Personality. You’re the funny guy, Jen is the introspective one, your dog Spot is as spunky as they come; personalities are natural components of day-to-day human (and often animal) life. But what about a brand’s personality? It’s not uncommon to describe brands in similar language. Jeeps are rugged, Armani is sophisticated, IBM is competent, Hallmark is sincere, and Apple is exciting.
In my last blog I wrote a little about how we use brands to express ourselves in the world around us. This time I’m looking at one of the central ways in which we do that: brand personality. The concept of brand personality has been around for a long time but it wasn’t well understood or quantified. That changed in 1997 with Jennifer Aaker’s paper Dimensions of Brand Personality. In this paper, she demonstrates, using quantitative research, that people do in fact assign human personality traits to brands. These traits can be captured across the five personality dimensions I mentioned before: ruggedness, sophistication, competence, sincerity, and excitement.
What was particularly enlightening about her research was that these five dimensions did not overlap perfectly with the ‘big-5’ personality traits that psychologists had long-used to describe human personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. That was interesting because it provided a mechanism for explaining HOW people use brands to express themselves. By using different brands, we can convey information to others about our real, or desired, personality, interests, and values in ways that would otherwise be limited by the confines of human personality alone; brands offer us a greater capacity for self-expression. This is a further validation and clarification of Russell Belk’s work that I highlighted in my first blog.
For brand managers and agencies, this work is interesting because it provides a robust technique for measuring how consumers perceive your brand. Fournier’s research includes a questionnaire that measures how a brand scores across these personality dimensions. The results allow brand managers to really get down to the core of what consumers believe a brand embodies and thereby giving them greater power to shape brand identities moving forward. Obviously this is very applicable in the real world as brand managers attempt to describe and communicate their brand’s identity.
While we don’t often see the connection between academia and business practice, Aaker’s research is an example of how the academic world can provide real and practical sources of competitive advantages to business managers that are savvy enough to go looking for them.
*This is my second blog in a series that examines how Aasman merges academic theory and research with 25 years of experience to help our clients develop new and exciting ways to engage with their customers. These insights are drawn from the branding thesis I wrote for my Masters of Science in Administration – Marketing Specialization. If you’d like to read the full thesis, you can find it here.
Aaker, Jennifer (1997), “Dimensions of Brand Personality,” Journal of Marketing Research, 34, (August), 347-356.