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Online communication of brand personality

A study of MBA programs of top business schools


Robert Ankomah Opoku
Department of Marketing, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Saudi Arabia

Albert Caruana1
Centre for Communication Technology, University of Malta, Malta

Leyland Pitt
Segal Graduate School of Business, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Pierre Berthon
Department of Marketing, Bentley College, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA

Asa Wahlstrom
Division of Industrial Marketing, e-Commerce and Supply Chain Management, Lulea University of Technology, Lulea, Sweden

Deon Nel
Senior Lecturer in Marketing in the School of Management and Marketing, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia

Brand personality has often been considered from the perspective of products, corporate brands or countries, but rarely among service oerings. Moreover, there remains the consideration of how these entities are communicated online. This article explores the brand personality dimensions that business schools communicate and whether they dier in putting across clear and distinctive brand personalities in cyberspace. Three clusters from the Financial Times' top 100 full-time global MBA programs in 2005 are used to undertake a combination of computerised content and correspondence analyses. The content analysis was structured using Aaker's ve-dimensional framework whilst the positioning maps were produced by examining the data using correspondence analysis. Results indicate that some schools have clear brand personalities while others fail to communicate their brand personalities in a distinct way. This study also illustrates a powerful, but simple and relatively inexpensive way for organisations and brand researchers to study the brand personalities actually being communicated.

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Robert Ankomah Opoku, Albert Caruana, Leyland Pitt, Pierre Berthon, Asa Wahlstrom and Deon Nel

Introduction
Marketing scholars have increasingly become interested in understanding and measuring the symbolic meaning consumers attribute to brands (e.g. Aaker, 1997; Bettman, 1993; Hogg, Cox and Keeling, 2000). This attention has been motivated in part by postmodern scholars who have long criticised traditional experimental researchers for conceptualising products too narrowly as bundles of functional attributes, while failing to consider product symbolism (e.g. Belk, 1988; Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982; Solomon, 1983). In this respect some scholars interested in brand management have oered conceptualisations of brands that include symbolic components (e.g., Keller, 2001; Ligas, 2000; Park and Srinivasan, 1994). Aaker (1997: 347) who dened brand personality as `the set of human characteristics associated with a brand' uses traits to develop a psychometrically sound instrument to measure brand personality. However, most studies on brand personality communication have tended to focus on tangible products and only to a limited extent on services (e.g. Aaker, 2000; Aaker, Benet-Martinez and Garolera, 2001; Siguaw and Mattila, 1999; Venable, Rose and Gilbert, 2003). A review of the service literature indicates an absence of research that has considered how brand personality of universities generally, and business schools in particular, is communicated via the promotional tools that they make use of. There is little doubt that business education is big business and for many, including business schools and their professors, it is a lucrative enterprise (Pfeer and Fong, 2002). Business schools and their primary product, full-time MBAs, have become extremely popular over the past 50 years. The MBA is recognised internationally as the world's most popular postgraduate degree and is seen by many as the passport to a successful management career. In addition, a review of the literature also indicated an absence of studies that have examined the communication of brand personalities online. Websites have become an important channel for entities to reach the public (Maynard and Tian, 2004) and represent a medium that also inuences the perception of a business school program. The purpose of this study is to draw upon ndings of earlier research on brand personalities in order to describe how business schools communicate brand personalities in marketing their educational programs online. In accordance with previous research (such as Aaker, 1997) which has focused upon brand personalities across brands, the authors' focus and contribution is to extend and contextualise such a study in cyberspace by using the message communicated on a given business school's website as input. Employing content and correspondence analyses, this study explores the theories on brand personalities by investigating if business schools' websites communicate these personalities, and if that is the case what messages they convey. Results are reported, conclusions and implications for both theory and management are drawn, limitations are noted and directions for further research are highlighted.

