Guest Contributor: Matt Hillman
If I said that Apple was an INTJ personality or that Ben & Jerry’s was an ENFP, would you know what I mean?
Brand personalities are a common element in better identifying, understanding, and developing established brands. Through founded Mission/Vision/Values, Positioning Statements, and Brand Guidelines, the framework is laid for the brand to present itself in a regular, consistent manner. In short, it develops both a personality profile and “true to type” behavior that—like its human counterparts—are foreseeable. So what can the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the world’s leading personality tool, tell us about brand personalities?
The first real application of the idea of “brand personality” dates back more than 60 years to a 1955 article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “The Product and the Brand.” In it, the authors suggest that brands can feature some of the same attributes of human personality such as reason, motive, and “complex systems of values and judgements.” Today, brand personality is a core element of how products, services, and organizations are marketed and understood.
Meanwhile, the MBTI is a personality assessment developed by a mother-daughter team who were students of psychologist Carl Jung. It’s based on the ideas of archetypes—fundamental characteristics common to everyone—narrowed down to preferences of how we process information, make decisions, and gather mental energy.
The result is a four-letter combination for each of 16 different “types.” And while it has plenty of detractors, the 60+ year old “Myers-Briggs” is the most utilized personality assessment tool among companies, organizations, and government agencies.
When combined, these two theories can bring about some interesting observations about what it is that makes individual brands tick.
1. Brands can be introverted or extraverted
In the Myers-Briggs, Introversion (I) and Extraversion (E) isn’t about sociability or shyness, but instead how personalities derive their energy—Introverts recharge through solitude, Extraverts through interaction. Similarly, Introverted personalities focus on depth where Extraverts focus on breadth. An introverted brand is likely one that has a singular focus with great depth of understanding; an extraverted brand likely has a shallower approach but with a broad offering. The majority of powerful B2C brands could be characterized as Extraverted, where highly specialized B2B brands would be more Introverted.
2. Brands have value systems
The Myers-Briggs calls the axis of Thinking (T) and Feeling (F) the “judging function” because of its use in decision making. The Thinking preference is rooted in linear logic, in true and false; the Feeling preference makes decisions based on the people involved, in a sense of right and wrong. Thinking brands value facts and efficiency, where Feeling brands value compassion and connection. Thinking brands tend to be operationally and even fiscally successful; Feeling brands tend to have highly loyal, even fanatical, customers.
3. Brands process information in different ways
When it comes to information, how personality types process, or perceive, it falls into two categories: Sensing (S), taking in very detailed, specific data through the senses, and iNtuition (N) where data is processed broadly as symbols or metaphors. A brand with a Sensing preference is likely to be highly detailed and practical—probably a manufacturer or working with data. An iNtuitive brand is focused on “the big picture” and more apt to be a service provider or in product development.
4. Different brands react differently
You probably have seen brands that have it all buttoned up with a plan for everything; you’ve probably also seen brands that seem to roll with the punches, adapting as they go. This is what the Myers-Briggs calls Judging (J) and Perceiving (P). Those with the J preference are those who plan ahead and seek order, where those preferring P are improvisers who are more spontaneous. Brands in the Perceiving camp tend to develop (or fail) in leaps & bounds, where Judging brands are more likely to have a long-term approach that’s slower but steady.
5. There is no right or wrong type
Mostly importantly, just as with people, there is no right type or wrong type. Each type has a list of great and unique strengths, balanced by a list of weaknesses and blind spots. It’s less about being the “best type” and more about understanding the amazing superpowers each type possesses. And while certain types are better suited for certain tasks—types with the SJ combination are remarkable administrators, NT types natural innovators, etc.—there are always surprising and successful exceptions. Just as in life, the right type in the right situation at the right time can be an unstoppable brand.