• Paul Longhenry

It’s Time to Replace Personas with Quantitative Psychology

Unscientific marketing personas are on their way out. Here's what's replacing them, and what it means for marketing teams everywhere.




Common scenario: you need to create a campaign or product page for an audience you don’t really understand, so you glance at your team’s customer personas for inspiration. These are usually just a bunch of semi-silly, alliterative names like Influencer Isaac or Researcher Rachael—so you do your best to tailor your message to these fictional creatures. But where did these personas come from? Unless they reflect hard data collected from proven influencers or self-professed product researchers, should they really be guiding your marketing strategy?


In today’s world of data-driven marketing optimization, we can and should do better. We now have the ability to move beyond who we wish our customers would be, to a real understanding of who they are and what motivates them. Armed with these insights, marketers are able to focus on targeting and creative strategies that have a quantifiable impact on creating real emotional resonance with both current and prospective customers.


Personas are stereotypes that lack predictive power


Personas at their best are built from third-party demographic information and whatever limited behavioral data may be available. Together they can paint a picture of groups (age / gender / ethnicity) sharing some superficial similarities that can fall into the realm of stereotype.


Suburban 35-year-old woman with children? Soccer Mom

Rural 40-year-old man that enjoys sports? NASCAR Dad

Urban 23-year-old glued to their phone? Connected Millennial


Amazingly, these broad generalizations are still considered best practice. HubSpot advises readers to simply find a photo online of a person they think represents their target customer. This is worth repeating: Marketers are told to select a photo of a random person from a stock photo site to represent thousands of strangers and use it to guide their decisions.





The obvious problem with the stereotype strategy is that it lacks any real predictive power. While any large group will likely include individuals that could be sold a new winter jacket, a news subscription, or a Hawaiian vacation, predicting who will be interested and how to tailor an offer requires data-driven segmentation and an understanding of the personality traits that can trigger a positive response.


There is a better way. Marketers can now borrow from science—sociology in particular—to leverage the power of quantitative psychology.


What is quantitative psychology?

Sociologists are generally reluctant to make sweeping generalizations about groups of humans they know to be too dynamic and multifaceted to describe in a stereotype (alliterated or not). Rather, they tend to rely upon the measurement of differences via the field of quantitative psychology–-the science of mathematically measuring people’s personalities.

Quantitative psychology involves testing someone’s knowledge, abilities, attributes, and personality and translating results into what is known as the OCEAN model for personality (aka “the Big Five”): Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.



The “Big Five” personality traits explained.


Each of these five Factors is further divided into six Facets, creating a total of 35 unique personality dimensions upon which every one of us can be scored.


Unlike popular corporate personality measurements like Myers-Briggs, the OCEAN model meets the scientific standard of statistical replicability, meaning that if someone takes a test twice, their OCEAN scores tend to be nearly identical. Moreover, the results aren’t designed to be flattering (neurotic / disagreeable / cynical are common descriptors) rather, they are designed to be accurate, and most importantly, predictive.


Using OCEAN to understand your customers


Historically, the only practical way to obtain OCEAN personality scores for your customers would have been to ask them to take an in-depth personality survey. Obviously few (if any) customer groups will invest their time in surveys, so best case results are a very small set of responses that must serve as representative of your overall customer base. This approach generally fails to meet marketers’ commonly accepted standards for useful segmentation: meaningful size, stability, accessibility, and actionability.


Pinpoint has addressed these shortcomings with a proprietary and patent-pending approach that produces privacy-safe OCEAN scores for the vast majority of the U.S. adult population. We analyze billions of de-identified data points daily, extrapolating patterns that are correlated with personality Factors and Facets. This enables us to quickly and anonymously assess the psychological characteristics of any meaningfully sized customer segment and to provide recommendations on how best to personalize marketing messages for your unique audiences.


A few suggested activation strategies


Once you’ve embraced quantitative psychology insights, there’s a lot you can do to improve your marketing.


Better communicate with your best customers

Quickly learn how your best customers are most unique relative to the broader U.S. population. Are they more extroverted, agreeable or cynical? Leverage Pinpoint’s Facet-by-Facet vocabulary recommendations in order to better communicate with your customers.


Pre-packaged here (if you happen to use Shopify)


Uncover the personality of any customer segment

Get more granular than your best customers and learn the defining characteristics of purchasers of a particular product / newsletter subscribers / those originating from a Google search. Any segment of interest can be analyzed and subsequently activated.


Thinkalike® email promotions

Find customers that have strikingly similar personalities to those who purchased a particular product and direct email-based product promotions to this Thinkalike® group. Combine this targeting guidance with our insights on ad copy, images, and colors that resonate with your customers’ personalities and have a real impact on sales.


Thinkalike® customer acquisition campaigns

Apply your customers’ Thinkalike® scores to the broader U.S. population in order to target campaigns to those prospects most like your proven customers. Similarly, your ad copy, images, and colors can all be optimized for what academic research has shown to be effective for given personality Factors and Facets.


Take creative optimization to the next level

Today’s state-of-the-art creative optimization relies upon brute force A/B testing, promoting many ad variants until a statistical winner is produced and the losing versions are discarded. With the power of OCEAN scoring, each ad variant can be scored based on those audiences that click, enabling each version to be a winner that is targeted to its ideal set of prospects.

There’s no faking it


The next time you need to write copy for an ad or product and you’re not sure what to say, move beyond the typical stereotypes. The same advice goes for designing creative or targeting strategies. Leverage personality data that transcends aspirational customer definitions and communicate with real emotional resonance.