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Human personality and brand personality


Researchers generally agree that an individual's personality is `the dynamic and organized set of characteristics of a person that uniquely inuences his or her cognitions, motivations and behaviors' (Allport, 1961). Ryckman (1997) considered the various personality theories and categorised them into ve perspectives: psychoanalytic, trait, cognitive, existential and social behaviourist. The trait perspective assumes that personality refers to regularities and consistencies in an individual's behaviour (Snyder and Ickes, 1985) and includes the more established Big Five Model. According to this model, nouns and adjectives that describe human personality are integral to the development and maintenance of social relationships. As such, they become part of the vocabulary used by people every day and are transmitted from one generation to another through the process of socialisation. Several studies, scanning thousands of adjectives and nouns in unabridged dictionaries in dierent languages, have been used to identify stable characteristics useful for human personality description. According to Caprara, Barbaranelli and Guido (2001), factor analysis conducted on these data sets revealed a structure generally composed of only ve broad personality dimensions/traits (the socalled Big Five Factors). They are (1) Extroversion (2) Agreeableness (3) Conscientiousness (4) Emotional Stability and (5) Openness to Experience (for complete reviews see Digman, 1997; Goldberg, 1993; McCrae and John, 1992; Wiggins and Pincus, 1992). These identied traits were found to be easily evoked by a limited number of adjectives (so-called markers) that showed a high loading in the desired factor and low loadings in the remaining factors (Goldberg, 1993). Over the years a consensus has emerged among personality psychologists that the Big Five Model should serve as a reference structure for the assessment and description of human personality. However, applications of this model to marketing settings have appeared only in recent years (Aaker, 1995, 1997; Caprara, Barbaranelli and Guido, 1998). Some have argued that the symbolic use of brands is possible because consumers often imbue brands with human personality traits (termed animism; e.g. Gilmore 1919 as cited in Aaker, 1997). Consumers can readily think about brands as if they were celebrities or famous historical gures (Rook, 1985). However this may all be due, in part, to the strategies used by advertisers to imbue a brand with personality traits such as anthropomorphisation (e.g. California Raisins), personication (e.g. Jolly Green Giant), and the creation of user imagery (e.g. Charlie Girl). Through such techniques the personality traits associated with a brand, such as those associated with an individual, tend to be relatively enduring and distinct. Aaker (1997: 347) denes brand personality as `the set of human characteristics associated with a brand.' She notes that previous research has sought to measure brand personality by two types of scales. The rst type consists of ad hoc scales, that are atheoretical, study specic, and with dubious reliability and validity. There is a second type of scales, i.e. those that are theoretical, but based on human personality scales that have not been validated in the context of brands (e.g. Bellenger, Steinberg and Stanton, 1976; Dolich, 1969). Using established psychometric principles, the authors

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put forward a brand personality framework that is generalisable across product categories, and which consists of ve dimensions namely: Sincerity, Excitement, Competence, Sophistication and Ruggedness. There are 15 traits that go to make up these ve dimensions. `Although it could be argued that three brand personality dimensions relate to three of the `Big Five' human personality dimensions (i.e. Agreeableness and Sincerity both capture the idea of warmth and acceptance; Extroversion and Excitement both connote the notions of sociability, energy and activity; Conscientiousness and Competence both encapsulate responsibility, dependability and security), two dimensions (Sophistication and Ruggedness) dier from any of the Big Five of human personality' (Aaker 1997: 353). In the development of the brand personality scale 39 product categories and services were used which included brands that serve a symbolic or utilitarian function (e.g. clothes or pain relievers respectively) or both a symbolic and utilitarian function (e.g. computers) see Aaker (1997: 349). The procedures used in the development of the brand personality instrument supports the relevance of the conceptualisation and measurement of brand personality across dierent products and services. In addition it has been shown to be relevant across cultures (Aaker Benet-Martinez and Garolea, 2001) and among non-prot organisations (Venable, Rose and Gilbert, 2003).

Research problem and questions


The two primary research questions seek to explore and better understand the use of brand personalities in cyberspace. The subjects of study business schools may benet directly and immediately given society's burgeoning use of the internet. The investigation begins by asking: Q1. Are any of the Aaker's ve brand personality dimensions used by business schools in their websites' communication? Kim, Han and Park (2001) argue that brand personality also helps a website to powerfully dierentiate itself from competing sites, although sites may necessarily be similar to each other, both in appearance and function. Business schools can use their websites to dierentiate themselves from others when communicating their brand personalities. Hence it is asked: Q2: In what ways do business schools dier in their use of website information to communicate brand personalities online?

