We all know brand characters (mascots), we all grew up with them and like them. And yet, we often don’t think about them as a viable communication option when building a brand or selling a product/service, even though we would be wise to do so.
What are brand avatars or brand characters?
Brand characters are personalities associated with a specific brand or product that, over time, become the calling card and signifier of that brand. They can take any form you need them to: a person (real or fictitious), an animal, a product or an object. They can be used to bring the product to life (M&Ms), embody the benefit (The Caveman for GEICO), project the ideal user of the brand (The Most Interesting Man in the World for Dos Equis), embody the brand (Flo from Progressive) or even bring to life an enemy associated with the brand (Mayhem for Allstate).
Characters all have in common the fact that they are associated with human traits, personalities, and emotions. This makes it easier to identify them while creating an emotional response and connection, something most brands struggle to do without a brand character.
The benefits of brand avatars
Brand characters are not just great creative devices; they are the “Workhorses of Effective Communication”. Here are the six reasons why that is and why every brand should consider creating brand characters when building their brand and communicating their games.
1. Using brand characters makes for more effective marketing communication. A recent analysis by System1 Group of over 300 cases of effective communication shows that brand characters are 37% more effective at increasing market share (or share of wallet), and 30% more effective at generating increased profit. These facts alone should warrant the exploration of a brand character as an alternative creative device when developing a new piece of communication or launching a new product.
2. Brand characters are highly effective at attracting new customers: Generally, brands need to attract new customers to fuel their growth. The research by System1 Group mentioned above also shows that campaigns with brand characters are 28% more effective at attracting new customers than campaigns without. The reason is that brand characters help create emotional brand affinity and liking where rational messaging fails.
3. Brand characters lead to more effective communication than communication relying on “borrowed interest” such as celebrities. It is becoming increasingly popular for a brand to “borrow interest” in order to break through to consumers. And this makes sense. It’s a great way to tap into people’s passion points and interests and in the process, attract people that may not be regular customers. It’s also a great way to tap into someone else’s fan and customer base. But borrowing from existing franchises and properties can be expensive over time. Investing these resources and $$ into creating a unique brand character might be a smarter business decision, as brand characters have been found to be 70% more effective at building share than using “borrowed interest devices”. And again, this makes sense as every dollar spent against a brand character helps build and increase its own equity, as opposed to helping build someone else equity.
4. Brand characters can nudge light users at point of sale: we all know how important purchase triggers are at point of sale. Most brands have a large customer base of light users that know the brand and what it has to offer. These light users don’t need to be convinced about the benefits of the brand (they already know them) they just need an occasional nudge and reminder, especially at point of sale. Brand characters in that context are highly effective devices to stand out and trigger top-of-mind awareness at POS as well as trigger purchase impulses and reminders.
5. Brand characters can help solve business problems most brands struggle with: Brand Avatars are versatile and can be used to solve a variety of business problems when developed accordingly. But research and our own experience show that they are particularly effective brand building tools:
- In commoditized and low-involvement categories
- When a brand lacks emotional relevance with its customers
- When a brand is outspent by its competitors
- When a brand can’t rely on product news to keep customers’ interest
- When a brand lives across multiple channels
- When a brand relies primarily on social media to build awareness and reach
6. Brand characters provide more flexibility in social media. No brand can’t ignore social media as a communication channel any longer. But the engagement rules in social media are different from those in traditional broadcast media (something most brands are still ignoring). In that context, brand characters allow for more flexibility and freedom in social media users making for more engaging interactions and communication. We’d even go a step further and say that social media allow the brand character’s personality to really come to life. This is clearly illustrated by the Aflac Duck (no need to post a picture as everyone immediately knows who the duck is) that has more social mentions than the company itself (while always being associated with the company).
So, to conclude: is a brand character the only solution to build a business and attract new customers and intensify consumption with existing ones? Absolutely not. However, brand characters are such powerful and proven communication devices that they are worth exploring when developing new campaign ideas, branding new products or services or simply to help build a brand.
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