The trend is clear. Over the last 100 years marketing has been moving from more generic to more specific in terms of messaging and targeting. The early 1900s were the age of mass marketing, followed by segmented marketing and finally personalised marketing. With the help of vast amounts of customer data and latest digital technology, marketing messages can be targeted better than ever before. The next big thing might be personality based marketing.
Demographics such as age, sex and location have been used as basis for targeted marketing for years. The same goes with behavioural patterns, such as interests or browsing history. Psychological targeting or personality based marketing, however, is still very much in its infancy. Yet, it has a lot of potential.
Imagine you have two images for an ad for a music streaming service. One features a group of people dancing in a living room. The other, in turn, has a person enjoying music alone in a nice comfy armchair. Which one would you choose for an introverted person and which one for extroverted?
It seems evident based on everyday life that personality really matters in decision making and individual preferences. There’s a lot of scientific evidence too. Last autumn I did a master’s thesis research at Aalto University related to this. First, I tested people’s personality traits using the Big Five framework. Big Five is widely considered as the most robust personality taxonomy. As the name suggests, it has five main personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. After that, I tested respondents' behavior in an online store. What was found, among other things, was that people with low scores on conscientiousness are more likely to make a purchase based on other customers’ reviews. On the other hand, people with low openness to experience (a trait that correlates strongly with other traits such as creativity) were clearly more prone to buy a product that had a discounted price label on it.
There are many reasons to believe that personality could be used to better target your advertising and digital content, not only benefiting you but also your customers. It can help you to show them content that resonates with who they are as a person, not as a member of a demographic segment. Maybe it could even be utilised in personalised pricing or discounts. As my research suggests, some personality types care more about the discounts while others are more willing to buy a full priced product. After all, in the long run good marketing is something that should benefit both the customer and the company.
The practical challenge in personality based marketing is, of course, how to measure one’s personality. Traditionally personality traits have been measured with long self-reported personality questionnaires. In digital marketing we need some other way. The most prominent solution at the moment seems to be a thing called digital psychometrics. Our digital behaviour patterns - or digital footprints - are correlated with certain personality traits. The amount of Facebook friends you have may be a sign of extroversion. That’s quite predictable. A less predictable thing is that liking Hello Kitty correlates negatively with conscientiousness.
All this leads to another challenge: privacy and ethics. The infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal is an example of how not to do personality marketing. The company gained unauthorised access to user data of 87 million Facebook users and used that data for psychological targeting in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. And that case may actually be the reason why personalised marketing hasn’t been in the spotlights - at least in the positive sense - in accordance with its potential.
However, when personality marketing is done in a way that truly respects customers and their privacy, it hardly is any more unethical than any other form of targeted marketing. The same rules that guide digital marketing in general apply here too. Be honest and transparent. Know, understand and follow the privacy legislation such as GDPR. Make sure you have a consent from the customers if that’s needed in your case. And most importantly, put your customer first. When you do that, personalised marketing can help you to provide the right person with the right message at the right time. It’s a potential win-win situation.