Nathalie Nahai: Make marketing more effective by using the golden standard Big Five personality traits

You have written a killer piece of content. The headline’s got its hook, the image is suitably provocative, and with a gleaming track record you believe you are on to a winner. Sound familiar?

When you have been in the industry for a while, the main challenge you face might not be how to create great content, but rather how to refine your content so that you are targeting your audience with laser precision.

With many psychological principles, such as creating a knowledge gap to generate intrigue, having made their way into best practice, it is becoming increasingly tricky to squeeze that extra mile out of your content strategy. That is where personality-led keyword optimisation comes in.

If you’re familiar with the world of search engine optimisation (or inbound marketing, depending on your perspective), you will know that keywords are a crucial part of making sure content gets logged, ranked and displayed by search engines to the right audience. What you may not know is that you can also optimise these keywords to target people based on their psychometric profiles.

Recent studies have found that adverts and marketing messages are more effective when they reflect not only the interests of their audience, but also their personality traits[1]. The golden standard for exploring personality in the academic world is known as the Big Five, which classifies personality across five dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

While we all fall somewhere along the spectrum for each of these traits, you will often find that audiences tend to cluster across certain dimensions.

Take energy drink Red Bull, for instance. As a brand, it has created a huge community of dopamine-driven thrill seekers who are willing to throw themselves off piers and jump out of helium balloons from the edge of space to get their fix. It is safe to say that this excitable group would score highly in openness to experience, but with the technology that is now available, you no longer have to guess. Personality-based information can be procured from a simple email address[2], Facebook profile[3] or even general language usage[4].

So how do you design content that targets the traits of your audience?

It is easier than you might think. Research has found that each personality dimension is associated with a unique motivation. For example, people who score highly in extraversion tend to be triggered by desire for excitement and social rewards, and will find words such as strong, outgoing, active, excitement, and attention more persuasive.

For high scorers in openness, aesthetic and intellectual pursuits are particularly motivating, and people with this trait will respond well to words such as innovation, intelligence, sophistication, imagination and creative.

Agreeable individuals tend to be motivated more strongly by compassion, interpersonal harmony and a sense of belonging, whereas conscientious individuals will be more driven by a desire for order, efficiency and achievement.

If your target audience is particularly neurotic, they will be more sensitive to threat and uncertainty, and will respond to messages that promise safety and security. To give you an idea of what this looks like, if you wanted to tailor a specific marketing campaign to extroverts, your copy might read ‘With [our product], you’ll always be where the excitement is’, whereas for a neurotic group you would try ‘Stay safe and secure with the [our product]’.

Whatever your audience, before you launch your next piece of content why not put it through its paces and run several versions of the copy using the words above. It may just give you the edge you’re looking for.


[1] Hirsh, J. B., Kang, S. K., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2012). Personalized persuasion tailoring persuasive appeals to recipients’ personality traits.Psychological science23(6), 578-581.

[2] Back, M. D., Schmukle, S. C., & Egloff, B. (2008). How extraverted is Inferring personality from e-mail addresses. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 1116–1122.

[3] Back, M. D., Stopfer, J. M., Vazire, S., Gaddis, S., Schmukle, S. C., Egloff, B., & Gosling, S. D. (2010). Facebook profiles reflect actual personality, not self-idealization. Psychological Science, 21, 372–374.

[4] Yarkoni, T. (2010). Personality in 100,000 words: A large-scale analysis of personality and word use among bloggers. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 363–373.