In this guest column piece, marketing guru Dr Arry Tanusondjaja (pictured below) from South Australia’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute takes a look at the way agencies can better give brands personality…
The 2016 Ig Nobel Prize for Economics was recently awarded to a team of New Zealand scientists who investigated brand personality tests and proved that respondents can attach human characteristics to rocks. Their paper “The Brand Personality of Rocks” raises a very important question. Do brand personality tests report anything meaningful at all?
The move to attach human characteristics to inanimate objects (including brands or products) is called anthromorphisation – and it is a fun thing to do. But fun is of little value in informing marketing decision making – indeed it can be dangerous.
Anthromorphising brands is based on the idea that buyers have the sorts of feelings towards the brands that they purchase as they do to people they know. This is a massive exaggeration, but “The Brand Personality of Rocks” research showed that it’s not hard to get consumers to play this game, especially in focus groups.
You can imagine the following scene taking place in a boardroom – a presentation where the marketing director explains that their brand of shampoo can be likened to a funky 30-year-old hipster, who likes organic food and yoga. Or perhaps this scenario – a CMO explains that their brand of butter is a homely silver-haired 50-year-old lady who lives on a farm; slightly old-fashioned but well-trusted. These presentations fit well with the image of marketing, as being fun, imaginative and inspiring – more fun than the real-world facts and figures from finance or operations
Let’s go back to what we do know about marketing. Evidence-based principles pioneered by Andrew Ehrenberg and research by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute have shown that buyers tend to shuffle between brands in their repertoire. We know that marketing needs to ensure that brands remain prominent in the buyers’ mind whenever they are in the market to purchase. There is also little evidence that buyers think of brand personalities when they put certain brands in their trolley or shopping basket.
Fortunately, things are slowly changing, moving in the direction of evidence-based marketing. Boards and senior executives expect marketers to justify their strategies, with supporting evidence. Marketers are also becoming more accountable for applying what is known about how brands grow and how consumers behave to their strategy. The days of anthromorphisation – are hopefully on the way out. As stated by the authors of “The Brand Personality of Rocks”: “After all, how can ‘intelligent’ be a descriptor for a rock and what is the probability that ‘loving’ is a descriptor for a brand of bleach?”.
These links between science and marketing enable closer scrutiny and measurement, just like any other departments in the organisation. Of course, there is always a place for creativity, but even then, there are principles to apply that will help the brand perform as it should. There is no reason why presentations by the CMO or the Marketing Director can’t be exciting and evidence-based. The difference is that marketers who apply marketing science will be taken more seriously. Board members or senior executives will be much more likely to approve budgets if presentations are evidence-based rather than being subjected to lines such as “Picture our brand as a person … ”.