to succeed, you've got to have customers who trust you. And brand characters can help ensure you do by creating the illusion of a relationship. Think about it this way. Before I ever tasted one of those dangerously cheesy, fluorescent orange corn puffs, I knew they must be good because they came from a reputable brand. How did I know that? Because Chester Cheetah told me so—and he told me enough to make it count. You can establish trust with your customers long before they ever get their hands on your brand by giving them a face they know—and like. 

Now that you understand why your brand needs a character, you can work to create one. But keep in mind, you've got to do it right. Here are a couple tips to help get you started: 

Think like a psychologist.

It sounds like common sense, but you'd be surprised by how often marketers forget to think about their audience. So remember: delivering a successful brand character comes down to understanding your customers far (and I mean far) beyond the surface. It's a lot harder to make an impact on someone if you don't know who they are, what they need and how your brand matters to them. So dig deep into the mind of your target audience to unearth fuel for the character-making fire. 

Never underestimate the power of cool, cute or funny.

Take one look at the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Geico Gecko, Flo, Mayhem or Chester Cheetah and it's clear: They're all either cool, cute or funny. That's because being cool, cute or funny is the key to being popular. (Ask any middle school kid in America.) While staying true to your brand identity, find a way to anchor your character in one of those three qualities and you'll be well on your way to success.  

Oh, and that cookie jar? It sits on my office shelf now. Sadly with no cookies inside, but it works to remind me every day of the power brand characters have.

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John Cornette
John Cornette is chief creative officer of EP+Co.

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