Three Models of How a Brand Personality Impacts

Whether it’s warm or witty, outdoorsy or urbane, your brand’s personality is a valuable communication tool.

What is the worst thing you can say about a person? That they have no personality. Who wants to spend time with someone who is so boring that they are described as having no personality? It’s better to be a jerk; at least you will be interesting. Having a personality is equally helpful to brands.

Not all brands have a personality, or at least don’t have a strong, distinctive personality. Those that do have a significant advantage in terms of standing out from the crowd, having a message and supporting a relationship with customers. Personality is an important dimension of brand equity because, like human personality, it is both differentiating and enduring. Once established it will provide benefits (or harm) over a long time horizon. Creating or supporting a personality should be part of the brand vision discussion.

The power of brand personality can be seen by conceptualizing three models of how personality impacts:

The Self-Expression Model

People express their own or idealized selves in part by the brands that they buy and use. Using Apple’s MacBook expresses for some a non-corporate, creative self-based in part on the perception that Apple-as-a-person is an unpretentious, irreverent and somewhat off-the-wall person. The use of Betty Crocker expresses the homey, maternal, nurturing side of some of its users because Betty Crocker-as-a-person is a mother figure who is traditional, small-town, and all-American, a person that cares about cooking and about her family. Wearing the Nike brand is a personal representation of an active lifestyle personality for many. Nike-as-a-person is exciting, provocative, spirited, cool, innovative, aggressive, and into health and fitness. A brand can serve as a person’s personal statement even if that person were stranded on a desert island.

“Personality is an important dimension of brand equity because, like human personality, it is both differentiating and enduring.”

The self-expressive power of the brand can depend on the context. One study suggested that a brand personality can transform the use experience by creating feelings during use. Respondents were asked to project themselves into one of two scenarios. One involved a break after a daytime hike on a mountain, while the other was during a small evening barbecue with close friends. During the scene, the beer served was either Coors or Löwenbräu. Coors, with its outdoorsy, active, healthy personality, created feelings of “warmth,” “friendliness,” and “wholesomeness” in the mountain setting, but not in the barbecue setting. In contrast, Lowenbrau, with a warm, social personality, the reverse was true.

A brand can serve as a person’s personal statement even if that person were stranded on a desert island. However, there are socially visible or “badge” brands, particularly for statement products like cars and clothes, that have substantial social impact and thus enhance to a self-expressive brand role. Driving a Prius or Mercedes provides a self-expressive benefit that is extenuated by an awareness that others will observe.

The Relationship Basis Model

A trustworthy, dependable, conservative personality might be boring but might nonetheless reflect characteristics valued in a financial advisor, a lawn service, or an auto brand such as Volvo. The concept of a relationship between a brand and a person, analogous to that between two people, provides a different perspective on how brand personality might work. For example, consider the following relationship metaphors:

  • A weekend fun companion: Pepsi might be better than Coke if perceived as a fun, energetic, social person.
  • An old-fashioned mother: A down-to-earth, honest, genuine, reliable, always there for you personality brand like Campbell’s Soup or Pepto Bismol might fit.
  • A well-liked and respected family member: Warm, sentimental, family oriented, and traditional personality linked to growing up. Think of brands such as Hallmark, Kodak and even Coke.
  • A person who you respect as a teacher, minister or business leader: An accomplished, talented and competent person as represented by IBM or the Wall Street Journal.
  • A boss who exercises power or a rich relative: A pretentious, wealthy, condescending personality perhaps reflecting the personality of BMW, Mercedes or Lexus (with gold trim).
  • A companion for an outdoor adventure: An athletic, rugged, and outdoorsy personality such as Nike or Wells Fargo.

Think of a brand relationship that involves two-way communication. What might a brand say to you? One customer segment who perceived a credit card brand as sophisticated, educated, a world traveler and confident believed that the card would make comments like:

-“My job is to help you get accepted,” and

-You have good taste.”

A second, “intimidated” segment who considered the same credit card brand to be sophisticated and classy but snobbish, aloof and condescending believed the card-as-a-person would make comments such as:

-“I’m so well known and established that I can do what I want.” and

-“If I were going to dinner, I would not include you in the party.”

The user segments had remarkably similar perceptions of the brand, but the attitude of the brand toward the customer was a big discriminator and the relationship metaphor helped provide that insight.

The Functional Benefit Representation Model

A brand personality can also be a vehicle for representing and cueing functional benefits and brand attributes. It can be easier to create a personality that implies a functional benefit than to communicate convincingly that a functional benefit exists directly. Further, it is harder to attack a personality than a functional benefit. Consider:

  • The Harley Davidson-as-a-person rugged, macho, America-loving, freedom-seeking individual who is willing to break out from confining society norms of dress and behavior suggests that the product is powerful and is a bike with substance.
  • The Hallmark-as-person is sincere, sentimental, warm, genuine, wholesome and ageless as well as being competent and imaginative. This says a lot about the Hallmark offerings.
  • The Benetton-as-a-person is daring, trendy, exciting, provocative, spirited and imaginative, and this affects people’s perceptions of Benetton and its stores.
  • Michelin as reflected by the Michelin Man has a strong, enthusiastic, energetic personality that suggests a tire with strength and energy.
  • Wells Fargo, as represented by the stagecoach, reflects an independent, cowboy type that delivers reliably. Although competitors may actually deliver superior reliability and safety of assets, because of the stagecoach, Wells wins the battle for perceptions.
  • The Energizer rabbit is an energetic, upbeat, indefatigable personality who never runs out of energy–just as the battery runs longer than others.


A brand personality can be a vehicle to express a person’s self, represent relationships, and even communicate attributes. In doing so, it can provide a point of differentiation and energy that is sustainable, because it’s very difficult and usually ineffective to copy a personality.

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