Creating a Brand Personality

This week’s column goes behind the scenes of one of the best-known brands in the U.S. It’s an insider story — just so you know — reflecting my involvement with the Yellow Pages brand over the past year.

On July 15, released its “old and improved” site, reintroducing the brand to the next generation of consumers. builds on a heritage stretching back to 1878. Such a long history of involvement in the world’s daily activities has made Yellow Pages an icon of domestic and business life . Though an online presence has only been possible since 1995,’s goal was to create associations between its household-name directory and the interactive medium and ensure the brand’s digital version represents the same level of service and inspires the same trust customers have in the brand’s paper manifestation.

Yellow Pages’ success rests on a crucial tenet of good branding: core values. carefully identified the brand’s core values and came up with a well-defined and unusual profile, giving it a real branding edge. Most international brands would identify values such as innovativeness, progressiveness, and internationalism. All are far from unique and still further from useful as brand differentiators.’s palette of brand values combines courage, simplicity, morality, tradition, and humor.

Use Humor to Build Brand

Let’s look at humor. Humor creates empathy. It breaks the ice in the online environment, just as it does anywhere else. Too many corporate sites take themselves too seriously. Brand-builders forget their brand deals with people, people whose humanity provides behavioral norms and expectations that should be addressed.

The site uses humor to inspire mirth and turn unsuccessful searches into positive experiences. Try mistyping data in the search box. You’ll be rewarded with one of many cute rebukes. You might even be inclined to make mistakes in the future, just to see what else comes up!

Smash Your Brand

A few weeks ago I discussed “smashing your brand.” If your site were broken into individual pieces, would visitors still recognize your brand?’s visitors would.

Every element on the site is unique to the brand. If the logo were missing, you’d still easily recognize the brand. Every detail of the site reflects the “smash your brand” philosophy. Copy and design knit the site to its brand and speak of the brand without having to name it.

The site copy is carefully composed, establishing a unique voice that ties into the brand’s overarching philosophies. For example, the privacy policy uses language we all understand. It fulfils its legal obligations validly, solidly, yet lightly. You can smash the copy and still hear the brand voice in the pieces. makes the most of its heritage. The site locates its personality in the ’50s, which many people associate with happy memories. The message is clear: Yellow Pages has been around forever. It’s reliable, and it’s here to stay. The site combines retro design with clearly conveyed new values, tying it to the familiar offline directory. Anonymous dialogue boxes and gray error messages are not part of Yellow Pages’ human, practical environment.

The site reflects the brand’s offline function, even its failings (just as ’50s print technology didn’t always achieve full registration, the site’s colors don’t always marry perfectly at the edges). Those minor flaws are used to create a comfortable, nostalgic relationship between visitors and the brand’s service.

Aging Gracefully is an example of mature, considered use of the Internet, demonstrating the medium is approaching maturity. Yellow Pages brand-builders use technology to communicate old-fashioned values, reflect offline simplicity, and convey humor that addresses visitors winningly. At last, the medium is led by reason rather than leading users into irrelevant tech talk, thoughtlessly applied graphics, and clichéd language.

The Internet’s technical versatility has, until now, distracted brand communicators from executing their missions with clarity and is the master of its medium. Through applying humor, mastering and conveying core values, and consistently communicating a brand personality in copy, design, and navigation, the brand adopts human qualities.

Branding means creating a brand personality. It’s about making a brand human. That sense of humanity inspires loyalty. What a great start!

Join us at the Jupiter ClickZ Advertising Forum in New York City on July 30 and 31.

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