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Brands Have Personalities: They Should Respond to Crises Like People Do

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

One of the things I love about being an author and thought leader in the area of business communications is giving corporate talks. This week, I spoke with a group of C-level female executives in Australia and New Zealand about communicating during a crisis. The material was based on my new book, “Communicating During a Crisis: Influencing Others When the Stakes Are High.”

When I give a talk, the interaction with the people in the room (in this case, the Zoom room) depends on the participants, their dynamic and the nature of the group. In other words, it depends on the collective personality of the organization, which comprises the individuals who are in it. That is why I say that companies and brands have personalities.

People run companies. The identity of a company, a product or a brand morphs and is affected by the people working at the company at that moment. After my presentation about communicating and influencing people during a crisis, such as the one we face right now during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the women asked me how the advice I had provided applied to brands.

“Communicating During a Crisis” is a brief book (just a 1-hour read) that is part business book and part self-help book. I want readers to be able to apply the information to their personal and professional lives, so I illustrate the principles in the book by telling stories about business leaders, government officials and individuals with personal struggles. When I gave the talk this week, I did not discuss it from the brand perspective, so her question was an excellent reframe of the material I had covered.

The answer is that brands have unique identities and personalities. When a crisis hits, a brand suffers in the same way that people suffer because brands are inextricably linked to our emotions (marketing and PR people spend their careers making sure of that). The brand is also linked to the thousands of workers who make its manufacturing and delivery possible. This is why you have seen countless ads on TV and online showing factory workers and delivery trucks still getting products to our grocery stores. The ads tell us that we are all impacted by the pandemic, but that these companies—our favorite brands—are still there for us, working hard to ensure that the things we need get delivered: “From our family to yours” is the overarching message.

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In many cases, a brand’s image has become so ubiquitous that you don’t even realize you have feelings about it. Before you raise your eyebrow at the idea of anthropomorphizing a sneaker, a computer, a snack food or a roll of toilet paper, think about those logos. The Nike swoosh evokes feelings of triumph, pride and success. The famous Apple logo was purposely created in color to humanize the company. Mr. Peanut of Planters Peanuts was recently mourned by other brand mascots during a Super Bowl ad in which a new mascot, Baby Peanut, was born. And, it is impossible to think of Charmin toilet paper without thinking about its family of soft and cuddly bears.

When it comes to communicating during a crisis and influencing others, your brand has to respond the same way a human being would respond. Thanks to social media, brands have a direct dialogue with their consumers, so it is easy to achieve. And, in keeping with my focus on younger generations... Americans under 30 years old, who comprise younger Millennials and Generation Z, demand transparency from and interaction with the brands they work for and consume.


Joanna Dodd Massey, Ph.D., MBA is a corporate speaker and the author of two books: “Communicating During a Crisis: Influencing Others When the Stakes Are High” and “Culture Shock: Surviving Five Generations in One Workplace,” both available on Amazon. As a Doctor of Psychology and a business leader with more than 30 years in corporate America managing crisis communications and brand reputation, Dr. Massey uses her business experience and psychological background to guide companies and executive teams through massive change.

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