What is Brand Personality? ‘Trait Tattoos’ and New Insights from Behavioural Economics and more...

What is Brand Personality? ‘Trait Tattoos’ and New Insights from Behavioural Economics

Trait Tattoo

There’s a rather brilliant presentation and transcript for marketers interested in behavioural economics over at Evolving Economics by Jason Collins (Australia’s answer to Rory Sutherland). Jason presented “Please, not another bias! An evolutionary take on behavioural economics” at last week’s Marketing Science Ideas Exchange conference in Sydney, and covered the controversial issue of brand personality and why it matters.

Bottom line, brand personality is the set of human personality traits that are both applicable to and relevant for brands (think ‘open brand’, ‘conscientious brand’, ‘extravert brand’ etc…) and brand personality matters because our evolved emotional systems reward us for signalling our personality traits to potential mates, allies and adversaries through display behaviour. So brands that have ‘display value’ have emotional appeal because they help us signal aspects of personality we wish to project. From this perspective, brands are peacock tails for hire, signalling our desirability to the world. In a world where product quality is increasingly a given and where product characteristics are quickly copied by competitors, it follows that brand personality should be a key psychological locus of brand value (along with brand salience).

But brand personality has been controversial in marketing because it has traditionally been a magnet for bad thinking, bad research and brand nonsense. Think brand onions, keyholes and pyramids. Byron Sharp dealt something of an evidence-based deathblow to the idea of brand personality in How Brands Grow, dismissing brand personality as ‘esoteric quackery’, and likening proponents of brand personality to ‘medieval doctors’.  This hasn’t stopped some die-hard proponents from persisting – see this eye-watering example spotted by @neurobollocks last week.

Enter Jason Collins, who attempts to save the concept of brand personality with a theoretically informed framework based on the consumer psychology of Geoffrey Miller.  The key insight is that if brand personality is a set of human personality traits that are both applicable to and relevant for brands, then we would do well do look at brand personality through the lens of human personality, specifically the established ‘Big Five’ dimensions of human personality

  • Openness to experience: inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious. Such elements as appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, intellectual curiosity, imagination and variety of experience.
  • Conscientiousness: efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless. Such traits as a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, orderly, trustworthy, aim for achievement; planned behavior.
  • Extraversion: outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved. Such traits as energy, positive emotions, openness to others, sociability, impulsivity.
  • Agreeableness: friendly/compassionate vs. cold/unkind. Such traits as kind, compassionate, modest, trust, cooperative.
  • Neuroticism: sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident. Such traits as anxious, unstable, nervous, vulnerable, a tendency to express unpleasant emotions.

Measure a brand on these five ‘OCEAN’ dimensions (along with general intelligence), you get a unique iOCEAN ‘trait tattoo’ that can be useful – and therefore appealing –  for signalling.  This trait tattoo is a measure of the display value of a brand. Measure your own personality trait tattoo here.

Trait Tattoo


This is a rather different approach to brand personality than the ad hoc jumble of descriptors we use when personifying brands  (although Stanford psychologist Jennifer Aaker has developed a BPS (brand personality scale) based on five more or less stable clusters of concepts we use when –  Sincerity, Excitement, Competence, Sophistication and Ruggedness). Collins’ insight is that we should carve nature at the joints when we investigate brand personality using the OCEAN dimensions of human personality.

Likewise when we look at the ever-expanding jumbled list of cognitive biases that pepper marketing today; they make better sense when we look at them through the lens of human evolution.  With respect to brand personality, Maggie Geuens has made a similar point in her reformulation of Aaker’s BPS along the lines of the five dimensions of human personality, but rebranding the dimensions for industry ease use (what brand would call itself neurotic?); Simplicity (Openness), Responsibility (Conscientiousness), Activity – (Extraversion), Aggressiveness – (Agreeableness), Emotionality – (Neuroticism).

So there may be sense and utility in what may be dismissed as brand personality nonsense if the framework we use is theoretically informed by evolutionary science. Of course, any framework is useful only to the extent that it has both explanatory and predictive power; and more research is needed to see if the trait tattoos of brands can predict brand appeal.

The full transcript of Jason’s presentation, along with the slides, are available online, and well worth a read.


