Thought leadership

Many people have experienced the jarring sensation that a website has no idea who they are or what they are looking for, when it suggests content or offers that are inappropriate or simply uninteresting. This is essentially because publishers, brands and advertisers have been thinking about personalisation without considering customer personality and the underlying motivations. What’s troublesome is the continuous use of postcode data; whilst it is ideal for routing parcels to the right person, it is considerably less useful for understanding how to talk to the different individuals who live at each postcode.

Of course, the scale and speed of the online world make it hard for businesses to understand who they are serving content and ads to. As they look to create rich online experiences that build an emotional connection with each targeted persona – many are still making do with outmoded approaches to segmentation and targeting.

Knowing the postcode of a website visitor is simply not enough anymore – even if one also knows their annual income, marital status, home ownership status and the make of car they drive. Far from being permanent characteristics, all of these things are subject to change. They are also far less reliable predictors of purchasing behaviour than an individual’s personality.

An understanding of the target customer is at the heart of every great brand. This understanding must permeate the whole organisation, because it is not just a question of acquiring customers: it is also about nurturing them, servicing them in the best way, and retaining them for life. Without the ability to truly understand customers and prospects online, many brands are struggling to make a successful transition to the digital world.

The Big 5

Drawing on decades of research, psychologists have proposed a number of models for understanding and predicting human behaviour. Particularly where they indicate how different personality types respond to different communication strategies, these models can help marketers to forge lasting emotional connections with people – boosting brand appeal and lifetime value.

One of the leading psychology models is the “Big 5” – also known as “Ocean”, from the first letters of the five character traits it employs: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Using survey responses, it possible to assign a percentage score for each of these attributes to any individual, thereby building up a picture of who they are and how they are likely to respond to given stimuli. For marketers, this kind of knowledge is like gold dust, and one of the main drivers for running focus groups.

For example, when speaking to an extravert, it is better to pitch the product or service in a social context, or otherwise play on their need to be loved. When an introvert is the target, there will be more mileage in showing how the product or service fits their independent life. Likewise, a person who scores highly on agreeableness will respond well to positive language about family and home, while a less agreeable – and more sceptical – person will appreciate honesty and realism about what the product or service does and doesn’t do.

Furthermore, the Big 5 model means there is no need to wait for an individual to put something in the basket or make a payment to begin some form of personalisation. Instead, tailoring the customer experience can begin long before a consumer reaches your site, within search or display ads, and continue onsite. For example, an individual with a strong openness personality trait typically likes risk taking and is open to adventure – and is therefore far more likely to be interested in a safari or backpacking around India than an all-inclusive package holiday on the Med.

A race to the top

It is vital to note that the personalisation of marketing and communications has nothing to do with tricking people into making purchases, and everything to do with matching the right product or service to the right person – and making them feel comfortable. When thinking about delivering a great customer experience, too many marketers are projecting their own wishes and prejudices. Unless businesses take into account the different personalities of their customers, they cannot be sure what the experience of those customers will be. As a simple example, would ten people at the same party all report the same experience?

Understanding customer motivation not only transforms the way in which a brand can engage with customers – but also the timing. By focusing marketing and communications on people who are likely to keep buying a given set of products or services, businesses can achieve far greater marketing ROI and drive higher lifetime value. If a campaign or ad reaches out to a customer or prospect in the wrong way – effectively, mis-selling the product – the business may simply be incurring administrative fees when that person returns the product for a full refund. If a business understands each buyer, it will be in a better position to make them feel that they’ve made the right choice. What’s more, if it understands which personality types are more likely to return a product, it can consider not offering free delivery – helping to ensure that these personality types only buy the product if they truly want it.

Failing to understand what makes people comfortable with a particular brand or message tends to leave businesses competing on price – which is ultimately a race to the bottom. The difficulty of achieving this level of understanding online means that many retailers and brands are currently giving up margin in their attempts to attract customers, through discounting, free delivery and free returns.

It is clear that the missing link of the online customer journey to date has been developing customer understanding; looking into the personality traits of their customers and the motivation behind their online behaviour is the key to a more personalised and relevant customer journey and will change the marketing focus from promoting sales, to promoting the overall brand experience. By investing in personalisation beyond the messaging to encompass the entire customer journey, brands and advertisers can ensure greater customer loyalty, cut costs by reducing churn, and build a community of people who – all in their own unique ways – genuinely like the product, service or brand.

Of course, the catch is in how to actually achieve that personalisation – in particular, online and faced with potentially unknown and anonymous users. Understanding who is visiting a website is increasingly hard in a world where people may easily have five or more connected devices, some of them shared with others: personal smartphones and tablets, work smartphones and tablets, home and work laptops, smart TVs, games consoles and more.

This is where new technology and new data sets come into the picture, enabling brands and advertisers to gain detailed information on the personalities of web users – in real time and at massive scale. They can use this information to genuinely personalise every aspect of service, so that every interaction is designed to appeal to the specific personality type of each customer and prospect. They can also use personality data to help find new customers just like their best existing ones – for example, by making sure that they bid on the right search keywords. Critically, this approach enables the brand to make every customer experience personal, relevant and enjoyable, ensuring both brands and consumers win.

Ed Weatherall is Client Director at VisualDNA


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