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Brand content and personification

X27_1_personification1.jpg Brands capture more than just a name and a logo, but getting to precisely what people understand by a brand and how they feel about brands can be difficult, particularly once at the level of emotional content on the Brand Pyramid.

In qualitative research, projection techniques are often used to help explore feelings and perceptions that are otherwise difficult to articulate. One very common technique for assessing a brand is known as personification - imagining the brand is a person (or other object) and then trying to describe that person in human-to-human terms. These techniques can be extended to sensory-emotional method for understanding deeper connections to brands.

Brand content

Because brands are multi-faceted, with a wide range of different strategies as to how a brand, and brand family, can be used, understanding the role of brands in consumer decision making can be subtle and complex. A single brand may work at multiple levels of the Brand Pyramid from being a simple mark of quality, up to brands with deeper emotional connections and social status.

To give examples, at one extreme are 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 or Chanel which although they do represent requirements of specification and assurance, they works predominantly at the emotional involvement and association levels.

Consequently brands convey functional benefits. 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.

However, brands also have emotional benefits that reflect how individuals see themselves, and how they like to be seen by others. Rolls Royce is luxurious. Haagen Daas is adult. Our sensory-emotional research suggests that often customers buy moods, and so attempt to find products that make them feel a particular way, and in emotion-based purchases, the importance of price (functional) is lessened.

The research challenge is to capture this emotional benefit systematically. Using the idea of projection, the brand can be described as having a personality and being like a person. So Bacardi is young, female, looking for a good time whereas Chivas Regal is upmarket, older, traditional and more refined.

To convey emotional content, relies on symbols and imagery. 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.

Images as meaning and feeling

Semiotics - or the study of signs and meaning - study markets in terms of symbols and imagery identifying and interpreting the hidden meanings and cues that are being used - for instance to make a product appear sexy, or strong, or reliable.

Consequently for brand managers and advertisers looking to develop products and brands that go beyond functional advertising focused on performance, understanding and using the emotional content of brands and how images and feelings for a brand, in order to develop brand personality and values, and so move the product away from pure functional comparisons.

Brand personification is the most common technique for eliciting the composition of the brand "If the brand were a person, what type of person would it be...?"

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. And by considering the brand as a person, it become possible to talk about character and feelings towards the brand.

An extension of personification is to take the brand into 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.

These qualitative tools and methods then ground the brand in factual data and make it possible to hone the brand story, relationship and brand experience to build a unique position in the market.

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