Finding a brand’s personality. Then helping it grow.

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by Yasushi Kusume, 04.05.2014


Elizabeth Bernstein is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal. In her April 2014 column, Personality Research Says Change in Major Traits Occurs Naturally, she wrote that a ‘person’s personality naturally changes over the course of adulthood, in response to life events such as entering a committed relationship or advancing in a career’.

If we consider a brand as a person (see David A. Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler’s Brand Leadership, Free Press, 2009), then it follows that brands can also lay claim to various life stages. Some brands will have reached only the infant or child stage, while others will be well-respected seniors. And though it may be resorting to stereotype, it seems fair to suggest that younger brands will usually be more eager, challenging and dynamic, while older brands with more ‘experience’ will tend to be more conservative and conformist (although also, perhaps, more reliable and stable).

In the same column, Elizabeth Bernstein also noted the ‘Big Five’, a personality model developed by several groups of researchers. She wrote that ‘the human personality can be divided into five broad categories or domains—openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism and extroversion’.

If an individual’s unique human personality does indeed comprise such a mixture of five distinct traits, and if those five traits can be expected to evolve and (most likely) change throughout an individual’s life stages, then I believe the same can also be said about brands and their individual development.

In our book Brand Romance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), Neil Gridley and I suggested that you need to find the right way to communicate your brand’s identity (its values, beliefs and personality) to your audiences. We continue to maintain that you should be true to yourself, and that your users’ experience should be an authentic response to your brand personality.

I believe it is the ultimate goal of every brand to build a permanent engagement with its audiences. So, if we accept that a brand – like an individual – matures and that its identity evolves throughout the stages of its life, is it then also possible to mature and evolve the relationship between a brand and its audiences? Can a brand build a lifelong engagement with its audience by constructing a user experience that is reliable, intuitive and based on a well-known personality while, at the same time, continuing to be innovative and exciting as it matures and evolves?

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.


Yasushi Kusume