Personify or perish

At the end of my last post, I casually threw out the idea that people relate to people not organizations, and accordingly, organizations must take on a personality of their own or risk being perceived as ordinary.

But why is this the case?

Because personification is how humans go about understanding inanimate objects. We tend to personify things that we feel the need to have an emotional bond with. We name our cars, think of our boats as women, and treat our pets like children.

My mother used to guilt me into wearing certain sweaters when I was a kid by telling me they felt sad because “they never get to be worn like the other ones.”

We also personify what we don’t fully understand as a way to be rational about things that scare us. We name hurricanes and atomic bombs. We take abstracts like God, death, and the devil and anthropomorphize them into concepts that we can deal with like the grim reaper and Mephistopheles.

You’ll notice that when we lend human personality traits to objects we are celebrating their individuality, uniqueness, and importance. By naming your convertible and talking about it like it’s a woman, you are establishing that it’s different than all other cars on the road and that it’s of emotional importance to you. Conversely, when we want to dehumanize someone, we treat them like objects and strip them of their individuality and importance. Essentially, we un-personify them. Racists dehumanize people by saying “they all look the same” and sexists treat women like objects.

Companies build brands with human characteristics to help us find a way to relate to their products and to differentiate from the competition – essentially celebrating their corporate individuality.
NPO’s and causes don’t sell products to which we can assign human traits, so what to do? We can sell the culture the way social movements do.

The paradoxical brilliance of social movements is that they’re able to build strong, unified cultures by encouraging individuality. Freedom of expression solidifies culture not the opposite. Aside from the traditional channels of expression for social movements like language, art, and press, web 2.0 has given us the “golden opportunity” to put the onus on all organization members to lead conversations and energize the cause. All members should be encouraged to contribute to blogs, share videos, and tweet about the cause…and it must unfiltered and authentic. Encourage self-expression through any and every channel.

Let your people build the organization’s personality for you. Without it, you’ll just be another inanimate object.

– For more information on building your internal culture visit BRANDEMiX.
– To join a free webinar on communicating the personality of your brand RSVP to


4 responses to “Personify or perish

  1. I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog! I just started creating an online presence for Roots of American Music, a non-profit in Cleveland, Ohio. I love the idea of having as many members as possible contribute to create a defined personality, and plan to present that to their Board of Directors. I look forward to reading more posts!

    • Molly, that’s really exciting and what a great cause. The mere fact that you’re dealing with music gives you the chance to really start something movement-esque since music has always been something that brings people together — it transcends language, class, etc. Also everyone likes talking about music so the ensuing word of mouth you can create from letting everyone share will be tremendous. Thanks!

  2. Trina Isakson

    Connection with and loyalty to people, not organizations, is also believed to be a widespread trait of the Millennial generation.

    Allowing Millennials to connect with your organizations message through people is a great suggestion, and one that may have have payoffs down the road through supporter loyalty and fund development.

    There are definitely multiple layers of benefits for your suggestions!

    • Thanks! That’s a very interesting comment. I haven’t got into behavioral patterns enough at all and your absolutely right about millenials. Thanks for the segue!

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