By J. Galen Buckwalter, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Advisor, Soulmates.AI and CEO of psyML.co
Everyone responsible for a brand knows it has a personality, but turning that knowledge into action is not easy. Personality in people can be tracked in ways that help you leverage what you discover, but brands have not had the same metrics available to them. That has finally changed with research that led to the first true personality survey for brands, providing them with a dimensional view of their companies’ goals and values.
This was long in the works. For the first time in early 2004, psychologists settled on a universal definition of the dimensions of human personality. The effort to define traits began at least as far back as when Greek philosopher Hippocrates used the four bodily fluids to guide his thinking on personality. More empirically valid efforts began in earnest during WWI, when it became painfully evident that not everyone could be exposed to the carnage of war and return home with the same cognitive and emotional profiles they had when they left. While theories and assessments abounded, it wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that we started to see a consensus emerge. With the HEXACO personality inventory and the power of a machine learning technique called Natural Language Processing (NLP), it is finally possible to analyze written language at scale to get the most direct expression of one’s personality.
The American Psychological Association defines personality as something like the characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that make an individual unique. Slow down and think through what that sentence means, this explains that personality encompasses how we think, feel and behave. What HEXACO provides is understanding on a level that allows us to measure the very essence of what makes us unique. After 10 years of research using HEXACO, it has proven useful in predicting outcomes in leadership ability, job preference and satisfaction, political attitudes, fidelity in relationships, Machiavellianism, academic performance and credit risk. The best-known example of using personality measurement for this purpose is eHarmony, a company that matched single people based on profiles observed among successfully married couples.
The success of eHarmony was a key factor in leading the Soulmates.AI group to explore situations where this logic can be applied to other relationships, particularly those related to marketing. To consider how to understand the relationship between individuals and companies, we needed to understand how to measure the traits of companies.
We are not considering, as the Supreme Court had to do recently if corporations are people. But companies and brands, in general, must adopt personality characteristics if they hope to distinguish themselves as unique from other brands and stay relevant in an era when shopping on Amazon can make brands invisible to consumers.
Consumers interact with brands as they do with people; they develop feelings, stereotypes, even a sense of loyalty or distrust. Consumers make decisions based on these feelings, behaviors, and emotions. So, if we engage with brands in the same way we do with people, the logical conclusion is that we should be able to measure and research brands along the same dimensions of personality found in people. While it is one thing to argue that brands have a personality, it’s an entirely different pursuit to measure this in a way that allows us to match social media creators to brands for collaboration that feels authentic. With this hypothesis, Soulmate.AI and my company, psyML, began work to show we could capture brand personalities with a survey tool and use natural language processing to analyze social media content produced by both brands and social media creators. We began with 122 items and with three iterative factor analyses along with several methods of estimating reliability and we ended up with the first psychometrically valid HEXACO assessment of brand personality. Our hypothesis was shown to be strong and results promising.
In exploring a hypothesis, one needs to explore what’s been done elsewhere, hoping to find indications to suggest you aren’t tilting at windmills. Applying HEXACO to brands threaded that needle. As we worked on our research, three University of Belgrade researchers not only had the same idea, they recently published a study demonstrating the presence of a HEXACO-like structure when analyzing 120 brands. The study showed that HEXACO traits predicted substantial amounts of variance in such aspects of consumer-brand relationships as attitude toward the brand, perceived quality of the brand and brand loyalty. These results support findings by the Soulmates.AI team that using HEXACO as a means of measuring and researching brands is on an appropriate path.
The first use of the Brand Personality Survey (BPS) is two-fold. The BPS is being used to provide companies with an in-depth understanding of their current brand personality as recorded by a brand expert. This information is then used to algorithmically match the brand with social media creators based on the brand’s personality. This one-of-a-kind analytic and matching system is available as a beta at Soulmates.AI to enhance existing social media creator matching platforms.
The BPS on its own can be used to truly understand how concepts most important to your company can be used to properly plan the message you send to consumers, the content you create for them and ultimately, the products and services you offer to consumers. By reviewing the results of the BPS, you can gain greater clarity into how you are appearing to your consumers. Importantly, BPS can be matched with NLP analysis of your brand’s social profiles to ensure that your content is accurately portraying the persona you want to project.
Through deep analysis by both psychometricians on our team and branding experts with decades of experience in the field, the report from the BPS effectively explains how brands can act based on the insight provided by their HEXACO scores.