Passive Audience Segmentation Strategies

At the heart of any marketing initiative is one goal: to influence an audience. The tough part is figuring out 1) who the audience is, 2) what will influence them, and 3) the best way to do so. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has long been considered a standard to help answer the first question in corporate HR, for example, but its popularity among marketers is growing rapidly.

There are significant problems with using the MBTI for marketing, such as its lengthy survey format, prevalence of bias, and arguable inconsistency. The problems with survey-based insights have led these methods to finally be questioned as useful means for understanding an audience. While some marketers may rely on these insights, that could be a costly mistake.

The MBTI, like any survey, has statistical problems — have you ever taken the test twice and gotten different results? Additionally, there’s an inherent bias associated with survey-taking. Think about it:

People rarely take surveys just for the fun of it. Whether they’re expecting to earn something, gain acceptance to a group dynamic, or prove a point, human nature causes people to bring a level of bias to their answers.

Why Passive is Preferable

By using personality analysis that’s 100 percent passive — meaning audience members don’t know they’re being “tested” — you learn the deep-rooted characteristics or temperament of your audience. Text analysis of the words they use, as well as the actions performed while using social media, show temperament, which can be thought of as how people are hard-wired.

As “moment” advertising using social media gains in popularity, its risk can be too high for many brands to consider. The qualitative insights from passive analysis can provide profound comfort to product strategists and marketers who wring their hands over questions like, “What tone will they respond to?” and “Will they be turned off by this copy or these images?”

The Big Five: Take a Seaside View

My preferences for passive audience segmentation focus on the Big Five personality traits, which make up the acronym OCEAN: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. By assessing the diction choices of your audience, you can gain insight into their personality types and understand what makes them tick.

1. Openness to Experience

Distinguishes imaginative, creative people from those who are more down-to-earth and conventional. Open people are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty.

Related words: Receptive, innovative people differ in their language use from those who are more closed-off and conservative. People who use more money-related words, like profit, pricing, and refund, tend to be less open to new experiences.

2. Conscientiousness

Refers to the way we control, regulate, and direct our impulses. People who lack conscientiousness tend to be more impulsive.

Related words: Conscientious people use social words like roommate and secret, as well as human identifiers like female, citizens, and infant. Impulsive people tend to use more swear words, as well as perception words like scent and sour and seeing words like beauty and views.

3. Extraversion

Marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extraverts enjoy being with people, are full of energy, and often experience positive emotions.

Related words: People who use perception words, such as scent and seeing, tend to be more introverted. Those who use work-related words, such as educate, duty, and executive, tend to be more extroverted.

4. Agreeableness

Reflects a person’s concern with cooperation and social harmony.

Related words: Agreeable people value getting along with others and tend to use words like hero, helps, and wins. They also use positive words, such as luck, merit, and OK, as well as biological words, like rehab, exercise, and drink, more frequently.

5. Neuroticism or emotional stability

Refers to the tendency to experience lower levels of strong negative feelings, such as anxiety, anger, or depression.

Related words:People who use words such as miser, restless, and scary tend to be less emotionally stable. Those who use ingestion words, such as cook and ate, also fall into this category.

Be Smart with Social

You can use social media to determine where on the Big Five your audience members fall. But this goes further than just monitoring the words they choose; you have to look at actions as well as diction.

Start with understanding the Big Five, but pay attention to how activity markers (like changing one’s profile picture a lot or frequent commenting) correlate with an action. This information has been well-documented and can be used to tune your copy, imagery, and media to those underperforming — but promising — segments.

For example, if Red Bull wanted to expand its consumer base to target middle-aged women, it could use a brand personality formula to find those women who were classified as “daring.” The personality traits that define this category are high levels of openness to new experience and low levels of conscientiousness. Once you add in all the other activity and interests markers, you can create products, packaging, and campaigns that appeal to them.

Using passive text analysis to learn what makes your audience “tick” is still a relatively new concept. Legacy approaches — like surveys, focus groups, and polling — are dying off quickly; the new, “moment-based” generation of marketers has little patience for the lengthy project times needed for surveys.

Your consumers are telling you so much about who they are and what they want — and not through a Myers-Briggs lens. With passive text analysis, you can finally start to both listen and cut through the noise to provide some value for those big social media budgets.

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