Method
The focus is on MBA programs as these are the most popular and soughtafter degrees that have become the stamp of approval for managers all over the world. They also represent big business for universities (O'Reilly, 1994). MBA programs have attracted considerable societal interest and have been the focus of numerous rating systems. In selecting the sample, use is made of the rating system provided by the Financial Times' top 100 full-time global MBA programs. These rankings are extensive and well-established in the industry. This study makes use of content and correspondence analyses.

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To satisfy the data needs of these techniques the authors make use of three purposeful groupings each of ten cases taken from the top (referred to as Cluster 1: ranked 1 to 10), middle (referred to as Cluster 2: ranked 46 to 55) and bottom (referred to as Cluster 3: ranked 91 to 100) sections of the FT top 100 MBA list. The rationale for the choice was a desire to produce a sample that was at least somewhat stratied to represent the proportions of dierent school types in the target populations. The sources of data were the ocial websites of each of the 30 selected business schools. In order to broaden the data collection and augment the evaluation of brand personality, units of analysis included not only the homepage but also the textual information derived from the homepage (initial screen) of each business school's `sub-site' or `sub-portal' and the relevant links connected only to the full-time MBA programs' portal. During the rst week of April 2005, all textual information from the main portal was copied into a text document. The authors then clicked all links and roots on the main portal and copied all information available from these documents. All roots or links that were not directly associated with the sub-portal of the selected full-time MBA programs were ignored. This procedure was developed to avoid missing any valuable information concerning each full-time MBA program websites and hence to obtain all the available information that otherwise would aect the results. This systematic procedure generated a considerable amount of textual information from each selected website. The authors decided not to consider the visual aspects of websites primarily because it would have made the study unmanageable. Moreover, it is suggested that the message conveyed by the wording used on a website is likely to play a most salient role among students interested in a particular university. In addition the aspect of website design and brand personality has already been looked at (see Su-e, Dongsung and Jinwoo, 2005). WordStat was used to conduct the content analysis. This required the construction of a set of comprehensive yet appropriate dictionaries, achieved by collecting and compiling synonyms of Aaker's (1997) 42 items that make up her ve brand personality dimensions. This was done with the help of the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica's thesaurus function and the Dictionary Builder software package. To enhance the reliability of the instrument, two parallel lists of synonyms were collected in the same manner by two independent academic reviewers. These two lists were merged into one by selecting only those synonyms that had been identied by both independent reviewers. Finally, a third academic reviewer independently appraised the draft dictionary and provided further comments and suggestions which were incorporated. This process enabled the construction of a nal list of 1625 words that were relatively and evenly distributed across Aaker's original ve dimensions of brand personality as demonstrated by the following percentages: Sincerity 21% of all words listed; Excitement 17%; Competence 20%; Sophistication 21%; and Ruggedness 21% (see Table 1 below for a sample of the compiled dictionary). In order to ensure the reliability of the content analysis a number of aspects were considered. First, the authors ensured that the correct URLs of the various business schools and their full-time MBA programs were selected with

