Why Understanding Consumer Personality Adds Value

To build and grow a business, it is critical to connect with existing customers and convert prospective customers. To this end, business often engages in marketing research for the purpose of understanding consumer opinion and behavior. The tools of a marketing researcher are mature and reliable, helping brands understand their market and identify the priority customer needs and wants, drivers and barriers. What is less well understood is how to use a more recently evolved marketing research tool, consumer personalities.

Consumer personalities fit into the category of psychographics and are used to provide a window into understanding the dispositions and behavioral tendencies of existing and prospective customers to improve performance of digital marketing messaging and targeting.

Although there are subtle differences in the understanding of personality based on different theoretical positions, “personality” generally refers to psychological qualities that contribute to an individual’s stable and distinct patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting in the world.

Clinical psychologists use personality tests to understand the personality profile and behavior of individuals, while academic research psychologists are more likely to study personality differences at the population level. In business, personality testing is sometimes implemented to aid in personnel selection, especially when it is critical to obtain an optimal person-workplace fit. In contrast, marketing research is not typically interested in personality at the individual level. The purpose of studying personality in marketing research is to measure personality traits across groups of individuals

While people do change over time and across situations (for example, a person may become more agreeable as they grow older), the reference to stable patterns means that personality is comprised of enduring patterns that are relatively consistent. Measures of personality traits yield distinct patterns of characteristics. Even though humans share universal characteristics, it is the unique makeup of the universal characteristics that differentiates us. Understanding consumer personality does more than just describe, it helps explain consumer behavior because psychological traits are associated with behavioral tendencies.



In marketing research, the Five Factor Model1 of personality (the Big 5) is often applied to consumer research. The five traits (easily remembered with the acronym OCEAN or CANOE) include:

  • Openness to experience
    • Being high in Openness is associated with being curious, imaginative, creative, original, untraditional and having broad interests.
  • Conscientiousness
    • Being high in Conscientiousness is associated with being organized, consistent, hardworking, self-disciplined, punctual, dependable, ambitious, and persevering.
  • Extraversion
    • Being high in Extraversion is associated with being sociable, active, talkative, fun-loving, and tending to seek stimulation from the company of others.
  • Agreeableness
    • Being high in Agreeableness is associated with being kind, cooperative, good-natured, trusting, and helpful.
  • Neuroticism
    • Being high in Neuroticism is associated with worrying and being nervous, emotional, insecure, and tense.

Overall, understanding consumer personality traits adds another level of insight that can be applied to a range of strategic endeavors. Three examples of such applications include target audience identification and customer segmentation, targeted messaging, and brand management.



The aim of Segmentation is to divide the entire customer base into smaller, more manageable segments  for better brand planning and targeted marketing. To avoid wasting valuable resources on initiatives that inefficiently target an entire customer base, businesses conduct marketing research to understand the characteristics of their most valuable customers that are most likely to use their brand, product, or service. Those priority customers are broadly referred to as the Target Audience. A more sophisticated and statistically refined way to understand customers is to divide the entire customer base into sub-groups through Customer Segmentation.

Brands that understand their most valuable segments will want to work to retain customers in those most valuable segments as well as attract potential customers with the same profile. The profiles of customer segments tend to include demographics or firmographics (for a B2B customer), psychographics, behaviors, and geographies. We also determine what makes each customer segment really tick, such as their needs, problems, loves, hates, fears, dreams, and sensitivities. Another way that we reveal the nature of customer segments is by analyzing the composition of personality traits that make up each segment. This type of personality analysis also helps to formulate Personas that are used to bring each segment to life (like an avatar).



 Defining segments, in part, by personality traits also allows marketers to find individuals with the personality traits and that match the most valuable segments in terms of purchasing tendency and loyalty. Whether businesses want to advertise certain products to certain potential customers, targeted messages will be more effective than generic communications that fail to connect. For example, advertising to audiences high in conscientiousness will be more effective if messages associate a product/service with success and achievement, while advertising to those high in extraversion will be more successful with bandwagon messages and messages that emphasize social value.

