Brand content and personification

Because brands are more than just a name and a logo, getting to precisely what people understand by a brand can be difficult, particularly once you are into the emotional content of the brand on the Brand Pyramid.

One very common technique for assessing a brand is known as personification - imagining the brand is a person and then trying to describe that person.

Brand content

Because brands are multi-faceted, there is a wide range of different strategies as to how a brand, and brand family, can be used. A single brand may work at all levels of the Brand Pyramid, or just focus on a lower level. At one extreme we have manufacturers like Panasonic, which has very few sub-brands. The name Panasonic is used as a mark of assurance and Panasonic does not go out of its way to develop a particular brand personality. At the other extreme are fashion labels such as Dior which although it has to satisfy the more basic requirements of specification and assurance, works predominantly at the emotional involvement and association levels.

We can determine brand as encompassing at least two distinct areas.

Firstly there is the brand as a purveyor of functional benefit. Hewlett Packard is reliable. Kodak delivers great pictures. We would claim that at some level, brands have to deliver some form of functional value to the purchaser, and that to be successful the brand has to be competitive functionally to survive in the long run.

Secondly, the brand has emotional benefit. Sony is sexy. Rolls Royce is luxurious. Haagen Daas is adult. To capture this emotional benefit in words, the brand can be described as having a personality. So Bacardi is young, female, looking for a good time whereas Chivas Regal is upmarket, older, traditional and more refined.

To convey emotional content, the right symbols and imagery is needed. Humans are very sensitive to subconscious cues in what we see to interpret the world around us. For example if we look at the following words,. ostensibly, each font is just another way of displaying letters and words, but the way the word is displayed affects the way in which we interpret it.

It is possible to make a study of a market purely looking at the symbols and imagery that exists in the market and interpreting the hidden meanings and cues that are being used - for instance to make a product appear sexy. This type of analysis is called Semiotics.

Historically, American style advertising has tended to focus on functional benefits, often in a competitive situation against alternative products, or the brand as a mark of assurance using celebrity endorsement (this also adds to the emotional value of the brand). European advertising on the other hand has tended to focus on the emotional content and building the brand personality and values. This can be seen in extremis in the advertising of perfumes such as Chanel where the product is almost invisible.

Brand personification

For many people a brand is such an ethereal concept it can be hard to pin down the defining make-up of the brand. The most common technique for eliciting the composition of the brand is personification. "If the brand were a person, what type of person would it be...?"

This is known as a projection. It is often far easier to talk about something we have words and images for, such as people or cars, so by describing the brand as a person, it is easier to articulate what the brand is about. Projection techniques are used frequently in qualitative brand research to get at the essence of brand make-up. 

Although personification is very effective at describing what the brand is, it is far more difficult to say this is what the brand should be, or whether one particular brand personality will be more successful than an alternative. It is possible to try and match personality with the target audience (eg Budweiser), to make the personality one that buyers aspire to in some way (eg Gucci), or to use a completely different personality (Werthers). Most common is a building a matching or aspiring personality type for a brand.

An alternative to personification is to describe the brand as a story or a scene. "Give me a story or scene that captures the essence of...?" This can be harder to do and similar types of information will come out, but sometimes the imagery is more vivid and you can ask people if they want to be part of the scene or story they are describing. This inclusion reflects how an individual responds to the brand. 

Connected with the ideas of brand personality and personification, a brand has and represents a certain set of values. Orange, one of the most successful brands of the 1990s, was started with a brand that was set up to encapsulate a set of values. By contrast its main competitor Vodafone was set up as a brand that represented a certain set of functional benefits.

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