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Table1: Sample of dictionary of brand personality dimensions and their synonyms COMPETENCE able able-bodied adept adroit assiduous assured astute award-winning blooming booming brainy celebratory certied competence competent complete comprehensive concern conclusive conned conglomerate conquering conscientious consistent constant craftiness crafty cunning dependable dexterous diligence diligent doing well dominant enterprise entrepreneurial equipotent establishment everlasting exhaustive experienced exultant failsafe rm rst-place ourishing foolproof for certain forefront gainful genius get ahead gifted glorious governance guarantee guaranteed hardworking hard-working hi-tech illustrious imperishable in front in charge industrial industrialised EXCITEMENT active aggressive artistic arty audacious audacity autonomous avant-garde awe-inspiring awesome bold boldness boost bracing brand new brave bravery breathtaking brisk colorful colourful cool courage courageous courant crazy creative creativity crisp current daring dazzling designer determined early electrifying elevate emancipate emancipated energise energising enliven enlivening enterprising exalt exalting excitation excite excited excitement exciting exhilarate exhilarating exuberant feisty forceful fresh freshness gutsy happening heroic heroism high-spirited hip RUGGEDNESS al fresco animal animals arduous beefy boisterous brutal bumpy callous challenge challenging coarse confrontation cowboy cragged craggy crimson crudeness crudity cruel dangerous daunting daybreak dayspring demanding desert dicult durable eortful endeavour endure external extinct extreme ferocious forcible fresco freshair frontier furrow godforsaken granitelike granitic grating gravel gruelling hard hard-boiled hardened hard-hitting harsh hazardous heavy-duty hunt hunting huskiness inhuman insensitive irregular jagged jeans jerky jolting SINCERITY above board accommodating accurate actual aable approachable approaching authentic benecial benevolent benign blunt bona de bright buoyant candid charitable cheerful civil civilised civility clean-cut clear-cut common commonplace companionable compassionate congenial content conventional convivial co-operative cordial correct courteous customary decent defensible direct distinctive down to earth earnest ebullient emotional everyday existent existing factual faithful forthcoming forthright frank friendly generous genial genuine glad good good-hearted good-humoured gracious gregarious guileless hale and hearty healthful SOPHISTICATION a la mode aesthetic alluring amiable angelic appealing aristocracy aristocrat aristocratic aristocratic attractive baronial beautiful blue-blooded brush-up captivate captivating celebrated charismatic charm charming cherubic classy cosmopolitan cotoure courtier cultivated cultured cute dandyish de luxe delicate dignied distinction distinguished dulcet edication elegant eloquent enchant enchanting endearing engaging ennobling enrapture enthrall enthralling enticing entrancing epicurean esteemed excellent exclusive exclusivity expensive exquisite extravagant eye-catching fabulous fascinating fashionable female feminine

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the use of the Google, AltaVista and Yahoo search engines. Only links that had their roots in the original URL were extracted for the unit of analysis. Second, the same information about each MBA program was collected as far as it was provided, and all data was collected within a one-week period. To ensure reliability, data from each site was collected by two persons and the two dierent sets of data collected were compared. Third, in constructing the dictionary of search terms all unnecessary and repeated words were carefully weeded out by removing or substituting common suxes, for instance by converting plurals to singulars and reducing adjectives, verbs and adverbs to a common noun or word stem through the stemming process. To enhance the validity of the data, two parallel lists of synonyms were collected in the same manner by two dierent persons. This triangulation method was designed to assure comprehensiveness; moreover, two pilot studies were undertaken using the same dictionary and approach on selected automobile manufacturing company websites and on the tourism websites of African countries. The nal automatic categorisation dictionary was then used to perform the content analysis of the 30 selected business school websites. This provided the input to the correspondence analysis that followed. The authors opted for a two-way dimensional correspondence analysis plot. Researchers tend to agree that a two-way dimensional solution is preferable due to its ease of display and interpretability (Berthon, Pitt, Berthon, Crowther, Bruwer, Lyall and Money 1997; Hair, Anderson, Tatham and Black, 1998). All business schools in Cluster 1 are among the major players of the `elite' MBA business schools having consistently occupied the rst ten positions for a number of years. Notable among them have been the rst four schools of the 2005 rankings, located mostly in the north-eastern USA. There are only two European schools in this cluster. In Cluster 2 the dominant role of US schools did not change. Apart from three schools which are from the United Kingdom, all the schools in this cluster are located in the US. Cluster 3 can reasonably be described as the most heterogeneous among the three. In this cluster, the United Kingdom and the USA each had four; whilst France and Ireland had one school each (see Table 2 below). Although representativeness was not the motivating factor in selecting these cases, it is felt that the sample was fairly representative of the FT 2005 rankings.

Analysis
The cell counts in the three clusters shown in Table 2 above provide a two-way contingency table of frequencies showing the number of times a particular brand personality dimension was found to be associated with a particular business school. In terms of individual dimensions, competence was the brand personality dimension portrayed most in all the programs' websites in all three clusters, whilst Sophistication was the least portrayed. In undertaking the correspondence analysis, each cluster and pairs of clusters were rst checked and nally we juxtaposed all the 30 cases against each other. When all 30 cases in the dataset are subjected to correspondence analysis, the positioning of the schools in relation to each other, and also against the dimensions of brand personality can be plotted. Figure 1 below shows the two-way dimensional

