Executive summary of “Testing self-congruity theory in the context of nation brand personality”

Journal of Product & Brand Management

ISSN: 1061-0421

Article publication date: 16 March 2015


(2015), "Executive summary of “Testing self-congruity theory in the context of nation brand personality”", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 24 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPBM-01-2015-0792



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Executive summary of “Testing self-congruity theory in the context of nation brand personality”

Article Type: Executive summary and implications for managers and executives From: Journal of Product & Brand Management, Volume 24, Issue 1

This summary has been provided to allow managers and executives a rapid appreciation of the content of the article. Those with a particular interest in the topic covered may then read the article in toto to take advantage of the more comprehensive description of the research undertaken and its results to get the full benefit of the material present.

One major consequence of globalization is the more intense competition between nations. This applies to the various outward and inward factors which shape a country’s development. Desiring stronger presence on the international stage has prompted greater use of nation branding as a strategic tool. Although there are plenty recent instances of campaigns to position or reposition a nation brand overseas, empirical studies in this area remain scant.

Much research has addressed the notion of brand personality (BP), a concept that has become valuable to firms aiming to differentiate their offerings. Seminal work posited that consumers ascribe brands with human characteristics to evaluate them. These traits affect both how people relate to the brand and their purchase decisions. Self-congruity is a core part of this approach. It is widely documented that consumers typically prefer products and brands with an image that closely fits how they perceive themselves. Assigning human personality traits helps individuals mentally evaluate the degree of congruence. Consumption is part of the process of communicating their real, perceived or desired self in social settings. Certain scholars argue that BP is more directly related to consumer self-concept because of its greater emphasis on symbolic aspects of the brand. This increases its importance to brand strategy.

Countries are being increasingly perceived as brands, albeit more complex than products. The goal is to develop image incorporating characteristics to benefit the nation in general and in relation to products, services and places allied to it. The personality of a nation brand results from consumer beliefs and experiences shaped by the government, institutions, businesses and society of that country.

Various categories of individual personality (IP) traits have been proposed in earlier studies. Classification has evolved through several stages to appropriately organize the vast amount of traits that have been identified. A “five-factor typology” is the most enduring and continues to be widely deployed. Traits are placed in the dimensions “openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism”.

The so-called “Big Five” has subsequently helped to develop a framework for measuring BP. A combination of human characteristics and “unique brand personality traits” identified across different product categories resulted in the creation of a “brand personality scale”. A total of 42 traits identified are organized into “sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, and ruggedness” dimensions. This scale has been used extensively to measure product brands and political parties, universities, sports and celebrities among others.

This and other models spawned later attempts to develop a personality scale specifically for measuring nation brands. One study conducted interviews with consumers and created a country BP scale incorporating dimensions labeled “agreeableness, wickedness, snobbism, assiduousness, conformity, and unobtrusiveness”.

Saudi Arabia was used as the context for the present study, in which self-congruity was explored with regard to nation brand personality (NBP). This country was selected for its diversity of imports and the fact that the largest percentage of its goods go to the USA. Further links between the countries relate to business, currency, investment and education.

Despite these associations, the cultural divide between the nations is substantial. While the USA is renowned for its individualism and liberal values, Saudi Arabia remains rooted in its conservative past and the Islamic faith. Rojas-Méndez et al. expect to find significant differences in the IP of Saudi respondents and their perceptions of the US NBP. It is predicted that this will exert considerable influence on their attitudes and behavioral intentions toward the USA in respect of buying American products, investing in businesses and visiting the country. The study examines whether previous visits to the USA or having relatives living there will moderate these intentions.

A total of 561 subjects were obtained after an online questionnaire was emailed to Saudi nationals, and links to it were included on social media accounts of one of the study researchers. The final sample was deemed broadly reflective of “currently active and opinion-leading Saudi consumers”.

Participants were asked to consider the USA as a living person and to offer opinion about his or her personality. They then selected from 209 BP traits felt to be relevant to the USA. Questions addressed overall attitude and intention to visit the USA, purchase its products and form closer links with the nation. Determining respondent IP was the focus within another section and demographic information was also requested.

Analysis revealed that:

  • of the 209 BP traits, 125 were positive, 75 negative and 9 neutral;

  • individualistic, self-centered, opportunistic and talkative were among the traits respondents deemed negative; and

  • traits regarded as positive included collectivistic, family oriented, shy and humble.

The authors believe these opinions indicate cultural values in Saudi Arabia. This prompts the question as to whether characteristics of NBP are universal or subject to varied interpretations depending on cultural norms.

Saudi respondents were essentially critical of the BP of the USA. This is evident in perceptions of the nation as being such as materialistic, egocentric and authoritarian. But to counter this, traits like competitive, technology-oriented and active were attributed to the USA. These are typically used in connection with talented business people.

The NBP of the USA was measured using the Big Five personality scale and then compared with IP of study participants. This revealed a considerable divide in ratings for conscientiousness, agreeableness and, to a lesser extent, extraversion. Respondents scored high but perceived the NBP of the USA as being much lower on these dimensions. The only gender difference among Saudis was females scoring higher than males for conscientiousness.

Data showed enthusiasm among Saudi respondents for a relationship with the USA was greatest for traveling to the country. But the gap between IP and NBP revealed a significant negative impact on attitude and behavioral intentions. Agreeableness was the most important dimension in this respect. Conversely, predictive effect of self-congruity on attitude and behavior was negligible for neuroticism and openness to experience.

Rojas-Méndez note the ease in which subjects ascribed personality traits to nations and feel the use of metaphorical images in marketing research is thus endorsed. They likewise conclude that positive intention toward a nation will increase as any divide between subject perceptions of their own and the country in question’s personality becomes smaller. This can be exploited with regard to such as tourism, investment, employment and immigration.

Earlier claims that developing a national brand strategy through exploring perceptions of the country’s personality among inhabitants of other countries is validated by this research. Marketers can focus on utilizing desirable personality traits to communicate intended messages to the target audience. In this case, firms from the USA serving Saudi Arabia might position themselves using NBP traits of the USA that Saudis deemed positive. The authors also recommend efforts to improve traits that can enhance the important conscientiousness and agreeableness dimensions.

Having relatives in the USA or previously visiting the nation showed no significant moderating effects. General familiarity with the USA is cited as a possible explanation for this unanticipated finding.

Future study focusing on both culturally similar and dissimilar nations is recommended. Scholars might also deploy a NBP scale created specifically for countries.

To read the full article enter 10.1108/JPBM-05-2014-0618 into your search engine.

(A précis of the article “Testing self-congruity theory in the context of nation brand personality”. Supplied by Marketing Consultants for Emerald.)