The Five Dimensions of Brand Personality

Author: Mike Edelhart

As we focus this month on Brand Communities, it is important to recognize that this is far from a new idea.

For more than four decades, marketers have used sophisticated techniques to segment their consumer universes into psychographic sets, the progenitors of today’s online communities. These techniques have been able to reveal hidden truths underlying group actions as in the case of investors when the Bitcoin Lifestyle system was first released. As a result, they have allowed marketers to dig deeper than simple demographics to target messages much closer to the heart of action than general measures like age or sex. In fact, a case can be made that these older groupings have had far deeper roots than today’s like- and tweet- based communities.

At the core of psychographic segmentation lies the recognition that all human behavior derives from a small set of fundamentals, the so-called Big Five Personality Traits. All the broad variation in human action, at heart, comes down to different mixes of these elemental traits. By isolating these human behavioral fundamentals using analytical techniques, marketers can build up full profiles of what is driving the behavior of their targets customers and prospects.

The Big Five was originally propounded way back in 1961, but only came into broader use in the 1980s. Since then, it has become a hallmark of marketing and psychology. Everyone who ever took a “personality test” at work has experienced an expression of the Big Five. The Big Five attributes are:

  • Openness to experience – (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety. Some disagreement remains about how to interpret the openness factor, which is sometimes called “intellect” rather than openness to experience.
  • Conscientiousness – (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior; organized, and dependable.
  • Extraversion – (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness.
  • Agreeableness – (friendly/compassionate vs. cold/unkind). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.
    Neuroticism – (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability.
  • Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control, and is sometimes referred by its low pole – “emotional stability”.

So much for the history lesson. Now for the 64-dollar question for modern Social brand communities: Do brand personalities all derive from The Big Five, as if brands were themselves people? Or, does each brand create its own unique universe, with its own unique set of core behavior elements driving the brand’s personality?

What researchers have found falls in the middle ground. Brands personality, in fact, is not derived directly from The Big Five, but neither does it stem from random, unique brand universes. Rather, there appears to be a separate set of universal markers that delineate brand personalities. People don’t react to brands as people, but do, if appears, react to brands in a consistent, measurable way, call it the Brand Five.

The personalities of brands devolve from this separate Brand Five as noted in this chart:

The emergence of these two sets of fundamental markers for human behavior has made it possible for statisticians, and the marketers who rely on them, to craft rich and measurable analytical images of brands and their customers. These actionable “brand personalities” and the psychographic sets they define have transformed the way marketers can approach target audiences. They have lead to the creation of techniques that drive the development of today’s vibrant, social-network driven brand communities.

This blog post is excerpted from the Pivot White Paper: A Platform For Smart Social Segmentation, which shows how a new tool extends the power of brand personality to create powerful new options for brands. You can find the full report here.

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