If you’re developing a new brand, or refining an existing one, thinking about brand personality is a great place to start. Why? You want your brand to connect with people and feel relatable. To engender their trust and confidence. To stand apart from the competition in real and meaningful ways. Just as you prefer doing business with someone you like, you choose brands that reflect shared attributes and values.

Pleasing Personality Pays Off

Stanford Graduate School of Business professor and behavioral psychologist Jennifer Aaker, Ph.D., famously developed five core dimensions of brand personality, each with a set of facets. While considerable research had been done on human personality, little if any existed on brand personality. She published her findings in the Journal of Marketing Research in 1997. A numeric value can be generated by applying a five-point scale to each, with 1 not at all descriptive and 5 extremely descriptive.

  • Sincerity (down-to-earth, honest, wholesome, cheerful)
  • Excitement (daring, spirited, imaginative, up-to-date)
  • Competence (reliable, intelligent, successful)
  • Sophistication (upper class, charming)
  • Ruggedness (outdoorsy, tough)

Aaker’s research provides an insightful framework for exploring a brand’s personality and guiding conversations. Our agency has developed hundreds of brands over our 29 years in business, each with a distinct personality. Getting to a brand’s essence is one of our favorite client exercises. We gather key decision makers together in a discovery workshop. A conference table full of words and wall full of images get the ideas flowing. The volley begins when we start voting on and discussing choices, then presenting our rationale. We keep winnowing the words and images down until we settle on the one or two that best sum up the brand personality. We also rank the words and images we hate. It’s funny, but knowing what you strongly dislike helps uncover what you love.

Does Your Brand Smile or Scowl?

Could it be time to give your brand a personality check? Can you quickly define which one is you? If not maybe, it’s time for a tune up. If it’s an existing brand, a survey to customers and stakeholders could be in order. Check in to see if what they think about your brand matches what you believe they think about it. If you’re developing a new brand, you could survey prospective customers. Once you feel you have a good handle on the brand personality, match it against your marketing materials and outreach. Do they align? Adjustment may be in order.

Keep squarely within the realm of truth. If you want your company’s brand personality to be down-to-earth and honest, but people perceive it as the opposite of that, focus your attention on your operations first, not your marketing. Make the brand live up to your vision for it. Then tell your story so your brand personality comes through consistently, powerfully and memorably. Good things will come as a result. Brand preference is inexorably linked with brand personality.

This column originally ran in the March 7, 2018, issue of BlueSky News.