Understanding Brand Personality through Projective Techniques

— November 3, 2016

Most brands have a set of human traits associated with them – a brand personality. In B2B markets brand personality is an especially important concept as ‘corporate fit’ is often an important consideration for B2B buyers – “are these people on my wavelength and can I see myself working with them?”

You can shape your corporate brand personality through marketing communications and, most importantly, by developing an appropriate corporate culture. But to do that effectively, you first need to understand what kind of brand personality appeals to buyers and how your brand is perceived in relation to this.

That’s not straightforward.

People, whether consumers or B2B buyers, find it hard to express abstract ideas especially in relation to inanimate entities like corporations. Moreover, non-marketers might find the idea of a company having a personality somewhat odd, adding another barrier to expression. So, if you simply ask someone to describe a brand’s personality you may well be met with a blank look or receive a set of platitudes.

That’s why in market research we often use projective techniques (also referred to as ‘enabling techniques’) to help tease out a brand’s perceived personality. These techniques work by allowing people to express their thoughts about one thing by transferring them onto something else which they find easier to relate to and/or find sums up many thoughts at once.

For example, the Dinner Party exercise has the research respondent imagine that they’ve just walked into a dinner party with a difference – all their fellow guests are brands in human form. The interviewer then has the respondent immerse themselves in the scene and describe the experience. What do the different guests look like? How do they each behave? What does each talk about and how do they express themselves? This teases out the personality of each brand. The respondent is then asked to imagine that the host is a brand who they’ve never met before, but is admired and respected by all those at the table. By exploring why the respondent thinks this might be, the ideal brand personality is revealed.

Another example is the Brand City exercise which has respondents imagine that each supplier brand is a city and then explain their choice. This reveals key brand associations and does so in a manner which helps those managing the brand to envision where the brand is and needs to be. For example, a respondent associating a brand with New York may describe the brand as having a vibrant, cosmopolitan and authoritative personality. On the flip side, there may be a hint of arrogance and chaos which needs to be addressed.

Not only are projective techniques like these great for teasing out rich brand personality profiles, respondents find them enjoyable and the vivid imagery created by projective techniques helps users of the research to immediately relate to the findings.

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Author: Andrew Dalglish

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