The New Secret to Making Marketing Messages More Persuasive
Guest Blog by Diana Kightlinger, Eclipse Communications
In 2012, advertisers will spend nearly $530 billion influencing customers worldwide. Whether their messages promote consumer products, business services or political candidates, the people doling out the money want results. That’s why findings from a recent study—and the practical implications—are so critical.
“While persuasive messages are often targeted toward specific demographic groups, we wanted to see whether their effectiveness could be improved by targeting personality characteristics that cut across demographic categories,” says study author Jacob Hirsh, from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
To find out, Hirsh and co-authors Sonia Kang, also from Rotman, and Galen Bodenhausen, from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, recruited 324 individuals. Then they showed each subject ads for the imaginary “XPhone.”
The “Big Five” personality domains
Before we delve further into the study, let’s take a look at the “Big Five” personality domains. In recent decades, psychologists have verified that these domains account for most known personality traits.
The nautical acronyms OCEAN or CANOE make it easy to remember the domains:
Openness: Inventive/curious versus consistent/cautious. Traits: intellectually curious and appreciative of art, emotion, unusual ideas and variety of experiences.
Conscientiousness: Efficient/organized versus easygoing/careless. Traits: disciplined, dutiful, organized, dependable and achievement-oriented.
Extroversion: Outgoing/energetic versus solitary/reserved. Traits: sociable, assertive, talkative, positive, energetic and stimulated by the company of others.
Agreeableness: Friendly/compassionate versus cold/unkind. Traits: helpful, cooperative and sympathetic toward others.
Neuroticism: Sensitive/nervous versus secure/confident. Traits: impulsive, aggressive, angry, anxious, vulnerable and depressed.
The domains are statistical averages based on groups, so individuals exhibit variations. That’s why a person may register high in Openness but still not want to go to the opera.
The researchers noted that each of these personality dimensions is associated with a unique motivational concern. For example, As value a sense of belonging, compassion and interpersonal harmony; Os value intellectual and aesthetic pursuits.
How do researchers identify the personality domains that apply to their subjects? In general, by using either self-descriptive sentences or even single adjectives. Let’s see how these were used in the study of persuasive messages.
Putting persuasive messages to the test
Hirsh and friends exposed each subject to five different advertisements for the XPhone. Each advertisement featured a picture of the phone next to a paragraph of copy that was changed to highlight the motivational concerns of a particular personality domain.
For example, the advertisement tailored to extraverts included the line “With XPhone, you’ll always be where the excitement is”; for neurotics, the line read, “Stay safe and secure with the XPhone.”
Study participants were asked to rate the effectiveness of the ads with questions like, “I find this advertisement to be persuasive”; “this is an effective advertisement”; and “I would purchase this product after seeing this advertisement.” In addition, participants described their own characteristics on a personality questionnaire.
In every case, the advertisements were rated as more effective when they matched the participant’s personality profile.
Personality powers up persuasive messages
So how do you apply the lesson learned to marketing in the marine industry?
1) Focus on the personality domain your product or service fits. You may choose to target the appeal for your bluewater cruiser to the adventurous Os or your snappy ski boat to the outgoing Es.
2) Segment marketing materials based on personality type instead of demographic characteristics. Here’s a quick look at how your message for a chartplotter could vary for each personality domain:
O: Experience the beauty of artful design and the brawn of weather-beating construction
C: Streamline route planning with up to 5,000 waypoints to guide you
E: Find your fishing pals wherever they’re reeling ‘em in
A: Chart a course to new adventures with family and friends
N: Navigate with confidence in shoaly waters and sh*tty weather
3) Include features/benefits for each personality domain in your marketing collateral. If you browse the marketing collateral for high-end marine products, you’ll often find enough info to motivate any of the “Big Five” personality domains. Your budget may be limited, but you can still reach each domain with a targeted bullet point.
4) Tailor the communication type itself for the personality domain. Depending on their personality, your audience members may be influenced by different types of communication as well as different messages for products and services. For example, you can move Os with images of the product at work, especially if you focus on aesthetic or emotional elements. Motivate As with testimonials, case studies and stories that reinforce their natural affinity for people. And calm Ns with tests and proofs that quash their natural skepticism.
5) Create variations on your product or service for each personality domain. This is easy to do with services—sometimes is seems almost a requirement to offer a foundry of bronze, silver, gold and even platinum levels. But you can also package, price and position the same product differently by getting creative with variables, including options, accessories, warranties and service.
6) Let your audience members choose the information they receive. Online marketing, in particular, provides opportunities for personalization. Often a customer’s previous activity on your Web site offers clues to their personality. Better still, you can survey your visitors to determine what they’re looking for and customize the information they receive to make it as relevant as possible.
Guest Author: Diana Kightlinger is a writer and marcom consultant who achieves results for her clients. As principal of Eclipse Communications, she works with companies from small businesses to Fortune 500. She’s an avid sailor and powerboater frequently found in waters off Miami and in Montana. Find out what she’s thinking about in her How-To and So-What Blog.
*Hirsh, Jacob, Sonia Kang and Galen Bodenhausen, ”Personalized Persuasion: Tailoring Persuasive Appeals to Recipients’ Personality Traits,” Psychological Science, 30 April 2012.