Targeting consumers is key to effective marketing, particularly online. In a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania2, 75,000 volunteers completed a Big 5 personality inventory and gave researchers permission to analyze their social media communications. They found that people who scored high in agreeableness used words such as excited, amazing, and awesome. Words like jealous and hate were used more frequently by those low on agreeableness. Extraverts were more likely to use words such as party and weekend, while introverts were more likely to use words like computer, reading, and internet. This study demonstrates that analysis of social media language allows for highly targeted advertising to individuals with specific personality traits.

Beyond advertising, marketers can use personality profiles to create website designs, content, and shopping experiences that are congruent with their customers’ identity and values. Consumers have different value orientations when they are shopping. For example, when consumers experience shopping as having utilitarian value (rational consumption behavior), they are rational, task-related, and active. In contrast, hedonic shopping value is emotionally arousing, fun, and playful. Researchers have found that the personality traits of online shoppers can influence perceptions of website content and its utilitarian or hedonic value3. They found that when consumers felt they could scrutinize website content for information necessary for purchase decisions, they perceived the shopping experience as having high utilitarian value. This was especially true for consumers who are high on agreeableness and contentiousness. When consumers felt that website content provided more contextual elements to help them process messages, they perceived the shopping experience as having more hedonic value. This was especially true for individuals high on traits of openness, extraversion, and emotional stability (low neuroticism). By understanding consumer personality, marketers can better tailor the design of websites to be most favorable for target audiences and valuable customer segments.



Another important reason to understand consumer personality is because brand personality and consumer personality interact. How consumers experience a brand’s personality will depend, in part, on their own personality. Research findings suggest that consumers do not compartmentalize between their own personality, brand personality, and corporate personality (corporate personality includes corporate responsibility).4 Brand preferences result from an interaction between consumer personality and brand personality. At the time of purchase, product and corporate personality also factor into decisions. However, to start the consumer moving through the sales funnel, they must first be attracted to the product or service which is likely a function of their own personality. Therefore, successful brand management should include a thorough understanding of the consumer personality of the target audience.



At Q2 Insights we customize our approach to understanding consumer personality. We often apply the Big 5 personality traits to customer segmentation studies, but we also measure personality characteristics that are pertinent and specific to each brand. For example, if our research yields findings that indicate the brand is perceived as an optimistic brand, we will then measure optimism and similar traits in consumers to determine whether the most valuable consumer segments also share similar characteristics.

Overall, there are many ways to approach consumer research but understanding consumer personality can add significant value. The added value of personality research to customer segmentation, targeted messaging, and brand management represent just some of the ways to enrich customer understanding and fine tune marketing efforts.



1Cervone, D. & Pervin, L. A. (2016). Personality theory and research. (13th ed.). New York, NY: Wiley, John & Sons, Inc.

2Schwartz, K. H. A. et al. (2013). Personality, Gender, and Age in the Language of Social Media: The Open-Vocabulary Approach. PLOS ONE 8(9): e73791.

3Chen, S. & Lee, K. (2008). The Role of Personality Traits and Perceived Values in Persuasion: an Elaboration Likelihood Model Perspective on Online Shopping. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 36, 1379-1399.

4Banerjee, S. (2016). Influence of consumer personality, brand personality, and corporate personality on brand preference. Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics, 28(2), 198-216


This article was adapted from a conversation between Evette Joyce, George Murphy, and  Kirsty Nunez, frequent collaborators on marketing strategy and insights projects for their clients around the globe. Evette is a Research Strategist at Q2 Insights, Inc., a research and innovation consulting firm with offices in San Diego. George  leads Seattle-based marketing strategy firm Modo Group. Kirsty is the President and Chief Research Strategist at Q2 Insights. If you would like to learn more, please reach out to Kirsty at (760) 230-2950 ext. 1 or kirsty.nunez@q2insights.com.


This entry was posted in Game Changing Research Methodologies and Concepts and tagged on April 24, 2020 by Q2 Insights