The 10 Principles of Great Experience Design [Speed Summary]

10 Principles

Here’s a speed summary of Matt Watkinson’s new FT book on experience design that’s getting rave reviews – including from Rory Sutherland: The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experience.

For digital designers, the 10 Principles put the ‘you’ into UX, by building on the empathic design movement – designing from insights into ‘you’ – the person actually using the service, product, site or app.

Empathic design is people-first, not technology-first, and builds out from human needs, emotions and desires. We expect and demand well designed experiences that work for us, and if they don’t we vote with our wallets and our voices – which is why the popular Net Promoter System for experience design and management has helped drive growth for so many companies.

The 10 Principles seeks to address two big problems in experience design – a pervasive short-term cost-saving/revenue-boosting fixation that destroys experience (and sustainable growth), and a preoccupation with (usually meaningless) quantitative metrics.

Quality of experience eats the quantity of experience for breakfast

The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experience

  1. Great experiences strongly reflect the customer’s identity – Our beliefs and values play a decisive role in our behaviour as customers. Those experiences that reinforce our self-image and resonate with our personal values leave us feeling good about our decisions, while those brands that clearly stand for something engender much stronger loyalty. This is essential to getting the experience right at a brand level.
  2. Great experiences satisfy our higher objectives – In a movie, what makes each character interesting are the objectives hidden beneath what they say or do. Customers are no different: wants and needs are derivative, it is satisfying the higher objective behind them that is the foundation on which great experiences are built. This is fundamental to getting the experience right at a product or service level.
  3. Great experiences leave nothing to chance – To create consistent, smooth customer journeys, every interaction needs to be considered, planned and designed. There is no detail that is too small to consider. This is the starting point for getting the experience right at an interaction level.
  4. Great experiences set and then meet expectations – Existing expectations, learnt behaviours and associations are the criteria that customers use to judge an experience from the beginning. Great customer experiences explicitly consider these factors, and exceed expectations where desirable
  5. Great experiences are effortless – Interactions that put the onus on the customer, soaking up their time and energy, are quickly put off or replaced with those that are less demanding. Few things generate more goodwill and repeat business than being effortless to deal with.
  6. Great experiences are stress free – We all instinctively avoid stressful situations. Customer experiences that eliminate confusion, uncertainty and anxiety reap the rewards, generating a competitive advantage, loyalty and a peerless brand image.
  7. Great experiences indulge the senses – From delicious food to relaxing music or a beautiful painting, we all actively seek sensory pleasure. Customer experiences that delight the senses win our hearts and have us coming back for more.
  8. Great experiences are socially engaging – The importance of cultivating personal relationships with customers cannot be over-stated: we more readily buy from a friend than a stranger. However, our position within a social group is also a powerful and private motivator. Those experiences that elevate our status are often the most highly valued.
  9. Great experiences put the customer in control – Control is fundamentally important to us: we want to do things in our own time and in our own way, and we take exception to those encounters that force us to jump through hoops. By contrast, we appreciate experiences that are flexible, accommodating and leave us feeling in control.
  10. Great experiences consider the emotions – We are all slaves to our emotions, yet most see their customers from a purely rational perspective. Evaluating the emotional aspect of an experience brings often unconsidered issues to the surface and opens up new ways to delight the customer.

With practical, how-to chapters on each of the 10 principles, The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experience is easy to understand, quick and efficient to use and offers a flexible and scalable framework for doing ‘experience-first design’. The book itself is well-designed including a series of downloadable worksheets (with completed examples) for great experience design (link to download all worksheets)

There’s little explicit in the way of psychology, but the ten principles are psychologically informed, drawing on Khaneman’s Thinking, Fast and  Slow, and McClelland’s Big Three ‘APA’ model of psychological needs – Achievement – need for personal accomplishment, Power – individual’s desire to control environment, and Affiliation need for friendship, acceptance, and belonging.


She’s hot! Use Sensory Metaphors for Brand Memorability [Study]


Digital marketing has a bright future with a sharp increase in effectiveness if we harness sensory metaphors (bright future, sharp increase) in our work.

A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that sensory metaphors are more memorable and more successful (in terms of popularity) than non-sensory metaphors (open access draft). The logic is that our five visceral senses (sound, sight, touch, smell and taste), shape our language, our perceptions and our experiences, and so sensorial language cues more mental associations, making the metaphor more immediate, meaningful, and memorable. Like ourselves, it would seem our experiences and language are embodied.

