Customers want to be understood. Likewise, digital marketers are doing everything they can to understand them. Companies are spending more on insight and engagement but at the same time all the response rates are heading south. The implication is that there is an ingredient missing in what consumers consider being understood and personalisation to mean. The bottom line is that currently the metrics businesses are using are not enough.

That missing link is an understanding of who is engaging online; and that means moving beyond behavioural and basic demographics to understanding psychographics.

In order to understand a customer from a psychological perspective, businesses need to understand an individual customer’s personality and the way in which (s)he views the world; these are the key pieces of information that dictate what makes an experience relevant and engaging.

The big 5 dimensions of Personality

Psychologists have studied personality extensively over the past several decades, and many theories have developed regarding its definition and the traits that it encompasses. In the 1990s, a major consensus was reached(1), which stated that individual differences in personality could be categorised into five major traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (OCEAN).

These personality traits have shown to predict behaviour and preferences in every aspect of consumerism, from brands and products to tone and content of messaging strategy.

How psychographic profiling relates to online behaviour

A number of studies have linked personality and preference for brands exhibiting the same or similar personality traits(2). Personality has also been linked with consumer and product preferences, whilst a large body of academic research has gone in to the correlation between personality and purchasing behaviour(3).

Individuals who score high on Openness – how open you are to new experiences and your artistic potential – are more likely to stay in a boutique hotel, have increased usage of Social Networking Sites (SNS), or keep a blog, for example, whilst Conscientiousness is consistently related to superior money management. The difference in personality values between introverts and extroverts is also commonly recognised, but how many businesses consciously take these attributes into consideration in their marketing communications strategies?

It is the ability to tie a deep understanding of these personality drivers with purchase behaviour that fundamentally changes the game. Integrating psychographic profiling with the end to end customer experience information – from browsing history to purchase – provides a marketing team with the quantitative certainty required to understand exactly who is buying from them and how.

The development of an innovative, image-based personality test, developed by VisualDNA, is being used in this way to profile consumers at scale, which is making it easy for brands to segment their audiences based on their personality. Retailers are able to positively effect acquisition and conversations through this new level of understanding by marrying their brand value and ethos with their customers’ personalities, thus targeting people on their propensity to buy.

Understanding Motivation

Understanding motivation transforms not only the way in which a brand can engage with customers – but also the timing. By analysing the customers buying a specific product, spending over a certain amount per basket – or any other key criteria – the brand can identify the shared characteristics. Armed with this understanding of the key motivations of the target customer group it is then straightforward to target marketing activity at individuals with the same profile, via paid for search or display activity, for example.

There is also no need to wait for an individual to put something in the basket or make a payment – the usual triggers required to begin some form of content personalisation. Instead, tailoring the customer experience can begin long before a consumer reaches your site, within search or display ads, and continue onsite.

This unprecedented insight into the motivations of key customer groups transforms the marketing focus. The beauty of segmenting customers based on real personality traits is that it is intuitive; we all know individuals who display these traits and how we engage with them in the physical world. The marketing team also has immediate, proven insights into the profiles of target customer groups, allowing campaigns to be automatically triggered through the existing digital marketing portfolio to engage these key customers – while looking ahead, the depth of motivational understanding of the overall customer base can support strategic planning, even product development.

Critically, not only does the marketing team now have a new depth of customer understanding but it has insight that drives actions - from defining the personality traits of target customer groups to seamlessly engaging far earlier in the customer purchasing cycle by targeting specific versions of display ads. It is by using this insight and early engagement that brands can begin to significantly improve the overall customer experience and tell a story driven by relevant interactions and emotions than the transaction-led that has dominated online to date.


Read the first article in the series hereWhy Understanding Customer Motivation Is Key To Online Success


By Ed Weatherall, Client Director at VisualDNA


(1) Digman, J.M. (1990). Personality structure: Emergence of the five-factor model. Annual Review of Psychology, 41, 417-440.

(2) Huang, H. H., Mitchell, V., & Rosenaum-Elliott, R. (2012). Are Consumer and Brand Personalities the Same? Psychology & Marketing, 29(5), 334-349.

(3) Donelly, G., Iyer, R., & Howell, R. T. (2012). The Big Five personality traits, material values, and financial well-being of self-described money managers. Journal of Economic Psychology, 33, 1129-1142

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