Scientific evidence for correlation between personality temperaments and online behaviour (article on Marketing Online, April 26th 2011).

There is no such thing as an average customer. Yet many communication tools like websites, DM and call center scripts are designed to meet the average customer’s needs.  Personas can significantly increase the effectiveness of these tools.

Although the usefulness of personas has been proven at several blue chip Dutch companies, there was no scientific evidence until today.  Canicas validated this approach by executing the first eye tracking study in the Netherlands in this area.
The market merchant manages to convince 95% of the visitors in his market stall.
For websites, in e-mail and DM, the benchmark is a measly 2%.  In other words, 98% of the people visiting a website leave empty handed!  One reason is that companies are unable to engage in a relevant dialogue on the web.  A way to make communications relevant is the use of persona.

MBTI based personaBuilding on the insights of the Eisenberg brothers, Canicas developed and introduced a targeted persona approach in The Netherlands.  Canicas started with the four personality types, which have been extensively described on and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. They have been applied successfully in psychology, HRM and personal selling. These personality types can be found in TV formats such as Sex & The City, Top Gear, Star Trek, The A-Team and Friends.

A lack of scientific proof

The persona approach has proven its worth in practice.  No personality type can be overlooked while writing and designing (online) communications. The methodology, as described by the Eisenberg brothers in their bestseller books “Call To Action” and “Waiting For Your Cat To Bark?” provides useful ways for adapting the tone of voice to a particular persona.  Canicas conducted extensive research to prove the correlation between the way people look online and their personality types. This research was done in cooperation with Iris van Hest MBA (Tilburg School of Management), OPP (MBTI Netherlands) and Validators (eyetracking specialists). It was ponsored by Vodafone, Centraal Beheer, FNV Bouw and AEGON Bank.

In the study, 140 respondents were asked to execute certain tasks on websites, while their activity was eye tracked. They were also asked to choose from images, products and gifts. Finally every respondent completed the full MBTI assessment questionnaire.

Key results

  • The study demonstrated significant differences between the online behaviour of the four types. They reacted significantly different on no less than 29 out of 47 points of interest, particularly looking at different texts and images (see AEGON example).
  • The classification used by many players in the market needs to be handled with care. In the current business literature, the types are segmented  Rational vs Emotional and Fast vs Deliberate.  However, in our study we prefer Keirsey’s classifications: Concrete vs. Abstract and Utilitarian (‘whatever works’) vs. Ethically right.
    • The difference between the ways of processing online information (abstract or concrete) is much more important than previously assumed (see Obama pictures).
    • The location of the information seems less important than the literature on the subject indicates so far. Basically, everyone in the study looks at the so called Google F (upper left corner of the webpage).  Only after looking at this information, the different types start looking for the other information they need. (W.o.w. everyone has ‘red’ behaviour in the first seconds on the website. It is vital for any website that this information  convinces the visitor to look further for information that might be of interest to them)
  • The type of product seems to play a role in the extent to which differences between the personas are visible. Thus, the difference in online behavior became visible especially in the more complex products.
  • If one zooms in on the most extreme types within each colour, even more interesting observations emerge (although the numbers are too low for scientific validation):
  • the blue and red types take most time for orientation, the red is the fastest decision maker
  • the yellow types take the least time for orientation. However, when choosing between two items they like, they take a long time to make a choice (graph on the right)

Difference in viewing habits

Based on one of the web pages used in the study, it is easy to demonstrate differences in viewing behavior.

In this actual Aegon Bank web page, there are at least seven significant differences between the items that people look at. The prominent text block and the calculator (1 and 2) are viewed by almost all respondents. The green type looks at contact information the most.  The yellow type looks at the graphic element with the corresponding call to action the most. The red type looks at the element “get started right away.” The banner (visual) is barely seen by anyone.

Metaphorical and realistic image

The study demonstrates a significant difference as regarding favored images.  Most of the abstract types (green and red) prefer the left picture. Most of the concrete types prefer the realistic image.

Obama experiment Canicas

Zooming in on extreme types

If one zooms in on the most extreme types within each colour, even more interesting observations emerge (although the numbers are too low for scientific validation):

  • the blue and red types take most time for orientation (assignment 1-4, left image), the red is fastest decision maker (assignment 5 & 6, right image)
  • the yellow types take the least time for orientation. However, when choosing between two items they like, they take a long time to choose (graph on the right)

Gele typen oriënteren het snelst, maar kiezen het langzaamst

Conclusion & Recommendations

The classification into four types is as old as the hills. Not much was known about the applications in marketing. Scientifically validated research has shown that the classification is very useful in online marketing
It appears that the four personality types view images and text online differently. This provides points of reference for improving landing pages, e-mails, banners, (text) ads, websites and customer contact programs.

The ultimate wish is to provide personalized website experiences based on these four personality types.  Online communications can be designed with triggers and links for each persona (see thumbnail). With behavioral targeting, one can further refine the process each time the same individual visits the website.

Although this method is more elaborate than creating and maintaining a ‘one size fits all’ page, the results are impressive.  Prior to this research, Canicas successfully deployed this approach at Nuon Energy, FBTO Insurance, ING Insurance, Viking Direct and several fundraising organizations.  These organizations experienced on average, a 100% conversion increase in A / B tests, with half of the visitors landing on the traditional page and the other half on an improved version based on persona. This research provides good points of reference and confirms the direction we have been moving into.

Obviously additional research is needed, particularly on click streams and the optimum position of content on the web page.