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Jennifer Aaker: Story Power

Jennifer Aaker wants you to get your message across. And her conclusion is that the best way you can do it is by telling a story. Stories are powerful, memorable, and impactful.

Jennifer Aaker
Jennifer Aaker

Short Biography

Jennifer Aaker was born in 1967 and grew up in California. She studied psychology at UC California, Berkeley, under Daniel Kahneman and Philip Tetlock, graduating in 1989. She went on to win a PhD at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 1995.

She went straight into an academic role as Assistant Professor in the School of Management at UCLA Anderson. She then returned to The Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1999, becoming a full professor in 2004, and General Atlantic Professor of Marketing in 2005.

We try to avoid framing our management thinkers in terms of their family members, but it is relevant to note in passing that Jennifer Aaker’s father is David Aaker – now an emeritus professor of advertising. Clearly he was influential in Aaker’s interest in branding and you can watch the two Aakers in conversation about brand and marketing.

However, she has moved away from that as her primary interest, focusing on two areas:

  1. the psychology of happiness, and how it relates to our perceptions of time and money
  2. how we can communicate via social media, using the power of storytelling

The two link together, because small acts, often mediated by social media messaging, can have an effect on our happiness.

In 2010, Aaker co-wrote The Dragonfly Effect with her husband, Andy Smith.

Brand Personalities

Jennifer Aakers came to prominence researching the personalities we associate with brands. Her idea was to see if there are a small subset of ‘personality types’ that consumers associate with brands. These would be like the ‘Big Five’ personality factors* in people. Each one is clearly distinct from the others and together, they account for a large proportion of personality traits.

Her assessment was that bands do have ‘personalities’ and that consumers make consistent interpretations. So her research set out to narrow the number of different personality types down to five. In her paper**, she shows how she reduced brand personality labels down to:

  • Sincerity
  • Excitement
  • Competence
  • Sophistication
  • Ruggedness

The personality dimension that a brand chooses to emphasise will influence consumer buying and loyalty choices. She advocated that brands can select a dominant personality type to emphasise, and present related characteristics to its audience. This creates a way to communicate brand identity and values.

Interestingly, subsequent work show that her five dimensions are far more parochial than the true Big Five Personality Factors. Outside the US, where she conducted her work, other brand personality dimensions are dominant, including Peacefulness in Japan, and Passion in Spain.

The Dragonfly Effect

The metaphor Aaker and Smith chose is one of a dragonfly’s agility being dependent upon it co–ordinating the use of four wings. In communicating effectively using digital media, Aaker and Smith’s four components are:

  1. Focus
    What one goal will you pursue?
  2. Grab attention
    How will you seize your audience’s attention in a noisy environment?
  3. Engage
    What story will engage your audience and appeal to their emotions?
  4. Take action
    What will you ask of your audience, and what difference will they make?

What Goal?

Before you communicate, you need to decide on a goal. It will need to meet five design criteria:

  • Humanistic – affecting people
  • Actionable – inspire action
  • Measurable – clear success criteria
  • Clarity – cannot be further simplified
  • Happiness – achieving the goal will make people happier

Grab Attention

To grab attention, your message must  be at least one of:

  • Personal
  • Unexpected
  • Visual
  • Visceral

Engage

To engage your audience, you need to tell a story. Stories connect the audience to the story-teller and create an emotional response. This is important because we primarily make our decisions emotionally, and use reason to justify them afterwards.

Take Action

People should fee ready and able to take action. As much as possible, make it easy for them, and fun. And the more they feel you are offering them something that is uniquely tailored to them and their circumstances, the more readily they will act.

Jennifer Aaker talking about her Research on Happiness

… and how it relates to social media.

 


* The Big Five Personality Factors are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism

** Dimensions of brand personality, Jennifer L Aaker, JMR, Journal of Marketing Research; Aug 1997; 34, 3

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