How to Give Your Product Personality

There’s a really great post on Fred Wilson’s blog (AVC) about building a “Minimum Viable Personality“. Of course, this is a play on the concept “Minimum Viable Product” from the Lean Startup movement. Fittingly, the post is written by @FAKEGRIMLOCK, a Twitter handle with a lot of personality himself, in his signature tone: “resembling cliched caveman speech”.

(If haven’t read the post yet, you might want to go open it up in a new tab and read it before coming back here. If you’re short on time, the post can be summarized as:

MOST IMPORTANT STEP FOR BUILD PRODUCT IS BUILD PRODUCT.

SECOND MOST IMPORTANT IS BUILD PERSONALITY FOR PRODUCT.

NO HAVE PERSONALITY? PRODUCT BORING, NO ONE WANT.

I think it’s a great read on the importance of infusing personality into a product. But it’s not a particularly informative post – which is fine, because I think it was meant to inspire more than instruct. But there were probably some people who came away from the post with the same mindset as Hacker News user ghc:

I cannot begin to express how much this made me think. In preparation for my own launch coming up, I’m looking at it and wondering why I’ve spent so much time of Minimum Viable Product when the personality just won’t cut it. The guys at Hipmunk posted something to this affect a while ago, but it didn’t have the weight of this.

But how does one launch a product with a personality? As a developer, not a designer, I’m at a loss…

This is something I’m personally very interested in. How do you give a product personality? After some consideration, I think it boils down into at least four areas:

1) Theme / Brand

A product’s personality starts with it’s brand. What does this product represent? What does it stand for?

CODECADEMY

Codecademy believes that learning how to code should be interactive and engaging. When you hit the “get started” button, it literally pushes you into the console to start learning how to code.

This dedication to getting people to jump in & get comfortable with code is seen elsewhere – like it’s their blog and it’s about page. The entire site site has the personality of an enthusiastic and slightly “pushy” teacher who just knows you have so much potential and wants you to succeed. A great personality for a site that helps people learn how to code.

TURNTABLE.FM

In my mind, Turntable.fm‘s brand /  theme is around having an online dance party. You get to meet interesting people, certain parties / rooms are hard to get into because they’re so popular, and when you play a great song that the crowd likes, you get mad props in the form of DJ points. Also there always people dressed up like Gorillas.

Their product is jampacked with personality, but two things I want to point out:

Their Awesome / Lame meter:

Now this may seem like a straightforward thing, but think about what turntable.fm’s “song rating” feature would look like if it had no personality. Maybe an upvote/downvote thing. Or a 1-5 star rating. But that’d be pretty boring and crappy. Instead they have this fantastic meter, which looks like a piece of decible measuring audio equipment, which is more in line with their brand. And of course “Rock Out” and “Skip Song” are exactly the kinds of things you’d say at a real party.

Their Speakers

This is a minor point but I think this is so awesome – the speakers on Turntable.fm actually blur, the way a real speaker would shake at a party. That’s attention to detail and a product with personality.

2) Personal

Kind of obvious, but personality has to do with the people behind the product. There are many ways that a product can allow the interests and unique characteristics of its team permeate the product – here are just two examples.

isocket’s Dog Pricing

I gotta rep my former employer here. Most ad tech companies compete on price, number of features and/or how much money your account manager is willing to drop on “client entertainment”. isocket competes on innovation and a human touch.

One example of this is the pricing page. Me and Ryan Hupfer mocked this up as a joke using actual dogs from the office (at one point we had a Chiwawa, a Pug and a Corgie-Chow at the office). But our designer (Al Abut) ran with it and turned it into our page. How many pricing pages do you see that look like this? Customers, potential employees and investors LOVED it when we told them the page was based on the actual dogs in our office.

Personal Letters

This is definitely not a “scaleable” thing, but companies can really show off their personality by sending personal notes. Wufoo, the form (!) company did this (and lots of other personality-ish things) and inspired insane loyalty among its customers.

More recently, Fab.com‘s founder/ceo Jason Goldman has shown his willingness to put his personality out there and connect with their customers. This is almost certainly a positive sign for the company.

Writing letters not your thing? Check out AwesomenessReminders (which I’ve written about before). You could use their platform to delight your customers in an extremely personal way.

