Lesson 3: What is your brand personality?

This is part of a series introducing you to Claxon University, where nonprofits can learn everything I know for $949.

Claxon University’s first course is Words on a Mission. Each of the twelve lessons in the course asks a fundamental question a nonprofit needs to answer in order to develop high-impact messaging. In each post in this series, I’ll share what the question is, along with a snippet from the video lecture.

Lesson 3: What is your brand personality?

Lesson 3: Transitioning Your Know Statement from Claxon University on Vimeo.

Are you tough, stuffy or sweet?

brand, brand personality, adjectives
What three adjectives would you use to describe this guy?!

What three adjectives would you use to describe your organization’s personality? This is a really super good question to ask and answer. Why? Because once you have a clear sense of your brand personality, you have a consistent look and feel and voice. Consistency builds trust and it helps you stand out from the crowd.

For instance, you might be:

  • Friendly, knowledgeable, proactive OR
  • Faithful, focused, energetic OR
  • Savvy, ambitious, forward-thinking

As silly as it may sound, picking three adjectives that best describe your organization is worth the time and energy. Here are three tools to help you out:

  1. In his book, “Tough, Sweet and Stuffy”, Professor Walker Gibson talks about how you can align your writing with these three personality types. He even has a handy chart of how often to use different types of speech and whatnot to help. It’s an interesting way to think about your organization–if you had to chose, would you be tough, sweet or stuffy?
  2. The List of Adjectives–9,947 adjectives waiting to be sorted alphabetically or by category.
  3. Claxons’ 5 Steps to a Funective Brand.

The Importance of Being Leaderly

Awhile ago, I started using the term ‘leaderly’, e.g. “That was a tough situation and you handled it in a very leaderly fashion.” I make up words all the time so didn’t give much thought to this new addition to my personal lexicon. It’s a funny sounding word and therefore catchy. I noticed other people started using it. Again, I didn’t think much of it. People embraced ‘funective‘, so why not leaderly?

This week, I start teaching Strategic Marketing in Seattle University’s Master in Nonprofit Leadership program. So I’ve been thinking a lot about how marketing and language can help someone be more, um, leaderly.

Somehow, being leaderly doesn’t feel weighty enough. It lacks the gravitas we tend to append to all things having to do with leading and being in a leadership position. I mean, leaders are the the ones who “go before and with to show the way,” who “guide in direction, course, action, opinion, etc.” These people are serious. They have corner offices. Their smart phones are on over-drive. They are in a league of their own.

And therein lies the problem. We’ve elevated leadership to a level that makes us believe we can only achieve it if we can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Since only a scant number of people can do that, it’s easy to opt out.

This isn’t just a problem for one (word-obsessed) professor preparing for one class at one university.  This is language getting in our way in a seriously egregious manner. This is a fundamental issue that, I contend, is undermining our efforts, and ultimately our ability, to make the world a better place.

We may not all be Leaders, with a capital ‘L’. We may not have the right title or pay grade or a reserved parking spot. But we can all lead. We can all, in ways big and small, go before others, and with others, and guide them in direction, course, action and opinion.

There’s a difference between being a Capital ‘L’ Leader and being someone who leads. If we’re going to  make the world a better place, we need both. In spades. We need as many verbs, nouns and adjectives as possible to describe this idea of forward momentum, conviction, vision and execution.

It begs the question: how will you be leaderly today?



Adjective Adjustment: 3 Rules of Thumb

Eye-catching adjectives (and adverbs) can enliven an otherwise ho-hum hunk of copy. But you have to be careful how you use them. If you overuse them, you risk irritating or boring your reader. They are, after all, extra words and each word takes time to read, so you have to make each word worth their while.

To help you avoid adjective awkwardness, here are three Rules of Thumb for effectively using adjectives in mission-driven messaging.

  1. Keep Calls to Action (CTAs) adjective-free: There’s a reason ‘Donate Now’, ‘Sign-up Today’, and other short CTAs work. They get right to the point. Go with it.
  2. No trash: If you can get the point across without the adjective, do it. Otherwise, you risk gunking up your copy. This is especially true for shorter pieces (FB posts, Tweets, etc.) and CTAs (see #1 above).  Example: “We helped protect 1,000 acres of precious wetlands.” Knowing they’re precious doesn’t make much of a difference. It mainly makes you wonder what un-precious wetlands are. Make sure it adds value to the point. Otherwise, delete.
  3. Don’t be boring: When an adjective can help you grab someone’s attention–e.g. subject lines–pick something that will stand out. Avoid overused adjectives like thriving, successful and amazing. We expect to see these words so we don’t really see them. It’s wasted space. Pick adjectives that evoke emotion or speak to the reader’s senses. There are approximately 100,000 adjectives in the English language. Find one that adds some zing to your thing!

This is a mash-up from a variety of sources. If you want to dig deeper, I recommend Roger Dooley’s Neuromarketing blog and Jason Cohen’s post 10 Secrets to More Magnetic Copy on Copyblogger.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?