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Customer Personality Types: Does It Matter?

By Bob McElwain
Posted Monday, April 7, 2003

Marketing types are fond of classifying people into categories. Here are four which I took from "Differentiate Or Die," by Jack Trout with Steve Rivkin. (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2000, p15.) Only the first few words of each are included here.

- Intuitives ... use intuition. Concentrate on the possibilities. They avoid the details and tend to look at the big picture.

- Thinkers ... analytical, precise, and logical. They process a lot of information, often ignoring the emotional or feeling aspects of a situation.

- Feelers ... interested in the feelings of others. They dislike intellectual analysis and follow their own likes and dislikes.

- Sensors ... see things as they are and have great respect for facts. They have an enormous capacity for detail and seldom make errors.

Which Best Suits You?

Texts in psychology also often break people into types as above. I have seen several dozen such definitions. Each is often quite different from others. With apologies to Stout and Rivkin (and many others), I don't find such groupings helpful.

While many of the people I have known might seem best suited to one definition, each includes key characteristics from the others. Did you find one that suited you? Or are you one who is some combination of two or more categories?

The reason for defining such categories in marketing is to get a better focus on your Perfect Customer. If you can do so, no doubt your dialog will be stronger. It is because of this possibility that I included the above. Most, however, will not want to slice things so thin.

Situations Vary As Much As People Do

If you are selling a computer, complete details will fill a large book. Even the most dedicated fact finder doesn't want that much information. On the other hand, if you're selling balloons, what details are available?

Visitors to your website may be predominantly one type or another, but this depends to a large extent upon what you are offering. If you are selling lures to fisherman, you are going to meet all of these types, and combinations of them.

As buyers, personality types may not hold. Thoughtful, introspective people may buy after just a glance, particularly if they're in a hurry. The impulsive type who generally buys with little thought, may become engrossed in the tiniest details and refuse to make a decision until all questions have been answered.

Other Models

As suggested, there are other sets of categories into which people can be grouped. Hundreds have been published. Here's one that works pretty well for me.

*Show-Me - This type doesn't care how it works. They only want to know what it does, and specifically what it will do for them. Pictures and drawing work well with this type. Simple descriptions of what the product does also work.

*Prove-It - These people are not content until you have provided evidence to support every assertion made. If you say something about your product you can not demonstrate, you will lose this customer.

*How-It-Works - This type wants only to know how it works; they will make their own decision as to whether or not it works well enough. Details make this type happy. And they want a clear definition of each product feature.

A Better Course

Build your own definition of categories as I did above, based on what you have learned about your target. If most interested in your product want details, provide them. If most want facts, list them all. If they want only an overview, give one that is brief and to the point.

If you can add these kinds of characteristics to your definition of your Perfect Customer, so much the better. Most, however, will find this difficult to do, even impossible. So unless dictated by your product or other specific conditions, here is the better plan for presenting information.

Cover The Bases

Ignore personality types, and think in terms of behavior. When your Perfect Customer hits your site, chances are more than a dozen sites have already been visited, and briefly. You have only seconds to capture attention and draw this person into your page and site.

You need a dandy first impression which immediately lends a sense of credibility and expertise. Next, you need a great headline that grabs attention and provides a great benefit to your Perfect Customer. You need captivating sub-headings throughout the page, for most visitors will see only these initially. And you need a clear link to an order form.

This of itself takes care of those in a hurry, regardless of personality type. If anything on the page grabs attention and reading begins, you can then provide other kinds of information.

Rather than deciding whether or not your Perfect Customer wants details, proofs, drawing, or whatever, the better plan is to have all available. That is, let the headline and sub-headings give a brief but comprehensive overview, for all need this. Include further details and benefits under each sub-heading. For extended details and "proofs," offer links to a new page.

Summing Up

As you can see, I'm not convinced any personality traits need to be added to your definition of your Perfect Customer. Unless your target is clearly only one type, the better plan may be to offer the essence of your product in the page, with links to other information some may need.


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