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Table 2: Distribution of brand personality dimensions over websites in clusters BPS Dimension/Name of school Cluster 1 Harvard Business School Uni. Of Pennsylvania: Wharton Columbia Business School Stanford University GSB London Business School (LBS) University of Chicago GSB Dartmouth College: Tuck Insead New York University: Stern Yale School of Management Row Total Cluster 2 Manchester Business School Rice University: Jones Uni. Of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Brigham Young University: Marriot Case Western Reserve: Weatherhead Michigan State University: Broad University of Minnesota: Carson Imperial College London: Tanaka Warwick Business School Pennsylvania State: Smeal Total Row Cluster 3 University of Durham Business School Pepperdine University: Graziadio Birmingham Business School Edinburgh University Mgt School Uni. Of Washington Business School Uni. Of Bath School of Management George Washington University Trinity College Dublin Fisher ESCP-EAP Total Row UK USA UK UK USA UK USA Ireland USA France 367 738 380 141 650 244 277 188 160 111 3256 66 50 72 52 258 119 151 100 61 18 947 9 14 18 21 15 21 13 22 7 3 143 60 82 106 44 124 125 29 49 22 26 667 21 26 18 16 5 24 8 8 7 6 139 523 910 594 274 1052 533 478 367 257 164 5152 UK USA USA USA USA USA USA UK UK USA 237 686 238 316 360 733 1264 521 414 286 5055 75 139 60 155 166 494 223 241 187 107 1847 8 38 48 13 10 125 45 110 39 17 453 104 281 68 125 99 196 276 66 320 72 1607 15 24 7 13 17 32 27 12 35 2 184 439 1168 421 622 652 1580 1835 950 995 484 9146 USA USA USA USA UK USA USA France USA USA 597 543 626 536 873 348 482 342 602 542 5491 158 197 239 183 194 119 115 156 406 225 1992 72 60 18 45 72 16 31 16 18 91 439 177 152 100 123 281 61 105 162 117 265 1543 22 27 16 21 38 11 19 25 31 12 222 1026 979 999 908 1458 555 752 701 1174 1135 9687 Country Competence Excitement Ruggedness Sincerity Sophistication Total

Note: For presentation purposes the authors have transposed rows and columns in this table. In the analysis, what appear here as rows were columns, and vice versa.

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Figure 1: Correspondence analysis map of all the 30 selected cases of the MBA programs' websites with respect to the Five Personality Dimensions

correspondence analysis map that is able to explain 83% of the variance in the data. Figure 1 above provides a summary map of how the schools are positioned against their peers and also on the dimensions of brand personality. The circles are inserted to make the associations clearer. Thus, six of the top ten schools (apart from the schools with rank numbers 3, 6, 9 and 10) are located in the innermost circle; mostly positioned on competence and sophistication. This reinforces the consistency of the messages which the top ten schools portray regarding their brand personalities. NYU (rank #9) positions itself apart from the other top ten schools due to its strong association with excitement (perhaps because of its geographic location). The second dotted-circle from the centre generally embraces Cluster 2 schools; ve of the 10 schools in this cluster fall within this group. Warwick (rank #54) associates itself with sincerity, and Michigan State (rank #51) and Tanaka (rank #53) with excitement. Most of the schools in Cluster 3 locate themselves inside the third dashed-circle from the centre. George Washington University (rank #97) is aligned with excitement while Pepperdine (rank #92) stands apart from all other schools and all dimensions.

Research question 1
Table 3 summarises the results of a dendogram output from the correspondence analysis and demonstrate that out of the 30 cases considered, 29 schools' websites (97%) identify themselves with one particular brand personality dimension only while one (Pepperdine) has no clear positioning. Five schools (Insead rank #8, Yale rank #10, Manchester rank #46, BYU

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Marriot rank #49 and Bath rank #96) identify with ruggedness. The dendogram establishes that competence and sophistication are related to each other; likewise sincerity and ruggedness; excitement stands alone see Figure 2. The bottom part of Table 3 below provides a fair view of each dimension's frequency of appearance as a percentage of all communications. This represents the most accurate estimate of dimensional usage. In answer to the rst research question as to whether any of the ve brand personality dimensions are used by business schools in their website communication, it is concluded that the websites of sampled schools' do reect the variety of brand personality dimensions proposed by Aaker (1997).

