It’s not just our gender that can shape what we do online. In the last few years, a growing body of research has found that many of our behaviors -including social media interactions, emotional responses to adverts and susceptibility to persuasion techniques – can be profoundly influenced by personality.
If you’ve ever taken a personality test, you may have already guessed that some are more reliable than others.
Despite the weed-like prevalence of popular (yet unscientific) assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), if you’re serious about gaining meaningful, evidence-based insights, the test you use should have a track record for being reliable, valid, independent and comprehensive. This means that it must produce consistent results over different times, contexts and cohorts, and it must also provide comprehensive information on the categories it is sampling. Sadly, many tests upon which businesses base significant financial and structural decisions fail abysmally on all four of these crucial standards.
The Big Five Personality Traits
Although no method is perfect, the Big Five is one of the most established and widely used personality tests within the behavioral sciences. Tracing back to the research of D. W. Fiske, it was expanded upon and codified by Costa and McCrae, and originally included 4,500 traits. These were later reduced to 35. and further analyzed until they could be classified under five main categories. hence the name. These are:
Some researchers have since classified an additional sixth trait, honesty-humility, and have proposed an evolved HEXACO model of personality.
Tests such as the Big Five are useful because they enable us to predict a person’s emotional, behavioral and cognitive patterns, as well as important aspects of their lives such as psychological health, political leanings, career choices and the quality of their relationships.
From a business perspective, understanding your customers’ psychographics (their personalities, attitudes and values) can give you a significant advantage over basic demographic and persona-based approaches.
Automated Personality Prediction
With the technological advances that have been made across various research methods in recent years, we’ve reached the stage at which a computer’s assessment of your personality (based on your digital footprint) can yield more accurate and valid results than many of the judgements made by your friends, family or even your spouse.
We’ve crossed a threshold and entered a world in which our personalities can be predicted automatically, without the need for other humans to interpret the data for us. Coupled with the fact that consumers are increasingly expecting a personalized experience, this goes a long way to explaining why so many businesses are turning to personality-based profiling to design and serve up more relevant, engaging and trait-based content.
Different Personality, Different Behavior
What’s interesting is that your personality not only influences the language you use and respond to, it can also shape many of the behaviors you express online.
For instance, when going online to shop, people with higher levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness will tend to take a more utilitarian, direct and central route through a website, whereas those with higher levels of emotional stability, openness and extraversion will often take a more experiential, hedonic (and thus peripheral) path.
As a business, if you can understand your customers’ behaviors, mirror their linguistic preferences and adapt your message to match their traits, you will be much more successful in attracting, engaging and converting them.