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Psychological targeting – what is it and does it really work?

Written by Sandra Matz on Monday, 23 September 2019. Posted in Audience, Sales & Marketing

Marketers have been able to target individuals based on their behaviour patterns, preferences and demographics, but never before have they been able to target individuals based on their psychological profiles – until now.

Psychological targeting – what is it and does it really work?

Marketers have been able to target individuals based on their behaviour patterns, preferences and demographics, but never before have they been able to target individuals based on their psychological profiles – until now.

Psychological targeting is taking marketing up a gear. It enables organisations to interpret basic human drives and match their messaging to people’s personality traits.

Psychological targeting has only recently been brought to public attention - the news story surrounding Cambridge Analytica in Spring 2018 made psychological targeting a global issue. The company worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign were facing allegations that they improperly obtained the data of up to 87 million Facebook users. Although this controversy gave psychological targeting a bad name, it’s not always a negative practice. If companies are transparent about what they’re doing, it could become a positive step forward.

Can psychological targeting be used for good?

Cass Sunstein, a behavioural scientist, believes that there are healthy ways we can use personal data gathered from social media. If handled ethically, personality marketing could be one of these ways.

Personality marketing could match you with better products, services or experiences – meaning you are much more likely to see adverts for products you are actually interested in purchasing, as well as making for more effective marketing. Also, in areas such as health care, personality marketing could have a huge impact, if better messaging could lead to healthier behaviours.

Should you use psychological targeting?

Psychological targeting is still very much in its infancy. When collecting and utilising personality traits, the general ethical guidelines followed in other areas of behavioural science should be respected and implemented. These include transparency – being clear on why you are collecting their data, operating within the law, and ensuring your interests as a marketer and helping users.

An important question to ask yourself is, “is the use of personality research making your customers better off, or just helping you?” As personality marketing matures, marketers must seek guidance on transparency and ensure they stick to the letter of the law.

If you want to go about personality marketing, here are some good steps to take:

Step one - Set a clear target that you intend to achieve.

Step two - Identify the cognitive biases and heuristics that might prove to be obstacles or driving forces on the journey to achieving that target. Plot these to points on the customer journey. This will then enable you to establish where communications or content can tackle customer bias or other barriers to a decision.

Step three - Carry out a personality test and by exploring it alongside other data, determine correlations between personality traits and consumer conduct, predilections, or mindset.

This should then arm you with the knowledge you need to successfully create a message that is appropriate at the point of the consumer journey that you target them, and matches up and resonates with different personality profiles.

About the Author

Sandra Matz

Sandra Matz is Assistant Professor of Management and Organizational Behaviour at Columbia Business School.

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