3) Surprise

One notable feature of personality is that it’s often unexpected in a good way. When you use some enterprise software to build widgets – you expect it to (mostly) work efficiently in building widgets, and nothing else. Products with personality surprise their users with something extra.

Mailchimp

I love you too, Mailchimp. I use it to power my email newsletters and I’m not alone in my love for that little monkey. Talk about spicing up a boring product/space – most people don’t wake up in the morning super pumped about sending emails. But using Mailchimp is a fun surprise everytime because when you login, you know the chimp is going to tell you something sweet.

Alternatively, Mailchimp will link to something interesting. Here’s an example of a link you might get from Mailchimp: a blowtorch made from bacon. Check out one of the top comments! People LOVE these links.

Blippy

404 pages show up when you click a broken link or non-existent page on a site. Hitting one of those is the worst. Most companies don’t put any effort into their 404 pages. Blippy saw it as an opportunity and has built what must be the most epically awesome 404 on the internet, with a 44 click sequence of events that you have to use to believe. Check it out.

4) Values

The final thought I want to leave you with is the idea that personality isn’t just something flippant or superficial. Your product’s personality can really demonstrate the value of your company – what your company believes in. Here are two examples:

Zappos

I see Zappos as fundamentally about empowerment. Empowering their customers to have a great shopping experience, and empowering their team to be the best they can be. They take core values seriously – so much so that they post values on the side of their shipping boxes. This is just one of a million ways that Zappos demonstrates it’s personality.

Google


The internet giant is surprisingly fun. Google does a lot of quirky interesting things but one thing that really shows off what they value and care about is their Google doodles. On certain days they will re-do the Google logo to commemorate something. Often it’s something science-y, nerdy or computer related – like the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man or the 25 anniversary of the Buckyball – it’s how Google recognizes the importance of innovation and engineering to their company.

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Anyway, those are some of my thoughts on how you can add personality to your product. What are yours? Please share them in the comments!

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13 comments
Hup
Hup

Hey Shen, awesome post and thanks for the shout-out about the @isocket dog kennel and my man @alabut -- ah, the good ol' days. I am a huge fan of adding personality into the mix and I think that it's even more important early on in your product lifecycle. I don't care who you are, your early product is going to suck and things will break but if you can create that personal relationship with your customer they're going to be much more lenient. Plus, it's just a lot more fun to add in some personality to the things that you're building. Why do the same thing that everyone else does? 

maryschmidt
maryschmidt

Good stuff. However, we should bear in mind that we may not be our target audience. (What jazzes developers or me may not be appropriate for the paying customer.) Good to be real, great to have the personal touch, but it also helps to occasionally get a bit of a sanity check from someone outside your immediate circle.

sahilparikh
sahilparikh

Great post and very true. I think the personality comes out over time as you learn and grow your business.

faisal.ah
faisal.ah

So basically, be creative and personal.

alexander.obenauer
alexander.obenauer

This was the number one thing I left AVC's post wondering. Thanks for writing on it! I am very motivated but a little lost on how to roll personality in to my currently launching project.

webjoe
webjoe

Great post, keep up the good work and we can't wait to hear about your new venture.

FAKEGRIMLOCK
FAKEGRIMLOCK

THIS PRETTY GOOD POST ON NO BE BORING. BUT TOO MANY WORDS. '<

jboogie
jboogie

Totally agree. Understanding your target audience and building a personality into your product/service that speaks to *them*, not you is the piece that was missing from this article. Otherwise, a really nice read and follow-up to @FAKEGRIMLOCK and his killer A VC post.

[Jeff]

@jboogie

jasonshen
jasonshen moderator

@faisal.ah Basically. But I find that specifics really help. It's like when someone tells you to "just be yourself" on a date - worst advice ever right? Specifics like "don't ask about her ex's on the first date" is more useful.

jasonshen
jasonshen moderator

@alexander.obenauer Glad I could help clarify! There's so much more to this topic but I figured I'd add my two cents.

jasonshen
jasonshen moderator

@webjoe Thanks! I'll be writing about that hopefully in a few weeks.

jasonshen
jasonshen moderator

@FAKEGRIMLOCK THANKS GRIMLOCK. ME WORK ON CUT DOWN CHAR FOR NEXT TIME

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