Branding developer tools: personality, tone, and distinctive assets.
When creating a brand for your developer tool there are three things that you should work on: brand story and voice, core company values, and brand personality and tone.
Brand personality helps you tell the story of your brand in a way that makes it easy to consume and remember for your ideal customers. It makes your brand more human, relatable.
But brand personality can also cloud your message.
Say your market fun weekend getaways for tired parents and one of your core company value is kindness to people you work with.
- Should you have an aggressive, dick(ish) personality, or should you be friendly and playful?
- Should you swear?
- Should your company mascot be a cuddly kitten or a piranha?
All I am saying is that how you deliver your message matters almost as much as the message itself.
And if your personality breaks your message and values then it will be harder for people to put you in the right place in their head.
In this article, I’ll go over some exercises that will help you choose your:
- brand personality
- brand tone
- brand assets
But before we do let’s answer the question.
Who should choose brand personality and tone?
In choosing your personality you should keep in mind who is on the other end of your brand message:
- Your users or customers
- Industry analysts
- Employees and potential hires
- Founders and executives
Try to include all of them in the following exercises and conversations if possible.
The most important are users and customers so either get some folks from your target audience to do this with you or have someone who spends a ton of time with them like:
- Customer success and support
- Developer Relations
- UX researchers and product people
- Marketing and copywriters
You can also do both.
Create a few personality/tone candidates with your internal team and then test them with your audience.
As with most things you will probably not get it right the first time around and that is ok.
You can iterate to converge to something that works.
Ok, let’s get into those exercises.
Brand personality sliders
First, decide on your basic personality “vibe”.
Are you friendly and young, classic and elite?
Based on the exercise from the Three hour brand sprint you should choose where you want to be on the spectrum.
There are five dimensions or sliders:
- Friend vs Authority: Do you want to present yourself as an expert who teaches or a peer who learns with you?
- Young&Innovative vs Mature&Classic: The old story of ... old vs new :)
- Playful vs Serious: Do you want to look like a stand up comedian or a marine corp soldier?
- Mass appeal vs Elite: Are you for everyone or just the "chosen" few?
- Conventional vs Rebel: Are you the standard or something that breaks the rules?
To put it in the perspective of developer tools let’s take some of the well-known developer brands and put them on this scale.
Brand tone of voice dimensions
Now that you have the personality you can refine the brand tone of voice.
According to this article, there are four main dimensions of tone:
- Funny vs serious: Adding jokes and puns or keeping things serious?
- Formal vs casual: Do you want to sound like a formal document or a casual conversation with a friend?
- Respectful vs irreverent (“I don't care”): Do you give the subject you talk about a ton of respect or do you want to present in a more chill way?
- Enthusiastic vs matter-of-fact: Do you want to use a lot of "oh my gosh this is super amazing" communication or are you more "say it is as it is" person?
Once you have those core dimensions figured out you can refine what you have with additional traits like:
- Authoritative, Caring, Cheerful, Coarse
- Conservative, Conversational, Dry, Edgy
- Frank, Friendly, Fun, Humorous
- Informative, Nostalgic, Passionate, Playful
- Professional, Provocative, Quirky, Romantic
- Sarcastic, Smart, Snarky, Sympathetic, Trendy
- Trustworthy, Unapologetic, Upbeat, Witty
How does this look in practice?
Let’s see how developer-focused companies tone their “404. Page not found” message.
Take a look at those 404 pages below and think what the tone is (my look at it below the examples).
So looking at those 404 pages I’d position the tone of voice of those developer brands like this:
Based on the previous two exercises you should have a pretty good feeling of where you want to be when it comes your brand personality and tone.
But it could be that all the brands in your developer tool niche seem similar to what you have created.
This exercise can help you see where you are compared to your competitors. It should make things a little bit more clear.
Ok so it’s a matrix exercise where:
- X-axis Classic (old, standard) vs Modern (new, young, revolutionary)
- Y-axis Expressive (loud, talkative, too much) vs Reserved (silent, concise, minimalistic)
- You put your competitors on the matrix
- You put your brand on the matrix
Taking our developer tools example (obviously those tools are not competitors but you get the picture):
Distinctive brand assets
Distinctive brand assets are things like a Dog from Datadog.
It’s a logo, it’s a name, it does sounds (arf). You just know that the dog is Datadog :)
In case of developer tool brands it could also be a feel around error messages, docs, or your API.
It just makes you more memorable, even if you don’t know what Datadog does you may remember this dog.
It would be great to have one or many of those things that people remember.
Louis Grenier in his article on distinctive brand assets describes a process of creating assets like that. Check that article for more context but in short:
- Don’t plan it, just publish things and be visible
- Ask your audience “What do you love the most about us?”
- Create a swipe file of brand assets of other brands. See what you like and try it out on your audience.
- Once you find something that people actually remember about you, double down and explore the limits of it.
Document and communicate internally and externally
Now you have your brand personality, tone, and if you are like some distinctive brand assets.
You need to communicate it internally with everyone in your company.
Make those things a part of every guideline, checklist or review your team does.
Whatever you push out to the world should be “on-brand”.
With all the work you’ve put into this, hopefully, people will remember who you are and what you do.
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