KS&R Blogs


My son Adam is a triathlete. If you are not familiar with the triathlon, it is a multi-sport event involving the completion of three continuous and sequential endurance events –swimming, cycling, and running. It requires that the competitor be lean, fast, and athletic. It also requires a very expensive piece of equipment, a triathlon time trial bike. Last year, as a gift for Adam's acceptance into a PhD program in Neuroscience, we sprang for a Jamis Xenith T1, aka, "This is what fast feels like". He loves it.

On a recent trip to Northern California, my husband and I were leisurely strolling the shops on the main street in Sonoma. There, in the window of Sonoma Valley Cyclery, I spotted a Jamis brand triathlon competition jersey, size medium. Wow. Perfect.

Inside, I informed the salesclerk that I would like to purchase the shirt. He said I would need to speak with the store owner, and paged him to the front counter.

The owner ("Bob"), clearly a triathlete himself, asked how he could help us. I repeated my intention to purchase the shirt. Bob looked at me hard, and said, "I don't know. That is a one-of-a-kind shirt. You'll need to prove to me that you deserve it. I'll give you a few minutes to think about it." For a moment, I thought he was joking. But Bob just stood there, waiting. My husband, standing behind Bob, silently mouthed, "Let it go."

Fat chance.

I decided to turn to personification for help, and allow the jersey "to speak for itself" to convince Bob to relinquish it. Personification is a form of metaphor employed in qualitative research that is very effective in helping participants to talk about complex issues related to a product or a brand. Participants are asked to imagine that the product has come alive as a representative person... being careful not to confuse this with profiling a user of the product.

If the product's characteristics and traits were embodied in a person, what kind of person would this be?

The key to using personification effectively is to have participants describe a single individual, specifically and comprehensively, identifying his/her:

  • Physical characteristics (gender, age, body size/shape)
  • Lifestyle and choices this person would make (style of clothes, occupation/employment; home life, type of car; how spends spare time)
  • Personality characteristics (outgoing/friendly, confident, shy)
  • Voice characteristics (style, tone, level of formality (formal, casual, slang))
  • Attitude – how this person feels about life; what he/she is proud of; personal motto in life; does he/she have a nickname?

We walked out of the store with the shirt. I maintain that the personification was so compelling, Bob had no choice but to acquiesce. My husband will at least concede that Bob was speechless. We both agree that the jersey looks great.

All the best,
Lynne Van Dyke