Similarity index

Figure 2: The dendogram on all the dimensions. Key: In this diagram, the complete lines and same boxes signify similarity hence strong relationship whilst dotted lines and dierent boxes indicate weak relationships.

Research question 2
Business schools can associate with the same personality trait but that association may not be equally strongly or eectively communicated. The FT rankings as shown in Table 3 do give an indication of this. For instance, one could surmise that although Dartmouth (rank #7) and ESCPEAP (rank #100) similarly identify with competence, Dartmouth is likely to be communicating a stronger brand personality dimension than ESCP-EAP. The same thing applies to Wharton (rank #2) and Fisher (rank #99) with regards to sophistication. The second research question seeks to identify in what ways business schools dier in their use of website information to communicate brand personalities online. Clearly, the rst basis of communicating a particular positioning involves the type of words used on their website. For example, words like `active', `colorful', `current' and `modern' are used to associate with excitement while `straight', `open', `authentic' and `humane' are used to associate with the sincerity dimension. A second association of a school with a particular dimension appeared to be related to how well the school communicates its curriculum and the instructional delivery system. For example, schools that associate themselves closely with competence mostly rely on one method of instructional delivery (e.g. Harvard case method), whilst those who portray sophistication as their personality dimension, like Wharton, rely on two or more (`multidisciplinary approach'; `learning team approach'; `leadership development'; `experiential opportunities').

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Table 3: Summary of associations between the 30 cases used and brand personality dimensions Rank Top 10 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 Last 10 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 Total Frequency of appearance of dimensions in each case Percentage of frequency showed in the maps Durham Pepperdine Birmingham Edinburgh Washington Bath Uni. G. Washington Trinity Fisher ESCP-EAP X 10 13802 57.5% 9 545 2.3% 5 1035 4.3% 4 4786 20.0% 1 3817 15.9% 1 X X X X X X X X X Harvard Wharton Columbia Stanford LBS Chicago GSB Dartmouth Insead NYU's Stern Yale Manchester Rice Uni. Illinois Uni. BYU Marriot Weatherhead Michigan Carlson Tanaka Warwick Smeal X X X X X X X X X X X X X X (X)1 X X X X X X Dimension/ Name of school Competence Sophistication Ruggedness Excitement Sincerity None

Middle 10

1 Stanford communicates two brand personality dimensions, Sophistication and Competence, on the correspondence analysis map but the dendogram reveals that it was stronger on the former than the latter.

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Third, it appears that in general, the more sophisticated a school portrays itself, the higher the fees charged. Websites represent status symbols for their organisations (White and Raman, 1999); they are `brand carriers' and an extension of the organisation's operations (Palmer and Grith, 1998). In this regard, most of the schools whose websites are strongly associated with competence and sophistication are top players in this game. Apart from their `innovative curricula', `small class cohorts' and their `global nature', it could also be argued that these schools target the `elite'; those who can aord tuition and other incidental fees ranging from US$36,000 to $45,000 annually. Fourth, both location and environment appear to have an inuence on the choice of brand personality dimension. For instance, New York University, located in Manhattan, portrays excitement. Overall, it appears that schools which associate themselves with their environment usually adopt either the excitement or ruggedness dimensions. Finally, control and governance can also be said to communicate a desired personality. It can be noted that most of the privately-funded universities rely on competence and sophistication whilst their publicly-funded counterparts rely on other brand personality dimensions.

Conclusions
This research has demonstrated that all ve brand personality dimensions put forward by Aaker (1997) could be identied in the online communications of selected business schools. Indeed, the ndings here are consistent with Aaker's belief that these ve dimensions can be applied across all product categories. The authors have established that MBA programs utilise their websites in various ways and to varying degrees to associate themselves with a particular dimension and hence, to dierentiate themselves from other schools. This arms the assertion made by Perry and Bodkin (2002) that being able to use a comprehensive and integrated marketing communications website strategy to dierentiate one rm from its competitors will become a necessity as more and more organisations use websites in trying to foster relationships with customers. The ndings also show that some schools appear to succeed better than others in creating strong brand personalities for themselves by clear and distinct positioning. The authors conclude that the Cluster 1 schools generally communicate stronger brand personalities on their websites than their counterparts in the middle and bottom clusters. Cluster 1 schools are comparatively old, basically private-oriented and have distinguished themselves in this industry. The marketing situation of the middle-ten in Cluster 2 is relatively more favourable than that of Cluster 3. This is not overly surprising because the last ten schools in Cluster 3, are in most part composed of `newcomers' to, or `fallers' from the top 100 league; hence, it will likely take them time to build a strong and consistent brand personality. The authors ascertained that business schools dier in how the information on their websites communicates brand personality. Dierent schools choosing the same brand personality may select dierent words for their messages, which may aect the strength of the message and associations with other personality dimensions. For example, NYU promotes Excitement, but also

