The advent of AI-based personalized marketing has shone a spotlight on what is known as personality science. The maturation of digital marketing coincided with advances in the psychological assessment of personality.
About 25 years ago, psychologists boiled down personalities to just five traits. Known by the acronym OCEAN, these are Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. More recently, the field of computational social science discovered digital psychometrics. Instead of relying on surveys that asked respondents to describe their behavior, digital psychometrics is based on people’s online behavior — the things they like on Facebook or retweet and their browsing histories. Cambridge University researchers, for instance, were able to tell men’s sexual orientation with 88 percent accuracy based on the things they liked on Facebook, including movies and music.
Of course, you can take the idea of digital psychometrics, as Cambridge Analytica did during the 2016 presidential election. In addition to using data without users’ consent, the firm also crossed the line between influence and manipulation by preying on consumers’ anxieties and fears to drive home a message.
But it’s possible to toe the line between manipulation and intelligent personalization using the same online cues. For marketers, retention is an area in which personalized marketing messages could have a pronounced effect. Research from Bain & Co. estimates that increasing retention by 5 percent will boost profits by 25-95 percent. Since retention is a personal decision, there are ways that marketers can intervene to retain a customer who might otherwise stray by understanding the consumer’s personality and serving them the right messaging. Here’s how marketers can craft messaging based on a consumer’s OCEAN profile:
Openness to experience: The two extremes associated with this trait are conservative and adventurous. For those on the conservative end of the scale, regularity is prized. Maintain a regular schedule for communications. For instance, self-help guru Tim Ferriss offers a newsletter called 5 Bullet Friday that always comes out around 7 or 8 AM ET on Fridays and has a rigid format. On the other hand, customers with a more adventurous profile might be at risk of being bored by too much regularity. Offer these consumers novelty both in the product suggestions you offer and in your messaging. For instance, German camera maker Leica has recently launched an international travel business to offer its consumers an adventure challenge. “The person who will get the most out of these trips is someone who is ready to be challenged and taken out of their comfort zone,” Tom A. Smith, the manager of Leica Akademie North America, told Bloomberg.
Conscientiousness: Self-disciplined consumers are goal-oriented and respond well to loyalty programs that involve accruing points and getting rewards. Tiered programs like Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club offer consumers the ability to climb a ladder of rewards. Flying Club starts with a red tier, but loyal consumers can unlock more benefits in the silver and gold tiers. Intricate loyalty programs appeal to highly organized consumers who are willing to make their purchases more strategically. On the other hand, many consumers are not organized and are instead impulsive. For such consumers, curated deals like the sort that Amazon offers are a better way to appeal to more spontaneous consumers.
Extraversion: Extraverts are looking for excitement and even a hint of danger. Introverts, meanwhile, prefer personal space and quiet. Reaching each is a matter of adjusting messaging. For instance, a beauty retailer worked with the University of Cambridge and agency VisualDNA to craft Facebook-based advertising messages aimed at both introverts and extroverts. The extrovert-focused ad featured a woman dancing in a crowd with the caption “Dance like no one’s watching (but they totally are).” The introvert ad showed a woman applying makeup in front of a mirror with the caption, “Beauty doesn’t have to shout.” Both ads did much better than a non-targeted ad. Showing an introvert and introvert ad was twice as profitable as showing them an extraverted ad. Showing extroverts an extraverted ad produced a 30 percent higher ROI than showing extroverts and introvert ad. When it comes to retention, such messaging is important to show that a brand “gets” the consumer.
Agreeableness: Agreeable consumers are often moved by compassion. Messaging like Honey Maid’s “Wholesome” that emphasize inclusion and humanism resonate with consumers who score high on the agreeable scale. When it comes to retention, such customers will also be sensitive to a business’s philanthropic efforts and stands on ethical issues. Such efforts build trust and credibility, traits that align with long-term retention. At the other end, consumers who are skeptical and self-interested. For such consumers, marketing messages should avoid standard advertising language and offer social proof in the form of customer testimonials or reviews.
Neuroticism: Cambridge Analytica ran afoul of ethical marketing practices when it served fear-inducing messages to consumers who indexed as anxious. Obviously, marketers need to steer clear of emulating that model. But it can be ethical to point out the negative consequences of behavior, whether that means skipping preventative medical care like a breast exam or opting not to buy life insurance. For such consumers, messages of reassurance are key to establishing trust. The opposite extreme are consumers who can’t be bothered. The biggest instance of this phenomenon is with public health issues. For instance, reminder packaging is only moderately successful in getting consumers to take their prescribed medication. What seems to work is messaging that shakes consumers from their complacency. Graphic warning labels on cigarettes, for example, causes smokers to avoid looking at the labels, which prompts them to think of quitting, according to one study.
The OCEAN approach would in theory prompt a marketer to vary messaging greatly depending on the recipient. That is what is required in an environment in which consumers increasingly expect personalization and are not getting it. Marketers now have the tools to craft such messages and let consumers feel that they’ve been understood and heard.