Aaker's 5 Dimensions and You

June 23, 2022
Written by Ampry

If you’re involved with marketing or strategy for a business, plan on-site campaigns, or even if you just work in a related field, you’ve probably heard about “brand personality” before. How people view a company or brand is a crucial part of marketing that brand. Knowing how your brand is viewed can be very helpful when designing appropriate messaging that users or potential users will see. Luckily, some great work has been done to identify how a brand might be perceived, and we now have the “five dimensions” of brand personality.

What are the Five Dimensions?

No, we’re not talking about physics here.The five dimensions of brand personality were created by Dr. Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at Stanford University, who researched the “human characteristics” that were often associated with brands, and what those characteristics could mean for how people see themselves.Inspired partially by some studies about what made up human personalities, Dr. Aaker created a framework for measuring and comparing the personality aspects of a brand. Altogether, her research suggests five main “dimensions” or attributes of a brand that can play into how it is perceived:

  1. Sincerity
  2. Excitement
  3. Competence
  4. Sophistication
  5. Ruggedness

Generally, researchers will use these dimensions in studies by asking if respondents consider these dimensions apply to a brand “very much,” “not at all,” or somewhere in between. Knowing how people view your brand can be very helpful, so next we’ll look at what each of these dimensions means, what traits make a brand more likely to be considered in this light, and how these dimensions can inform your brand’s marketing decisions.

1: Sincerity

Aaker’s original study explains that sincerity as a trait is “typified by Hallmark cards”; in other words, sincerity is the aspect of brand personality that makes people think that your company really means what they say, and is not trying to force a personality or come across in a certain way.To define how sincere a company is, Aaker’s study used several facets: brands that were perceived as sincere ranked high on the facets of “down-to-earth,” “honest,” “wholesome,” and “cheerful.” Essentially, if people see those attributes in your brand and how it conducts business and makes advertisements, they’re more likely to see you as sincere.Like all these dimensions, sincerity is often visualized by comparing the brand to a specific kind of person. In this case, people are likely to compare sincerity to small-town, family-oriented figures: the friendly owner of a mom-and-pop store. A sincere brand personality makes people feel comfortable with your brand, and inspires trust.

2: Excitement

The MTV channel typified excitement, the second dimension of brand personality in Aaker’s work. It’s hard to say for sure which brand best articulates the “excitement” quality in a post-90s world, but the traits that make people think of a brand in that manner have remained consistent: exciting brands are normally seen as “daring,” “spirited,” “imaginative,” and “up-to-date.”Exciting brands are those that are trying new things, and showing their enthusiasm for those attempts. They’re more likely to change things up than keep going with the same old “way things were.” While many people associate youthfulness with the brand trait of excitement, these brands can still be appealing to adults, and the brands themselves may run the gamut from established to brand-new.

3: Competence

Aaker’s example of a brand that exemplified competence in her study was the Wall Street Journal. Competent brands are viewed favorably for their solidity and reliability in their field; they’re generally considered to be either leaders in their field or very good at delivering consistently good services or products.They have a good reputation, but are not necessarily the most expensive option. There may be an air of seriousness to a competent brand that is sometimes not seen in brands that are considered exciting, though like all of Aaker’s traits, there is some potential for overlap between the two.The facets of a brand that tend to make people think of competence are “reliable,” “intelligent,” and “successful.” When considering a competent brand, the real-life figure who might come to mind could be a reliable professional, perhaps a skilled blue-collar worker or business person.

4: Sophistication

In contrast to competence, sophistication does tend to suggest higher-end prices and quality. Brands which are seen as sophisticated are not only “upper-class,” but also “charming.”In other words, they may have money, and may put it to good use, but they’re generally not arrogant or pretentious. They inspire admiration rather than envy.The things that these brands offer are expected to work well, but they’re also at least a little showy: the brand name is critical to them. You might consider a brand such as Louis Vitton or Rolex as sophisticated. For a good example of how these brands often come across when compared to a person, think of a glamorous movie star from the golden age of Hollywood (also, sophisticated brands are often female-oriented).

5: Ruggedness

Finally, Aaker’s study used Nike tennis shoes as an example of ruggedness, though we might also add outdoors clothing retailers or vehicle brands like Harley Davidson to that list. This personality dimension represents a sense of being “tough” and “outdoorsy,” or even just “masculine” in some cases.The products produced by a rugged brand are usually expected to work well, last a long time even under extreme conditions, and often have an American West feel. The traditional American cowboy is a good indicator of how consumers might view a rugged brand: someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, in many cases, and who is definitely familiar with a lifestyle that requires a lot of effort and usually some risk-taking.

How can the personality dimensions help with your brand’s efforts?

The dimensions of brand personality are helpful for your brand’s efforts to market, establish a reputation, and relate to how your target audience sees themselves. Knowing how people perceive your brand can help you focus on messaging that “fits” that perception.Each personality dimension is positive, so once you know which of them are generally considered to apply to your brand, you can include more things in your messaging that emphasize that already-seen attribute of your brand’s identity. For example, a study on the public’s perception of Colgate (an oral hygiene brand) found that consumers tended to rank that brand high in three of the five personality areas: ruggedness, competence, and excitement. With these findings, researchers noted that Colgate could take advantage of this perception in how they communicated with users.“The company should stress more on its functional benefits,” they wrote, instead of looking at the “emotional benefits” that might have been more associated with sophistication and sincerity. Colgate’s advertising and other messaging could consider these perceptions and highlight points of interest about new products, services, etc., that supported those perceptions.Focusing your messaging on what your users already associate with your brand (and with themselves) will help you create an even stronger sense of brand-customer identity as you move ahead into the future. It will also help you avoid giving off an air of inconsistency or insincerity. You’ve probably seen public gaffes from other brands who have tried to “reinvent” their image or personality by creating wildly different messaging from what they’ve done previously. This bold move doesn’t always pay off for the brand. Customers and users are likely to be put off by the change, and potential users who see the same messaging may be confused when what they see doesn’t seem to fit their impressions of how a brand has acted before. Thus, if you know how your brand is viewed, you can remember those elements of personality and focus your messaging efforts on giving off the impression that people expect and like from your brand already. And, if you’re just establishing a brand, consider which of these dimensions you want most associated with your brand, and try to start your messaging with a clear focus on that area. So, what can you do next? First, consider surveying some of your users to find out how your brand is viewed in these five dimensions of personality. Many resources, including Aaker’s original paper, explain how this can be effectively done. The results might save your brand a lot of time and help you avoid potential pitfalls when trying to express your personality. Whether that’s through on-site campaigns or other communication with users, brand knowledge is key to brand communication.

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