The research ‘Drivers of cultural success: The case of sensory metaphors‘, conducted by Jonah Berger and Ezgi Akpinar looked at data from 5 million books over 200 years and found that sensory metaphors are used more frequently over time than their semantic equivalents (e.g. bright future vs. promising future). Followup experiments with 156 participants found that sensory metaphors are indeed more memorable than non-sensory metaphors, and that they have more associative cues (the metaphor is associated with more things).

What this means is that brands, advertisers and copywriters will enhance the effectiveness of their campaigns and content if we focus on bringing to life the sensorial truth of their communication through sensory metaphor.  This latest research confirms another finding that consumers may respond better to taglines that use metaphor (specifically metaphors with figurative and literal meaning) than purely literal language.

With that in mind, ask yourself – or better your customers – which of these sensory metaphors best suit your brand?  Use the answer to diagnose how people really feel (sensorially perceive) about your brand, and use that insight to connect with people on a more visceral level using sensorial metaphor.


Which of the following metaphors best describe our brand?


  • Cool
  • Chill
  • Hot
  • Smooth
  • Sharp
  • Warm
  • Cold
  • Icy
  • Hard
  • Heavy
  • Painful


  • Bright
  • Brilliant
  • Colorful
  • Dark
  • Bubbly
  • Shady
  • Faded
  • Blue
  • Glowing


  • Loud
  • Quiet
  • Mute
  • Thundering
  • Screaming


  • Sweet
  • Sharp
  • Spicy
  • Sour
  • Bitter
  • Bland


  • Fresh
  • Fragrant
  • Fruity
  • Earthy
  • Burnt
  • Fishy
  • Spoiled
  • Rotten

Akpinar, E., & Berger, J. (2015). Drivers of cultural success: The case of sensory metaphors. Journal of personality and social psychology109(1), 20.




Brand Love. What is it? [New Study]

Brand Love

“I love that brand!”

It’s the holy grail of marketers, but what actually is ‘brand love’?

Brand love is very different to human love finds a new study out this month in Psychology and Marketing warning marketers against using the L word in marketing. At least not that L word.  People may like brands, but not love them, and the analogy between the love we experience for people and the feelings we experience for brands may ultimately be misleading and lead to bad marketing decisions.

For example the study, conducted by Tobias Langner and colleagues at Bergische University, found that brand ‘love’ is more rational, transactional and dependant on receiving rational benefits, whereas human love is more altruistic in character.

This follows the philosopher Bertrand Russell’s famous definition of love:

Love is delight in contemplation, benevolence in action (Bertrand Russell)

For marketers, this means we should not overestimate the durability, loyalty and unconditionality of people’s attachment to brands, even for those we say we ‘love’. Our brand ‘love’ is not about what we can do for the ‘brand’ but what the brand can do for us. It’s selfish, and it’s likely to be based on habit, not ‘love’.  And as Byron Sharp has shown, there is little of the exclusivity with brands that we can experience with love; instead we flit fickle-like between alternative rival brands based on availability, rather than staying true to our brand ‘love’ (72% of Coke drinkers also buy Pepsi in the UK).

The study, measuring emotions both quantitatively through physiological arousal responses and qualitatively through depth interviews, also found that emotional intensity in human love far exceeds that of ‘brand love’.  From a psychological perspective this is important, since cognitive control declines with emotional intensity meaning that love takes on a less rational character and is likely to be qualitatively different.

Moreover, since all human emotions (e.g. love, anger, sadness) may be plotted on a simple two dimensional matrix of intensity (arousal) and direction (positive vs. negative valence), then if brand love differs significantly from human love in intensity, then it becomes a different emotion, much as anger is qualitatively different to annoyance.

So whilst marketers like using the idea of brand love (see Interpersonal Brand Love Scale below) – it allegedly won Saatchi and Saatchi a US$430 million JC Penney contract using their ‘lovemark’ framework (brand love as defined by SIM sensuality, intimacy and mystery), – a trademark is not a person and your emotional attachment to it is unlikely to be love.

