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How ad targeting using personality types can boost response rates by up to 80%

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By Barry Flynn, Contributing Editor

Media agency The Specialist Works (TSW) is hoping to bring personality-based targeting to the TV advertising space after carrying out successful tests of its attitudinal database, Personar, with clients using email and direct mail campaigns.

TSW, which describes itself as a ‘customer acquisition agency’, derived Personar from the well-known Myers-Briggs personality test.

Parry Jones, Managing Director of Print Media at TSW, explains that the first step was to carry out “the biggest ever Myers-Briggs survey in the UK” by asking a representative sample of 20,000 UK consumers to fill in a Myers-Briggs questionnaire.

The results were then mapped onto partner Greenstone Data Solutions’ Orchard database, a multi-source pool of UK consumer data which comprises around 80 million records combining geo-demographic, lifestyle, transactional, behavioural and online information. Greenstone claims this offers “the most in-depth and accurate view of the UK anywhere on the market.”

The third and final step was “to pick out the key personality traits that are linked to advertising,” says Jones. “Two things really jumped out at us. First, how people take in information, because obviously that’s key to the message that you supply people with – and the second one is, once they take in that information, how they then make a decision.”

The results, as with Myers-Briggs, tend to cluster into 16 different personality types. These make up the Personar database, with each ‘type’ given an animal name for illustration.

While not every individual fits neatly into the Personar slots, the vast majority do, allowing them to be flagged with an advertising-related personality profile. TSW clients’ customer databases can then be cross-matched with Personar’s and divided up into the relevant types – the central idea being that the client’s marketing messages can then be differentiated and adapted to maximise their impact on certain personality-types.

In a trial carried out for the charity Meningitis Research, Personar showed that a large part of the charity’s mailing database divided up between ‘Lions’ – who according to Personar tend to make decisions based on facts and logic; and ‘Meerkats’ – who tend to be more swayed by their emotions.

Two separate appeal letters were accordingly created for one of the charity’s campaigns, which was lobbying for the introduction of the ‘MenB’ vaccine: one for the ‘Lions’, which contained logical language, simple data graphics and focused on future possibilities; and one for ‘Meerkats’, which emphasised values, human experiences and stressed the personal importance of the vaccine.

To provide an accurate test of the differential impact, the ‘Lion’ group was split in two, with half getting a ‘Lion’ letter and half getting a ‘Meerkat’ one. Similarly, half the ‘Meerkat’ group got a ‘Meerkat’ letter, and half got a ‘Lion’ one.

“What we found,” says Jones, “was that on the ‘Lions’ side we got 15% more donations from people who got the right letter than got the wrong letter, and on the ‘Meerkat’ side we got 25% more donations from the ‘Meerkat’ people getting the ‘Meerkat’ letter, than the ‘Meerkat’ people getting the ‘Lion’ letter.”

Jones adds that “actually, that’s one of the lowest uplifts we’ve seen: we’ve seen much higher with email. I can’t share the actual individual client data, but we’ve seen click-through rates increase by around 80% for one particular client.”

Jones says that now the system has been proven for email and direct mail, “we are starting conversations on the broadcast side and on the digital side, because now we’re in a position where we can scale up quickly and we understand how to make it work.”

One key learning is the importance of writing a prescriptive brief for ‘creatives’ – those who create the actual art-work and copy for marketing materials – explaining to them exactly how a given personality-type should shape the finished product to produce maximum impact. 

Jones says he believes Personar is potentially very relevant to brand advertisers, for whom “getting the right creative in front of the right people is completely vital.” However, he recognizes, “it’s very difficult to prove,” since thus far the concept has mainly been confined to environments providing an obvious and measurable response.

“We’ve been testing it so far with direct mail, and email, and it has been very successful. We want to get to a point where we had enough case studies, and enough positivity around it […] before we went into anywhere bigger.”

TSW’s next step will be to prove the approach works for ‘performance’ advertisers on new channels such as digital and TV.

One of the issues for TV campaigns is that they typically involve large investments, so creating differentiated ads for different personality-types can prove expensive. However, Jones argues “that makes it even more vital that you get your creative right. Actually, if you are investing fifty or a hundred thousand plus pounds to create an ad, and potentially millions on an ad campaign, then I think tailoring the creative becomes much more important” – since Personar would tell you that “your creative is actually going to turn off up to 40 or 50% of the people that you want to reach.”

In any case, Jones points out, all the need for differentiation might imply is tweaking the call to action or the voice-over: “you don’t have to go to the huge cost of doing two completely different ads. You can just tweak individual things. Within email we found a really significant difference between open rates just by changing the headline.”

Jones accordingly thinks “there are definitely applications for this with [Sky’s] AdSmart [platform],” since Personar is a tool that you can “layer on top of every other bit of profiling that you do. So you would have decided who to target based on Mosaic or Acorn, previous buying habits, or who your best customers are,” and then Personar could be used to decide “which creative to deliver to them.”


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