In advertising, brands constantly use communication appeals to influence the behavior of their target audience. As the science moves forward, marketing professionals improve their knowledge of the more profound pathways of human mind, and how to hit the right buttons in consumers’ brain to increase the persuasive power of messages.
In the last years, this approach has also been extended to one-to-one marketing, giving Brands the opportunity to hyper-personalize interactions with every single user based on their distinctive traits: values, attitudes, motives, interests, lifestyles and personality traits. In a word, Psychographics.
This methodology has been employed in many sectors, with very different purposes. In the B2C world, to increase customer purchases and conversion rates, in health education, to encourage and support patient behavior change, up to politics, to influence citizens choices.
And it’s just from politics that a question has recently arisen around the methods used by some parties to help elect a U.S. President, finding out through data-science and machine learning techniques what makes each specific citizen tick.
Our purpose is not to dig into the merits of a story that has already been over-discussed, but to think about the consequences of two big issues that it has brought out. On the one hand, the enormous power of psychographic models in predicting the behavior of individuals; on the other, how much these tools can be abused without shared deontological principles and rules.
Supporting and providing an ethical use of psychographic profiling, enabled by AI, becomes even more crucial from now on.
In the B2C world, building a culture that directs and controls the application of these methods is now more important than ever, given the essential need of brands to gain a deep understanding of who their customers are, as people as well as consumers, and so be able to deliver more personalized experiences.
From the suggestion of products and services to the creation of offers, messages, and content, psychographics are perfectly suited to win-win strategies, which open up new opportunities for higher-value, human-centered customer experiences, tailored to the needs, tastes, desires and interests of every single user.
Let’s Make an Example
Think of an online fashion retailer selling branded and own-brand products through its website and app. And think of Maria, a new customer.
In a typical situation, the retailer would know that Maria is a Millennial, lives in New York and in the last months has bought an evening gown and a pair of dress shoes of the spring collection, spending $ 215. She made her purchases on the website, but yesterday she downloaded the app too, following the invitation of a friend.
Now, the retailer will have to ask: What is the next step to keep Maria involved? With that information the retailer can offer to Maria, on her first access to the app, a special discount on the purchase of a garment easily matchable to those she has already bought (adopting a “content-based” approach). Or, the retailer can suggest to Maria a specific garment that is highly appreciated and frequently chosen by customers who share many similarities with her (using a “collaborative filtering” technique).
Now, imagine that the retailer can have access to different types of additional information about Maria. The marketer understands that she is very creative, likes to mix different styles into a single outfit, and prefers variety over routine when she goes shopping. She is always looking for original and uncommon clothes, with which she can stand out and show her unique personality.
With that new information available, the retailer would know that the best way to keep Maria engaged is to offer her, at a special price, a garment from the brand new collection that she would be one of the first people to buy. It will not recommend the most popular clothing matches but propose multiple styles that she can mix creatively. Moreover, it will not suggest the most chosen clothes by users “like her” but will offer something always new and different, to meet her need to feel unique.
Back to the ethical question: All that is new and different can be used for the good and the bad.
Changing the way Brands connect with customers remains a great challenge. They still lack a profound understanding of “Who” their customers are and, therefore, the ability to think like a customer, as Paul Gillin would say.
This barrier prevents them from creating remarkable personalized experiences, consistent with the distinctive traits of every customer and able to meet inner needs and emotional preferences.
If you keep thinking the old way, you will fail to overcome the challenge, building innovative user models capable of aggregating heterogeneous and anonymized data, and turning them into meaningful insights appears to be the right way forward.
Transparency and value to the customer are fundamental principles that must precede and guide the use of a powerful tool such as psychographics, allowing them to humanize the way brands interact with customers, giving unprecedented relevance to the digital experiences they deliver.