How Luxury Brands can benefit from Personality-based Branding

By Klaus Heine and Haibo Xue

Luxury brand management is identity–driven. Drawing on the concept of anthropomorphisation, Klaus Heine and Haibo Xue outline how to complement identity –driven with personality–driven branding; to create brand meaning in times of symbolic consumption, and how to start bringing your brand personality alive by answering five questions about the Big Five of Luxury Brand Personality.


Across virtually all societies, humans feel a need to anthropomorphise inanimate objects (Freling and Forbes, 2005). When asked to imagine a brand as a person, people show no difficulty in assigning human characteristics to brands as if they would describe other people. Brand managers often try to humanise their brands with anthropomorphisation techniques using brand characters, mascots, and spokespeople. Benefits include improved brand liking and closer brand–consumer relationships, which can even reach the level of brand love and ‘irrational’ loyalty (MacInnis and Folkes, 2017).

Paradoxically, anecdotal evidence suggests that many brand managers do not believe their brand to be people themselves, even though they may aim at creating anthropomorphised brands in the minds of consumers. For many brands, ‘brand personality’ still does not consist of more than a few traits that are used for brand personification (Freling and Forbes, 2005). Drawing on the concept of anthropomorphisation, the personality–driven approach to branding complements identity–driven brand management and takes it a step further.


What is Personality–driven Branding?

Personality–driven branding can be characterised by the following four main features:

1. The brand is seen as a person by everyone inside the company: The central idea of personality–driven branding is to enliven a brand internally in the minds of brand managers and company employees (MacInnis and Folkes, 2017). If managers aim to humanise their brand in the minds of their customers, first, they should start treating their brand as a person themselves.

2. The brand personality has her own free will, in line with the brand vision: One of the essential characteristics of humans is their free will. Therefore, to anthropomorphise brands, they must be seen as intentional agents – and their primary intention should be to pursue the brand’s vision. When the brand becomes a strong character, it can spark both the employee’s enthusiasm and the customer’s passion for the brand.

The central idea of personality–driven branding is to enliven a brand internally in the minds of brand managers and company employees.

3. Thinking of the brand’s personality should evoke mental pictures comparable to consumers’ hold about real people: Instead of just with a few terms, the brand personality should be described sufficiently detailed to evoke a metaphoric mental picture about what kind of person the brand aims to represent: How does the brand personality look like? What are her/his personality traits? What is her/his lifestyle? By bringing a unique brand personality alive, marketers are creating a whole universe of symbolic meaning as a basis for brand differentiation.

4. The brand personality becomes the focal point of brand management: While brand personality is often considered as an independent concept that affects brands only in some peripheral and marginal way, personality–driven branding turns it into the main source of inspiration for brand–building and the focal point for brand management; guiding all branding and business decisions. Having in mind a clear mental picture of their brand personality, marketers could ask: How would the brand personality design a new product? How would s/he design a website or flyer? Karl Lagerfeld, for instance, does not imitate Coco Chanel’s style, but tries to understand her personality, take on the perspective of her ghost–soul and interprets her style and yet adapts it to modern times. The Chanel jewellery flagship store at Place Vendôme in Paris, for instance, was designed around the question: “In what sort of interior would Mlle. Chanel live today?” Designers used portraits of the founder, recreated her living room and some personal objects and as a result, the aura of Coco Chanel is clearly evident throughout the store (Dion and Arnould, 2011). When people inside the company align their actions by interacting with the brand personality, they are making the organisation seem acting as one person, which improves brand consistency. This can help reduce misunderstandings within the marketing team and especially in cooperation with external agencies.

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About the Authors

Klaus HEINE (corresponding author) is Associate Professor of Luxury Marketing at emlyon business school, Asia and Co-Director of the High-end Brand Management Master Program at Asia Europe Business School in Shanghai. He holds a PhD from TU Berlin and specialises in high-end brand-building with applied-oriented research, education and practical projects with both, leading luxury brands and start-ups.

Haibo XUE is Associate Professor of Marketing at East China Normal University and Co-Director of the High-end Brand Management Master Program at Asia Europe Business School in Shanghai. He holds a PhD from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics and, based on qualitative consumer research, specializes in high-end consumption rituals and brand management in emerging markets.


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