Using The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to Explore Brand Personality
The concept of “brand personality” dates back around 60 years and was developed based on the theory that a brand, like a person, had a “personality.” This concept was first published in an article by Burleigh Gardner and Sidney J. Levy, entitled, “The product and the brand,’ in the Harvard Business Review (March-April, 1955). Since that point in time, market researchers, including focus group moderators, have tried to get respondents to describe the “personality” of the brand in an effort to develop brand messages that are congruent with that “personality.” However, in 1997, Jennifer Aaker pointed out in her seminal article, that it is very difficult for consumers to describe the personality of a brand. Ms. Aaker tried to correct this problem by developing a brand personality scale, using these factors: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness (Aaker, Jennifer L. “Dimensions of Brand Personality” Journal of Market Research. August, 1997.).
However, since Aaker’s article appeared in 1997, there have been many articles about researching brand personality, but Professor Audrey Azoulay of Boston College believes the original concept lacks validity. Azoulay points out that the current measurements of brand personality do not in fact measure brand personality, but rather combine a number of dimensions of brand identity — personality being only one of them. Azoulay writes that, “Brand research and theorizing, as well as managerial practice, have nothing to gain from the present state of unchallenged conceptual confusion” (Azoulay, Audrey and Jean-Noël Kapferer. “Do brand personality scales really measure brand personality?” TheJournal of Brand Management. Volume 11, Number 2, Nov. 2003.) Traci Freling at the University of Texas has also pointed out the problems in using “human-oriented” personality scales for consumers to describe the personality of a brand (Freling, Traci H. and Jody l. Crosno and David H. Henard. “Brand Personality Appeal: conceptualization and empirical validity.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. Vol. 39, Aug. 2010.). Mark Avis at Massey University also challenges the idea that consumers can actually perceive brands as animate humanlike entities (Avis, Mark, Robert Aitken and Shelagh Ferguson. “Brand relationship and personality theory: metaphor or consumer perceptual reality?” Marketing Theory. Sept. 2012).
Holly Buchanan, an experienced market researcher, in an effort to clear up the confusion in “brand personality” research, has written that it is not the personality of the “brand” that should be researched but rather the personalities of the potential users that should be explored with the goal of having your brand act as “mirror” reflecting thepotential userspersonality characteristics. Ms. Buchanan comments that by “mirroring” the consumer’s personality you can enhance communications. This insight, to be useful in market research, is dependent on two essential questions: is it possible to determine potential user’s personality? And how can the brand “mirror” that personality.
Ms. Buchanan explains how the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator [the personnel industry standard personality test] can be used to assess consumer personality: “By understanding and mimicking the audience’s preferences, copywriters can create more persuasive communication. Research like the “theory of congruence” . . . show people respond to those they perceive to be like themselves and that persuasiveness can be enhanced by creating similarity between source and receiver. . . The congruity principle relates to the similarity between source and receiver, and research shows that mirroring the thoughts and views of your audience . . . offers the key to more persuasive communications. The driving force here is to communicate in a style similar to that of the receiver whom you hope to persuade” (Buchanan, Holly. “Adapting communications styles to the needs of the market.” In Gloria Moss (editor) The Lessons on profiting from Diversity. Palgrave Macmillan. 2012.).
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator traces its development back to Freud’s associate, C. G. Jung. Jung described the basic concept in his ground-breaking book, “Personality Types” in 1921. Katherine Briggs and Elizabeth Myers built on Jung’s theory and published their first “type indictor” manual in 1943. Their first formal manual was published in 1962, and later refinements have been updated periodically (Manual III came out in 2009). Each year approximately two million people take the test, which is used extensively in the personnel and industrial psychology fields.
Subjects who take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test fill out a series of agree-disagree questions that allow the test administrator to determine where they fall on four basic personality traits: Extraversion vs. Introversion, Sensing vs. Intuition, Thinking vs. Feeling and Judging vs. Perceiving. There are 16 basic combinations of the four Personality Traits indicated above (each having its own particular characteristics). The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test is normally administered using a printed form (or online), and takes about 30 minutes to fill out and score the answers to determine the personality traits of the subject (Keirsey, David and Marilyn Bates. Please Understand Me. Prometheus Nemesis books. 1978.).
Focus groups can use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to explore respondents’ personalities in a unique way so that marketers can better appeal to them with their communication strategies. Because it is not time-effective to have respondents spend 30 minutes filling out the formal Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a “short-hand” version of the test can be used. As an example, assume we are interested in assessing the personalities of respondents who are users of a particular brand compared to those who are not users, in the context of how they make brand choices. We would have each respondent choose which personality trait alternative best describes those who really “love the brand” as well as whether that trait alternative describes themselves, and to give the reasons for their choices. The question format used is as follows:
Extraversion vs. Introversion:Are they more sociable, focusing on the “outer world” of people and things, or are they more private and focusing on the inner world of ideas and impressions?
Sensing vs. Intuition: Are they more practical focusing on the present and on concrete information gained from their senses, or more imaginative focusing on the future and patterns and possibilities?
Thinking vs. Feeling:Are they more rational and use logic and objective analysis of cause and effect, or more emotional and use emotions and person-centered concerns in decision-making?
Judging vs. Perceiving:Do they want a planned and organized life and want things settled, or do they like things flexible and prefer to keep their options open?
There are 16 basic combinations of the four Personality Traits indicated above (each having its own particular characteristics). Once we know how the respondents categorize the “brand lovers” and themselves (and their reasons for their choices), we are able to better understand how personality traits are related to the brand’s perception, and how the brand needs to project itself (i.e. “mirror” itself) to current users and potential users.
This technique works best in Hypnosis Focus Groups where respondents’ subconscious minds are compelled to give us their honest and truthful answers and not hold back their true “personality” choices. And, while this technique can be employed in traditional “awake” focus groups it will encounter many of the problems encountered in other aspects of these “awake” groups, including “dominant respondent” problems and respondents’ desires to hold back their true feelings, or make choices to please the moderator.
As Timothy Wilson (Malcolm Gladwell’s source for much of the insights in his best-seller “Blink”) has written, "A lot of the confusion about personality and its relation to behavior has resulted from a failure to distinguish between the conscious and the nonconscious systems. There is increasing evidence that people's constructed [conscious] self bears little correspondence to their nonconscious self. One consequence of this fact is that the two personalities predict different kinds of behavior: the adaptive unconscious [subconscious] is more likely to influence people's uncontrolled implicit responses, whereas the constructed self is more likely to influence people's deliberative, explicit responses" (Wilson, Timothy. Strangers to Ourselves - Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. Belknap Harvard Press. 2002.) What this means for marketers and researchers is that we need to know the subconscious (“adaptive unconscious") personality traits of respondents in order to influence and affect behavior.