In recent years, it’s been de rigueur for marketers to develop buyer personas – often with cutesy alliterative names like Illustrator Izzy or Barber Ben. They also rely on them for everything from audience targeting to ad copy.
Though these typecast characters put a human face to otherwise monotonous demographic data, personas are rife with problems. As CMI’s Ann Gynn writes, it’s easy to default to lazy stereotypes rather than to put in the hard work of getting to know your consumers.
It’s easy to default to lazy stereotypes rather than to put in the hard work of getting to know your consumers, says @PaulLonghenry via @anngynn. Click To Tweet
All too often, marketers end up overfitting demographic data, filling in the gaps with guesstimates, and missing the real people those personas are meant to represent. In reality, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, and plugged-in millennials are the product of marketing fiction and not of a data-driven analysis yielding predictive insights.
If you personalize content based on characteristics drawn from incomplete or inaccurate information, your personas aren’t representative of the genuine target audience and will almost certainly miss the mark. It’s time to end the guesswork and get to the bottom of how consumers really think and act – segmenting with science.
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Elevate insights with science
With advances in data science and machine learning, we no longer have to hypothesize about the composition of our audience. We can go beyond categories like age, gender, and ethnicity and reveal customers’ genuine attitudes and interests. We can speak to them based upon their underlying personality characteristics.With science, you can speak to audiences based on their personality characteristics, says @PaulLonghenry via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
Supported by the 130-year-old field of quantitative psychology, psychometrics uses a research-backed system for measuring people’s personalities. Since the 1980s, the Big Five model of personality, originally developed by psychologists Robert McCrae and Paul Costa, has been the gold standard for describing personality in academia.
The Big Five factors – sometimes called the OCEAN model – are:
- Openness – how open one is to new experiences versus preferring familiarity
- Conscientiousness – how controlled or measured someone is in contrast to their spontaneity
- Extraversion – how much one enjoys the company of others as opposed to alone time
- Agreeableness – how much one values cooperation and harmony versus independence
- Neuroticism – how anxious or emotional one is as opposed to being stable
Each person or segment of people can be scored on each factor. The image below expresses the personality of a group in what’s known as a rose chart. The size of each wedge or “petal” represents the relative importance of each factor – how much the personality diverges from the average U.S. adult:
Each of the five OCEAN factors represents a spectrum of personalities. For example, under openness, individuals can range from low (“closed”) to high (“open”) on a continuous spectrum. The further a score is from the population median, the more distinguishing that factor is for the audience being analyzed. Pay more attention to these factors when personalizing your content.
For instance, if your target audience is average on most dimensions, but exceptionally high in extraversion, focus on that characteristic. Use words emphasizing community and images featuring large groups of people.If your target audience is exceptionally high in extraversion, use words emphasizing community & images w/ large groups of people in your #content. @PaulLonghenry via @cmicontent Click To Tweet
The OCEAN model goes even deeper than the five factors. Under each one lies six facets that paint a fine-grained picture of the personality factor. These enable personalized communications that feel both intuitive and emotionally resonant.
Click to enlarge
Combining scores for all 30 facet results creates trillions of possible personality combinations and gives each person (or segment) a genuinely unique personality fingerprint. Armed with these insights, you can analyze, understand, and, most importantly, predict how people will respond to various messages.
Our team built a glossary for appealing to various personality dimensions. Here are a few examples to put these ideas into action:
- High in adventurousness? Share stories of daring exploits and travel like Dos Equis’ The Most Interesting Man in the World.
- High in modesty? Emphasize the value of diligence and responsibility like Gatorade does in Hard Work.
- Low in extraversion? Illustrate peaceful, introspective scenes as in Turkish Airlines’ 5 Senses.
- High in assertiveness? Reinforce independence, like ADT does in its commercial That’s What I Thought.
- Low in trust? Provide a feeling of safety and security as in Allstate’s Good Hands.
Once you’ve uncovered your audience’s personality, you’ll understand their motivations much better and be well-equipped to truly personalize your communications.Uncover your audience’s personality and be well-equipped to truly personalize your communications, says @paullonghenry via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
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Drive data-driven results
Let’s say you work at a company that makes a game to teach kids the basics of programming. How are you going to market it to families?
If you follow Alexandra Samuel’s family marketing research, the traditional demographic approach would be to look at the tech-buying habits of families with kids by age groups or income levels. A buyer-persona approach would then distill what you know about these demographics into a character with whom marketers can empathize (i.e., Supermom Sue or Do-It-All Dad). A quantitative psychology approach would uncover the underlying personality drivers behind different parenting styles, enabling marketers to better understand families’ technology philosophies.
For example, you might discover three distinct audiences primarily composed of the following personality drivers:
- Neuroticism (low) – Trust that kids can make their own tech decisions
- Conscientiousness (high) – Determined to limit kids’ screen time to educational ends
- Agreeableness (high) – Focused on finding a middle ground between fun and learning
By segmenting the audience based on personality rather than demographics, you would know whether to emphasize kid empowerment, learning, or the educational power of play on an audience-by-audience basis. You could more effectively create and deliver content that addresses their underlying motivations.
In the real world, personality-driven optimization already is replacing personas and driving real impact. In 2015, one of the first public case studies analyzed Hilton’s partnership with researchers at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre to tailor ads based on buyer personality types. These ads yielded click-through rates at least twice as high as the travel industry benchmark and increased conversions by as much as 340 percent..@HiltonHotel was one of first to tailor ads based on scientifically derived personality types, says @paullonghenry via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
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Get started with customer personality insights
The traditional way to get detailed OCEAN data is grassroots focus group polling of your audiences. This is what Alexandra Samuel did for her parents and tech study (10,000 interviews) and what Hilton did in its personality-matched ads campaign (50-question psychological surveys).
While you can find psychometrics resources outside of academia, ensure that you have someone with experience to vet their methodology. Many of the tests you’ll find online, especially those in the recruiting space, are simply not scientific (and therefore, lack predictive power).
If you’re not prepared to undertake a sweeping ethnographic study in-house, you can hire a big agency with an analytics team like Universal McCann’s Business Analytics Engine. Alternatively, you can look to the field of psychometric AI, which enables the same insights and activations using anonymized data (full disclosure: this is what my company, Pinpoint, does).
The key differences between the two are that psychometric AI enables measurement of much larger audiences (insights are all relative to the entire U.S. adult population) and is turnkey (actionable recommendations in hours rather than months).
If none of those options are feasible, use the Big Five as an augmentation to your existing personas. Applying the factors and facets produced by decades of academic study can begin to bring those alliterative characters to life.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute