Do I pick Helvetica or Arial for my website font? What about Garamond? What’s the difference anyway? And how about my logo? Should I go with blue? Teal? Yellow?

If you’re asking questions like these you’ve missed the primary step: understanding the tone of your brand. Before you jump into stylistic details you first need to understand who you are as a business.

An easy place to start is to imagine that your business is a person. People have unique personalities and individual styles that distinguish us from one another, right? Businesses aren’t much different. We can dress them up based on their brand personality (that’s where those fonts and colors come in), but you must have a clear grasp of that personality before taking any stylistic steps.

Three simple questions can guide you along the journey to understanding the tone of your brand or your business personality. Check them out below—and start answering!

astronaut riding protein bar
This playful astronaut has tons of personality. Logo by Soniaydesigns

1. What does your business “feel” like?

If you’re thinking about your business as a person, the “feel” would be a summary of its personality in a couple of words. To pinpoint your feel, pretend you’re describing your business as if it were someone you knew. If it helps, approach this exercise the same way you would set up a blind date between two acquaintances; you want to be specific and sell the personality of your business in as few words as possible.

Try not to describe how you think your business would look. Telling your friend that their blind date is going to show up wearing a sweet button down and khakis won’t give them much of a feel for who they’re going to meet. But telling them that their date is tons of fun, or has a great sense of humor or that they’re cultured and worldly will give a better picture of who they’ll be going out with.

For example, if I were to describe an iconic brand like NASA as a person, I wouldn’t describe a person in a spacesuit or a government employee in a suit and tie. If you didn’t know anything about NASA—or space—those descriptions wouldn’t tell you much about the organization. Instead, I would use descriptive words that give a clear sense of NASA’s “personality.” If NASA were a person, I might describe them as an intrepid explorer of space and aeronautics.

smiling hot dog character
A smiling hot dog is friendly and welcoming. Logo by SiBudi Design

Still not sure how to describe your business personality? Think about who you want your business to be, and use concise words to describe that personality. Are you the friendly alternative (think: Enterprise’s “we’ll pick you up”) or the committed competitor (think: Avis‘, “we work harder”)? Maybe you’re the luxury model (like Tesla, a high-end electric vehicle) or the affordable option (like Prius, the electric vehicle designed to fit any budget)? Perhaps you’re the masculine choice (think: Gillette Mach3 razors) or the convenient choice (think: Dollar Shave Club, with razors delivered to your door)?

2. How do you say hello?

handshake out of coffee mug splash
The locked hands in this Coffee Bros logo give a clear idea of the “hey bro!” hello for this brand. Logo by Trader In Spices

Your brand is the first interaction a client has with your company. Will you say “nice to meet you?” or “sup dude?”

Keeping with the business-as-a-person idea, your brand’s hello is like your personal handshake. It could be firm or gentle, or maybe you skip the handshake and go for a hug instead—or a first bump. Whatever you choose, this will be the first impression you make on the rest of the world. No pressure, right?

If you can’t decide how you want to say hello, take another look at the personality/tone words you brainstormed for the “feel” of your brand and use those to imagine how your brand-as-a-person would introduce itself. For example:

wealth management business card design
The gold in this wealth management company’s brand identity offers a formal and luxurious hello. Logo by ultrastjarna

If you have a luxurious personality, you may want an elegant hello. For a casual personality, your first introduction might be more relaxed and informal.

If you have a masculine personality, you might go for a strong and bold hello. If you have a feminine personality, your hello might be softer and sweeter.

Maybe you have a loud personality. If so, your greeting will probably match.

pepper car with brush
This logo for Pepper Express Car Wash has a loud hello. Logo and brand identity by Singaraja
elegant soap logo
The decadent detailing and script font in this logo give a sweet, feminine hello. Logo and brand identity by Rozak ifandi

When you think about your brand personality and its hello, do you have a mental picture of what that introduction looks like? You might start imagining your luxurious brand in a tuxedo, extending a manicured hand to say, “it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Hold on to that image, we’re going to make it clearer with our third and final brand personality question.

3. Who are you dressing up for?

drunk robot with beer
The drunk robot character is playful, matching the personality of the online gaming community it represents. Logo and social media pack by bisbidesign for Drunk Robot

Your brand is ultimately about your customers, so for the third step in understanding the tone of your business, service or product, you’ve got to align your brand personality with your customers’ personalities.

You know who you are and what you want to do (like NASA, the intrepid explorer who wants to unlock the mysteries of space). That’s great! But to be successful as a business, you also need to make sure you appeal to your ideal clients.

wicked cilantro logo
The brand identity for Wicked Cilantro is playful and fun, appealing to both the fusion-food twist the company offers and the food lovers it serves. Logo and brand identity by Stephen「スティーブン」

If your business is planning black-tie events, you’re likely targeting a higher-end clientele that expects to see professional, formal results when they hire you. That means you probably don’t want to show up wearing a clown costume to your first meeting; likewise, a loud font and lots of color in your branding would be counterintuitive to your formal business personality. If you’re firing up a vegan taco truck on the other hand, loud and colorful may be exactly what you need in your branding.

Once you understand your business and brand personality and the expectations your clients will have of you, you’ll start to have a clearer picture of how your brand values will translate into an aesthetic sensibility.

Putting it all together

As you define your business’s personality, you start to build an image of your brand as a person. That image is important to laying the groundwork for choosing the stylistic elements of your brand. Much like your personality informs the clothes you choose, your business’s personality will help inform your decisions on all aspects of your brand identity.

Check out our ultimate guide to branding for more branding tips.

Now that you know your brand's personality, it's time to build your design to match.
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About the author

Rachelle Ray is a marketing consultant and freelance content creator. She is passionate about developing brand identities and geeks out over things like cool product packaging and iconography.