Notion of Brand Personality
Now why on earth would
anyone want to talk about - of all things - Brand Personality
after all these years? Well, because among other things,
I feel very badly for it.
Brand Personality - like a
lot of other concepts - tends to get treated as a glib
phrase, something to be used as no more than an overall
“tone and manner” guideline for ads rather
than the powerful and extremely helpful marketing tool
that it can be.
Speaking now as a practitioner
who has often been hugely grateful - in the middle of
a brand strategy struggle - for the blinding insights
that a simple personification exercise (“If this
brand were to come alive, what sort of person would
it be?”) can yield, it pains one to see the concept
being often expressed as just a laundry list of empty
adjectives such as warm, friendly, international, fashionable,
Because the thing with a Personification
Exercise is that you don’t just stop once you’ve
asked the question “What sort of person would
this brand be?”. You then go on to ask “What
might your relationship be with this person?”,
and most importantly, “Now, why do you think this
person is like this ?”. And that whole line of
inquiry tends to unearth the best possible evaluation
of a brand’s strength or weakness and especially
what elements of the marketing mix - product, price,
advertising, etc. - are working for it or against it.
(See exhibit 1 for the diagram that the JWT agency uses
to express Brand Personality.)
It follows logically therefore
that Brand Personality provides you with - hold your
breath now - the best possible clues as to what your
total marketing strategy ought to be. Far from being
just a tone and manner guideline.
Let’s take an example.
If you happen to be a toilet product it is one thing
to find in quantitative research that your brand’s
scores on the “modernity” dimension have
been coming down somewhat. But to have it personified
by young women as “my mother” or “my
aunt” is something else altogether. And then you
may find on further probing that this impression is
caused by the fact that the brand has been too late
to introduce contemporary product forms, that its packaging
is seen to be quite outmoded, and that over the years,
the portrayal of women in its advertising has tended
to stay behind the times, needing to recognize that
the role of women in society in the meanwhile has been
changing quite dramatically.
I think you would see immediately
from this example that sometimes a simple personification
exercise can give you much more accurate data and actionable
insight than reams and reams of quantitative “attitude”
data. Quite apart from giving you a much better fix
as to the gravity of your problem, it contains in it
all the clues you need to develop a marketing action-plan.
It tells you exactly what you need to do - in this particular
case of our toilet product example - with product formulation,
packaging, advertising, and so on.
I think you would also see
from this example that Brand Personality data is particularly
helpful because it can so dramatically reduce the time
needed to think a problem through. And this is because
it is data that derives from a basic, intuitive form
of consumer insight. Therefore it can at times integrate
information from various areas in an extremely productive
sort of way. In fact often in my experience, client-agency
teams are left breathless at the beauty with which it
validates or invalidates a lot of their analytical work
& hypotheses in one fell swoop, resulting in a sudden
simplification and resolution, not unlike artistic inspiration
or the creative illumination of a scientist or innovator.
In fact the concept of Brand
Personality comes from anthropology and is based on
the fact that human beings have always had a need to
project human characteristics onto inanimate objects.
It is a natural, spontaneous feature of primitive societies
and comes easily to poets, writers, painters, indeed
any sort of creative mind, including little children
And it is strange but true that lay consumers actually
find it much easier to relate with brands in human terms,
as persons rather than in funcional terms, as objects.
And that is the fundamental philosophical difference
between the “attitude” sort of quantitative
data and the “personality” sort of qualitative
data. Firstly the problem with the attitude - measured
by structured brand image batteries and attitude statements
- sort of data is that it is the sort of shallow and
superficial data that you would yourself give someone
if they were to stop you somewhere and place a 5-point
semantic scale under your nose. It would be limited
to formal beliefs at a verbal level. And it would tend
to highlight the rational, functional aspects of brands
(contains coconut oil, has vitamins, is portable, etc.)
rather than the less concrete aspects of the image such
as associations with different kinds of moods, people
or situations. Yet another problem is that the statements
of belief or feeling would be inscribed in the questionnaire,
rather than emerging naturally as a full brand image
from the respondent.
And finally, it has to be said
: we marketing people simply have to wake up to the
painful realisation that consumers do not have very
strong attitudes as such to brands, companies, etc.
People have attitudes to things that are important to
them and they are simply too busy getting on with their
lives and coping with things like their jobs, their
kids’ education, etc. to bother about relative
trivialities like brands and companies. What they do
have can be best described as impressions, feelings,
fragments of thought, etc.
And by using open-ended, unstructured
research (literally playing games with them in a sympathetic
environment) we give people permission to express their
feelings, recognising that often they may not actually
know why they feel something; they may not wish to reveal
it sometimes; and often they may simply not have the
vocabulary to express it. (See Exhibit 2 for examples
of projective techniques used to unearth the Personality
for a financial newspaper in India).
So what we’re doing by
asking people in research to imagine the brand as something
else - a person, a restaurant, an animal, a car - is
simply trying to tap these feelings and impressions
by many different approaches. And the reason why such
“personality” data is different from and
more useful than “attitude” data is that
there is something about anyone’s personality
that defies normal analysis : the whole is immediately
recognisable, it rings absolutely true, and seems to
be something more than the most complete list of attributes.
And this at the end of the
day is the greatest single advantage of Brand Personality
: the fact that it makes all other approaches to diagnosing
a brand’s issues so terribly fragmentary.
As a matter of fact it is exactly
this sort of holistic approach that needs to enter the
bloodstream of the social sciences and through them,
into the world of marketing. Because it is nothing but
an extension of the world view that has been developing
out of fields like modern physics and medicine for some
time now. In Physics, this resulted in a shift away
from the mechanistic Newtonian approach when physicists
like Heisenberg and Einstein began to find that the
material world they observed no longer appeared as a
machine, made up of a multitude of separate objects,
but rather as an indivisible whole; a network of relationships
that included the human observer in an essential way.
And in medicine of course there
is the new holistic movement which seeks to treat the
mind-body as a total system and is trying to overcome
the confusion between disease process and disease origins.
Instead of asking why an illness occurs, medical researchers
have tried in the past to understand the biological
mechanisms through which the disease operates. These
mechanisms, rather than the true origins, are then seen
as the cause of the illness. Accordingly, a lot of treatments
are limited to suppressing the symptoms instead of addressing
the root causes.
I guess what I’m saying
at the end of all this is that Brand Personality data
is more holistic, helps us uncover the root of the problem,
and therefore it helps us to develop total, integrated
marketing solutions. It is, if you like, the difference
between Old Science and New Science.
To sum it all up, as
one extremely gifted doctor once said to me, “You
can’t just be looking at the reports, you know.
You have to look at the patient as well”.