Trait Theory and Brand Personality Framework

This paper discusses about Trait Theory and Brand Personality Framework in personality - Trait Theory and Brand Personality Framework introduction. Details of the two theories will be explained first, along with some real examples of how firms make use of personality traits to strengthen their brands. The shortcomings of the two existing theories will then be analyzed, and some measures developed by recent researchers will be introduced in order to overcome the weaknesses. I chose this topic because I am interested in psychology and personality traits. Many personality tests usually try to figure out interviewee’s personalities by asking questions regarding their behavior.

This topic has a similar concept, but it is inversely about how marketers use personality theories to predict consumer’s behavior, so I am interested to understand more about it as it will be helpful when I become a marketer someday. Personality refers to an individual’s relatively consistent responses to the environmental stimuli over time (Kassarjian & Sheffet, 1991). One of the most commonly used personality theories is Trait Theory, which focuses on the quantitative measurement of personality traits, or identifiable characteristics that define a person.

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Some specific traits that are relevant to consumer behaviour include: extroversion1; materialism2; self-consciousness3, need for cognition4 and frugality5 (Solomon, 2004). Because large numbers of consumers can be categorized according to various traits, this approach potentially can be used to segment markets. Many marketers endorse this idea as they try to create brand personalities that will appeal to different types of consumers. Brand personality refers to the set of human personality traits that are both applicable to and relevant for brands (Azoulay & Kapferer, 2003).

For instances, Apple has a branding strategy that focuses on the emotions. Its brand personality is about lifestyle, imagination, innovation, passion, dreams, aspirations, simplicity, people-driven product design, and about being a really humanistic company with a heartfelt connection with its customers (Marketing Minds 2009). Nokia personality is similar to a trusted friend. Its specific message that is conveyed to consumers in its advertisement is “Only Nokia Human Technology enables you to get more out of life”, clearly connects the technology and human side in an impressive way.

Red Bull personality is active and dynamic, so their consumers are usually youngsters or sports fanatics. Its conveyed message in recent campaign is “Red Bull gives you wings! ”, each story in its advertisement gives people the impression that the Red Bull consumers are unique and do not conformed to the expectation of others. In 1997, Aaker developed a Brand Personality Framework which encompasses five broad dimensions: Sincerity, Excitement, Competence, Sophistication, and Ruggedness.

Many popular firms can be categorized into these five dimensions. The characteristics of Sincerity are down-to-earth, honest, wholesome and cheerful (such as Marks & Spencer, Kodak and HSBC), Excitement are daring, spirited, imaginative and up-to-date (such as GAP, Pepsi and Red Bull), Competence are reliable, intelligent and successful (such as BBC, IBM and Volkswagen), Sophistication are upper class and charming (such as Mont Blanc, Mercedes and Rolex), and Ruggedness are outdoorsy and tough (such as Levi’s 501 and Tough).

However, the Brand Personality Framework has the following shortcomings: The first one concerns the loose definition of brand personality that embraces several other characteristics such as age and gender besides personality (Azoulay & Kapferer, 2003). This induces a construct validity problem and leaves researchers uncertain of what they have actually measured: the perceived brand personality from a sender aspect or perceived user characteristics from receiver aspects.

The second one pertains to the non-generalizability of the factor structure for analyzes at the respondent level for a specific brand or within a specific product category (Austin, Siguaw, & Mattila, 2003). Because Aaker (1997) conducted all analyses on data aggregated across respondents for between-brand comparisons, she actually removed all within-brand variance which led to results that are exclusively based on between-brand variance. As a result, the framework does not generalize to situations in which analyses at the individual brand level and/or situations in which consumers are an element of differentiation.

Because the latter is the topic of a majority of practitioners’ research, this is a serious boundary condition. The third one regards the non-replicability of the five factors cross-culturally (Azoulay & Kapferer, 2003). For example, Aaker et al. (2001) found that only three of the five factors (Sincerity, Excitement, and Sophistication) applied in Spain. Peacefulness replaced Ruggedness and Passion replaced Competence. In Japan four of the five factors emerged, in which Peacefulness again replaced Ruggedness. This discrepancy led some researchers to construct a country-specific brand personality scale.

For examples, Bosnjak et al. (2007) developed a German scale, Milas and Mlacic (2007) a Croatian one, and Smit, van den Berge and Franzen (2002) a Dutch one. In response to the above weaknesses, a new brand personality measure has recently been developed by some researchers to alleviate the problem. It consists of twelve items and five factors: Activity, Responsibility, Aggressiveness, Simplicity, and Emotionality. The new measure proved to be more reliable for between-brand between-category comparisons, between-brand within-category comparisons, and between-respondent comparisons.

Moreover, the scale showed higher cross-cultural validity in the US and nine European countries. (Geuens M. , Weijters B. and De Wulf K. , 2008) The Trait theory also has imperfection since it is hard to predict consumers’ behaviors simply on the basis of measured personality traits. Some explanations are given below: Many of the scales that isolate personality variables do not adequately measure what they are supposed to measure, and their results may not be stable over time.

Personality tests are often developed for specific populations (such as mentally ill people), these tests are then borrowed and applied to the general population where their relevance is doubtable. The researchers often make changes in the instruments to adapt them to their own situations, in the process deleting or adding new items and renaming variables. Such changes weaken the validity of the measures and also minimize researcher’s ability to compare results across consumer samples.

Nevertheless, the failure of personality measures to predict consumer behavior has stimulated more recent studies, some researchers found that personality is not the only variable in the consumer decision-making process. For instance, one study discovered that personalities will affect people’s product evaluations based on the discrepancies between their self-images and the advertised product’s image. It suggests that people with high extroversions are likely to evaluate products more positively regardless of the advertising appeals employed.

However, only people with both high ideal self and high extroversion evaluate the products positively; those with high extroversion but high on actual self evaluate the products with no difference of those with a low extroversion. (Chang 2001). Therefore, some recent approaches have been developed by using multiple measures of behavior rather than relying on a single item on a personality test in predicting purchasing responses, such as understanding the role of personality in information processing. Another incorporates personality data with information about individuals’ social and economics conditions.

And another approach uses broader concepts such as values and psychographics (Blackwell, Miniard & Engel 2001). For example, a recent research has successfully related personality traits to alcohol consumption behaviour and it projects personality is an important determinant of consumption of beer and cider based on age, sex and social class (Allsopp 1986). To conclude, personality traits is workable in predicting consumer behaviors, and they can be applied to create brand personalities that will appeal to different target segments.

However, it is also important to know that personality is not the only variable which affects consumer behaviors. There are some other determinants such as social and economics condition, values, self images, psychographics, so on and so forth. By studying combined measures of consumer behavior, firms could adopt a better branding strategy and position their products accurately for various target clients. Hence, sales performance of the firms can be improved.

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