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Sophistication because it highlights the many multicultural events that New York has to oer. It was also observed that certain types of brand personality appear to be a reection of the type of curriculum oered, the mode of instructional delivery, and the tuition fees charged. Some factors that were considered by some schools include:  Location and environment (whether the school is situated close to or in a big city, commercial centre, recreational/sports centre, etc.).  Control and governance (whether the school is privately- or publiclyfunded).  Philosophical orientation of the school (quality, worldview, religious). Methodologically, there are many dierent views on the value of qualitative analysis in a study such as this. Problems that are cited include the volume of data and the perceived complexity of analysis (Pettigrew, 1990; Richards and Richards, 1987). On the contrary, this study has brought to light how such a task can be managed by using simple collection and analytical tools that appreciably simplify and reduce the duration of time required to perform the essential tasks. This study supports the value of the multi-strategy (combination of qualitative and quantitative) approach to research (e.g. Sinkovics, Penz and Ghauri, 2005) and, hence, advocates for a less dichotomous paradigmatic view. Other researchers have complained about the `extremely timeconsuming and confusing nature' of evaluating entire websites (Okazaki, 2005). However, this study shows that this need not be the case when the investigators arm themselves with the appropriate data collection and analytical tools. The authors evaluated all thirty websites within one week. It is essential to take the time to nd, develop and/or validate tools in conjunction with having a methodologically-sound study framework.

Limitations of the study


Limitations in interpreting the outcomes of this present study should be noted whilst other caveats should be borne in mind in generalising the results of this study. First, only full-time MBA programs with 100 schools in the FT ranking list make up the sampling space, of which only 30 full-time MBA programs were covered in this study. The primary focus was to determine whether business schools' websites communicate Aaker's brand personality dimensions, which ones they promote and how. The authors never sought to generalise to all business schools and relied instead on value judgments in clustering these schools into three. Notwithstanding, it is believed that sampling method used in this instance was reasonable and not a major weakness of this study. Second, the somewhat controversial nature of using content analysis software as an analytical tool in the current context is recognised here. However, the authors believe that a fastidious approach was taken when developing this dictionary, drawing from the expertise of several independent reviewers using several independent sources. Third, the investigators tried to interpret all data from the quantitative point of view, but most of the analyses of the maps were somewhat inuenced by value judgments. In addition, the authors recognise that relying on a two-dimen-

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sional plot may be risky as it is rare to see such a plot telling a complete or even an accurate story. Fourthly, since, in this study, only text information was analysed, it is possible that the entire brand image may not be fully examined. This could have an impact on the portrayed brand personalities of these investigated websites. Moreover, the authors do not claim in any way to provide insight into how customers of these schools perceive the full-time MBA programs, but just into how these schools use their websites to communicate brand personalities. Finally, studies of this nature and others relating to the internet are often regarded as historic within some months.

Implications for theory


As an extension of theories on brand personalities, this study has provided a holistic perspective on how business schools communicate brand personalities online in a clear and distinct manner. It also has helped to assess whether the change in the context could have had an eect on Aaker's (1997) brand personality dimensions. Additionally, it has revealed whether business schools consciously or subconsciously communicate their brand personalities online. This study has also oered a description of the phenomenon of brand communication in a very specic setting (the online environment) and is presumed to serve as a basis for further research. Past research provided theories upon which the research purpose was formulated. Hopefully, the results of this study will serve as a foundation for future investigations. The contribution to theory again is based on the online situation. This can be added to what has been examined and described by previous research so as to form the basis for further research on brand communication in the online environment. The authors believe that this study may serve as a springboard for future researchers/investigators interested in exploring the online phenomenon further. These conclusions could form the basis for future hypotheses.