Source: Langner, T., Schmidt, J., & Fischer, A. (2015). Is It Really Love? A Comparative Investigation of the Emotional Nature of Brand and Interpersonal Love. Psychology & Marketing, 32(6), 624-634.

Interpersonal Brand Love Scale


  1. I experience great happiness with this brand.
  2. I feel emotionally close to this brand.
  3. When I am with this brand, we are almost always in the same mood.
  4. I think that this brand and I are quite similar to each other.
  5. There is something almost ‘magical’ about my relationship with this brand.
  6. I feel tender toward this brand.


  1. If I could never be with this brand, I would feel miserable.
  2. I find myself thinking about this brand frequently during the day.
  3. Sometimes I feel I can’t control my thoughts; they are obsessively on the brand.
  4. If I were separated from this brand for a long time, I would feel intensely lonely.
  5. There is nothing more important to me than my relationship with the brand.
  6. I would feel deep despair if this brand left me



Do you skip YouTube ads? Why will.i.am clash with Google/WPP doesn’t matter


will.i.am says you do.

The ad industry says you don’t.

Skip YouTube ads, that is, when you’re prompted to do so after seeing the first five seconds of a YouTube ad (Google’s TrueView in-stream ad product).

Well do you?

At the wrap up this year’s annual fashion show for advertising in Cannes, Martin Sorrell, CEO of ad group WPP and Lorraine Twohill, head of marketing at Google have crossed swords with will.i.am.

The roundtable clash went like this (see video below)

will.i.amYou know people don’t like it on YouTube. They skip it.

Martin Sorrell (WPP): No, not true.

Lorraine Twohill (Google): Not true. They don’t skip it.

will.i.am: No, no young people skip it.

Lorraine Twohill (Google): They don’t. Actually they don’t skip it. 87% do not skip

will.i.amWell they’re not paying attention to it, and they’re skipping in their head

Lorraine Twohill (Google): Laughs

will.i.amRegardless of what your metric says, we’re not paying attention to it. If you don’t add value to people’s lives, I don’t really give two s**ts about your advertising.

If anyone can find the evidence that shows 87% do not skip YouTube ads when prompted to do so, please forward it.  Stats circulating on the web side with will.i.am, with the most frequently cited stat being a skip rate of these ‘pre-roll’ ads of 94% (another being 85%).

Whilst will.i.am’s point that we need to reinvent advertising to add value may be true and laudable, the debate over whether we skip YouTubes ads is fairly sterile from a psychological perspective.  Everybody gets exposed to the first 5 seconds of the ad, and this is where the ad may have the most psychological impact.  Regardless of whether you are paying attention to it. From a dual processing perspective (Kahneman – Thinking, Fast and Slow) our ‘System 1′ fast automatic mind is influenced by mere exposure to ads, and does not require the deliberate attention of our ‘System 2′ conscious mind. Mere exposure is enough to raise salience of the brand in our minds and build mental associations automatically. And that can happen fast. Combine this enhanced mental availability with product availability and you have Byron Sharp’s influential recipe for driving growth.  From a  ‘How Brands Grow’ perspective, it’s reach-optimised exposure to ads that counts, not the amount of deliberate attention and conscious thought we accord ads.

The future of advertising is not about attention – it’s about influence without attention.

The practical upshot for advertisers is that the ‘skip vs. don’t skip’ debate is something of a red herring. As is trying to hook the viewer to not click ‘skip’. Instead, advertisers should focus on optimising the impact of universal exposure to the first 5 seconds of a YouTube ad (for which ironically they don’t pay – advertisers only pay if the viewer sits through the whole ad/more than 30 seconds) using Sharp’s the ‘Golden Rules’ of advertising

  1. Continuously reach all buyers of the category (communication and distribution) – avoid being silent
  2. Ensure the brand is easy to buy (create universal appeal, not targeted for ‘type’ of person)
  3. Get noticed (grab attention and focus on brand salience to prime the mind)
  4. Refresh and build memory structures (respect existing associations that make the brand easy to notice and easy to buy)
  5. Create and use distinctive brand assets (use sensory cues to get noticed and stay top of mind)
  6. Be consistent (avoid unnecessary changes, whilst keeping the brands fresh and interesting)
  7. Stay competitive (keep the brand easy to buy and avoid giving excuses not to buy (i.e. by targeting a particular group)





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