Abridged and adapted by xiQ (April 28, 2020) from the Harvard Business Review article “What Marketers Should Know About Personality-Based Marketing” published May 02, 2018

B2B Sellers and Marketers can now adopt a personalized approach to their work based on behavioral science. This adaptation of the original HBR article aims at providing a better understanding of personality marketing — what it is, how it works, and why it matters in the context of B2B sales and marketing.

Personality-driven marketing

Personality-Driven Marketing is the targeting of people based not only on their past behaviors and explicitly stated preferences but based on their underlying psychological profiles. It is the use of personality trait science to better tailor messages for clients.

Personality marketing provides an unprecedented ability to sub-segment people by personality and change the creative, the messaging and indeed the entire sales pitch to resonate with individuals based on how they see the world.

Beyond traditional personalization based on demographics based personas, or consumer self-expressed desires, this kind of customization interprets basic human drives to match issue messaging with personality traits.

Personality insights and other aspects of behavioral science offer opportunities to better connect with individuals, and if done ethically it can be beneficial for consumers and businesses alike. Personality marketing can create a better match for products, services or experiences.

What is personality science?

The American Psychological Association defines personality as “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.” Scientists have believed for centuries that humans have a mix of traits that determine the way individuals interpret the world and how they subsequently behave. Psychologists converged on the current and widely accepted view of personality science about 25 years ago, simplifying hundreds or even thousands of personality descriptions to four or five different personality traits with supporting facets for each. An individual can be mapped to a sliding scale from low to high on each factor. Psychologists have run tens of millions of people through personality tests around the world with high reproducibility and consistency.
Prevalent examples of psychometrics and behavioral assessment tools include:

DISC theory of psychologist William Moulton Marston, which centers on four different personality traits – Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Conscientiousness (C). This theory was then developed into a behavioral assessment tool by industrial psychologist Walter Vernon Clarke Big Five personality traits, also known as the five-factor model (FFM) and the OCEAN model, which stands for O = Openness to experience, C = Conscientiousness, E = Extraversion, A = Agreeableness and N = Neuroticism (also called “Emotional stability”).

The Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) is a system to measure and describe thinking preferences in people, developed by William “Ned” Herrmann while leading management education at General Electric’s Crotonville facility.

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS) is a self-assessed personality questionnaire designed to help people better understand themselves and others.

The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an introspective self-report questionnaire indicating differing psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.

For marketers and communicators, the potential payoff of using personality science is to be able to better match how you engage individuals by personality profile and to predict behaviors by personality traits. No marketer wants to present a message that is off-key or even irrelevant; personality science offers the chance to empathize with individuals, and engage them with the message, advertisement, or content in a way that is more likely to resonate with them.

How do you test consumers for Personality Profiles?

Until very recently, the assessment of psychological traits (also known as psychometrics) was almost inseparably tied to questionnaires. Ranging from just 10 to more than 300 questions, these questionnaires ask respondents about the extent to which they agree to statements such as “I am the life of a party” (Extroversion) or “I get chores done right away” (Conscientiousness). While such questionnaires provide researchers with an easy and pragmatic way to measure people’s psychological profiles, they are prone to unintentional misrepresentation, especially in certain contexts outside of the lab. For example, no job candidate in their right mind would indicate “strongly agree” to the statement “I make a mess of things.” Plus, these questionnaires were difficult to scale up beyond a few hundred or thousand test-takers. If insights about people’s psychological make-up could only be gleaned at a relatively small scale, how could marketers and communicators leverage such insights on millions and millions of potential customers?

Digital psychometrics

About seven years ago, the newly established field of computational social science provided an answer: digital psychometrics. Instead of relying only on people’s responses to self-reported questionnaires, scientists started training algorithms with anonymous test results and analyzing people’s digital footprints to make inferences about their personality.
While still in its infancy, there are more and more commercial attempts at predicting personality from people’s digital footprints. IBM’s Watson Personality Insights, for example, uses natural language processing to digest bodies of text written by a specific user, like tweets and blog posts, to unearth their personality traits, needs, and values. With the rise of such services, insights from digital psychometrics will become available to industry at large.

Why use personality marketing?

The hypothesis is that if you can match the tone and framing of the communications or marketing with the personality
profiles and thinking styles of potential customers, whose behavior you’d like to change, you can boost effectiveness.
Tailored communication has proven highly successful. People show higher compliance rates when receiving messages that are customized to their individual motivations. What if we could change sales and marketing outcomes by tailoring the messaging to different personalities and cognitive styles?

But does personality marketing work?

The scientific evidence is consistent and clear: one can increase the effectiveness of marketing messages and other types of persuasive communication by tailoring them to people’s psychological profiles.

So, what do we know about whether personality marketing works in the real world? The results of three campaigns reaching over 3.5 million users suggest that personality matched advertising creatives significantly outperform their mismatched or neutral counterparts. In other words, in practice, this sort of social media-based personality marketing does appear to work. Whereas early evidence is very promising, this field is still relatively young.

The ethics of personality marketing

The essentials of gathering and using personality traits ethically should follow the general better business guidelines that include: transparency of intent and usage; abiding by privacy laws and regulations; and aligning marketer interests with those of clients/prospects (in other words, help them rather than exploit them).
That last principle is the right starting point for marketers: is your use of personality research actually making your customers better off, or just helping you? As the field evolves, marketers should look to the research community for inspiration and guidance on transparency. And, of course, businesses must comply with the law.

Putting personality marketing in action

Given the promise and accessibility of this new form of communication, how should marketers get started? The first step is to understand the challenge or goal you’re trying to achieve. Is it to align employees with corporate goals, or to change behavior, or better segment buyers by what really motivates them (which they cannot articulate)?

Next build content, campaigns, custom-tailored presentations to help buyers overcome specific biases or other hurdles to a decision.

Once you have a strong understanding of the customer journey, you can call up a specific personality profile and combine it with other data to reveal correlations between personality traits and certain behaviors, preferences, or mindsets.

The “art” of personality marketing — is to craft the messaging, advertising or content to match different personality profiles while also considering the stage of the customer journey at which you plan to engage. This isn’t easy, by any means. But it offers the opportunity to create the most effective and empathetic messaging with different groups of customers.

Personality marketing is a new, fast-emerging approach to understanding people from the inside out. It can help decode what truly moves individuals — at scale — and engaging them on their terms.

About The Author

Usman Sheikh

Founder and CEO

xiQ, Inc.

Usman Sheikh is the visionary founder and CEO of xiQ, an award-winning B2B sales and marketing platform. Through the fusion of generative AI, behavioral science, and ChatGPT, xiQ is revolutionizing the industry with its personality-driven sales approach.
As a futurist and design thinker, Usman aims to humanize B2B sales and marketing by leveraging generative AI and psychology. With xiQ, sellers can understand the mindset of prospective buyers and hyper-personalize engagement at every stage of the sales cycle.
Before xiQ, Usman held various global roles at SAP, including Vice President of Corporate Development, Product Management, Sales Enablement, and Digital Commerce.
Usman frequently serves as a guest lecturer on AI and B2B sales and marketing at renowned business schools such as the University of Texas, University of Wisconsin, University of Alabama, Louisiana State University, and Clemson University.
A graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Usman’s diverse passions extend beyond business. He enjoys Squash, architecture, design, cooking, and hiking.