Implications for management and practitioners


In spite of the limitations that have been noted, this study clearly demonstrates why it is becoming increasingly important for business schools to better understand the concepts of brand personality and brand personality communication online. This is a time in which business education (and especially MBA education) have become huge and in which the competition to secure the best students is becoming increasingly acute. As the web increasingly becomes an important medium to reach a target audience, program/brand managers and administrators must begin to monitor the competition and to devise new strategies in order to create unique brand personalities. This study can be an eye-opener for business schools as regards the need for them to target their online audience by exhibiting identiable and memorable messages about brand personality dimensions/traits so as to reap the best outcomes from online communication. A well-established brand personality is thought to heighten emotional ties with the brand, increase preference and patronage, and augment a sense of trust and loyalty (Sigauw, Matilla and

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Austin, 1999). To program managers and administrators, this study therefore sheds light on the signicance of regular website updates to continuously monitor and upgrade the brand personality they intend to convey. By this process, managers can maintain old customers and attract new ones. Also, this study has brought to the fore the need to further develop the idea of brand positioning management strategies by business schools in the online environment and oers helpful general guidelines for business schools when they are embarking on the development of a website or otherwise want to communicate their brand. Finally, the role of this study has been to introduce and demonstrate the dual combination of content and correspondence analyses in assessing the brand personalities of websites. The correspondence analysis as exemplied here empowers website managers to visualise the brand personality of their organisations' websites relative to their competitors, as well as relative to benchmarks at a very low cost. In today's ercely competitive business environment, this combination of techniques aords organisations the ability to assess how their brand is positioned online, and how they are mirroring themselves in the minds of their customers and stakeholders. This proposed method permits data collection that is also visual and requires a fraction of the time that otherwise is required by other methods and at a much lower cost.

Further research directions


The study and techniques described in this study provide a number of future opportunities for researchers, school administrators, brand managers, program coordinators and others with an interest in the area. At the simplest level, it would be possible to include more samples in order to improve the generalisation of the results contained herein. A research area that merits exploration is to investigate into at least ve or more carefully selected schools from each continent or region. This could help to cross-fertilise and enrich the results. Further study that is warranted is to re-investigate only the schools which occupy the same positions in the 2006 as the 2005 rankings. This would help to identify precipitants of change. Website communication is one of many integrated marketing communication tools. Therefore, website communication could be compared with other communication media such as brochures, press reports and releases, annual reports, and broadcast and print advertising in order to determine the extent to which educational marketers communicate consistent brand personality messages across all media. Then, these relationships could be compared with stakeholder-based perceptions of brand personality. Subsequently, the techniques described here can aid longitudinal research, so that the eect of online brand communication on other variables, such as press coverage, and of course customer perceptions, can be tracked over time and conclusions drawn accordingly.

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University. Professor Berthon has held academic positions at Columbia University in the US, Henley Management College, Cardi University and University of Bath in the UK. He has also taught or held visiting positions at Rotterdam School of Management, Copenhagen Business School, Norwegian School of Economics and Management, Cape Town Business School, University of Cape Town and Athens Laboratory of Business Administration. His research focuses on the interaction of technology, corporate strategy and consumer behaviour, and has appeared in journals such as Sloan Management Review, California Management Review, Information Systems Research, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Business Research, Journal of International Marketing, Long Range Planning, Business Horizons, European Management Journal, Journal of Interactive Marketing, Journal of Information Technology, Information Systems Review, Journal of Business Ethics, Marketing Theory and others. Asa Wahlstrom is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Industrial Marketing, e-Commerce and Supply Chain Management at Lulea University of Technology, Lulea, Sweden. Her research interests are in the areas of industrial buying behavior and e-commerce, and she teaches industrial marketing, and services marketing. Her work has appeared in journals such as the Journal of Corporate Ownership and Control. Deon Nel PhD is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Marketing at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia. He teaches marketing strategy on undergraduate and graduate programs there. His work has been published in journals such as the European Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Management, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Information Technology and the Journal of General Management. His research interests lie in the areas of services marketing and e-commerce.

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