It’s time to replace personas with quantitative psychology

Unscientific marketing personas are on their way out. Here’s what’s replacing them, and what it means for marketing teams everywhere.

Common scenario: you need to create a campaign or customer journey for an audience that you don’t fully and deeply understand, so you glance at your team’s customer personas for inspiration. These are usually just a bunch of semi-silly, alliterative names like Influencer Ivan or Researcher Rachael — so you do your best to tailor your message to these fictional creatures. But where did these personas come from? Unless they reflect significant amounts of hard data, should they really be guiding your marketing strategy?

In today’s world of data-driven marketing optimization, we can and should do better. We now have the ability to move beyond who we wish our customers would be, to a real understanding of who they actual are and what really motivates them. Armed with these insights, marketers are able to focus on targeting and creative strategies that have a quantifiable impact on creating real emotional resonance with both current and prospective customers.

Personas are stereotypes that lack predictive power

Personas at their best are built from third-party demographic information and whatever limited behavioral data may be available. Together they can paint a picture of groups (e.g., age / gender / high LTV) sharing some superficial similarities that, in the end, easily fall into the realm of a stereotype.

  • Suburban 35-year-old woman with children? Soccer Mom
  • Rural 40-year-old man that enjoys sports? NASCAR Dad
  • Urban 23-year-old glued to their phone? Connected Millennial

Amazingly, these broad generalizations are still considered best practice. HubSpot advises readers to simply find a photo online of a person they think represents their target customer. This is worth repeating: Marketers are told to select a photo of a random person from a stock photo site to represent thousands of strangers and use it to guide their decisions.



The obvious problem with the stereotype strategy is that it lacks any real predictive power. While any large group will likely include individuals that could be sold the same product, predicting who will be interested and how to tailor an offer requires data-driven segmentation and an understanding of the personality traits that trigger real human decisions.

There is a better way: Marketers can now borrow from science — quantitative psychology, in particular — to leverage the power of personality.

What is quantitative psychology?

Social scientists are generally reluctant to make sweeping generalizations about groups of humans they know to be too dynamic and multifaceted to describe in generalized terms (whether alliterated or otherwise). In fact, as a whole, most only control for a precious few number of demographic categories, not even attempting to control for dozens of other individual differences. This is where the field of quantitative psychology excels–-the science of mathematically measuring people’s individual differences.

Quantitative psychology comprises the measurement of people’s aptitudes, abilities, attitudes, and other stable differences. The gold standard for mapping out normal personality traits is the Five Factor Model, more commonly referred to as OCEAN. This acronym refers to Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.



Each of these five Factors is further divided into six Facets, creating a total of 35 unique personality dimensions upon which every one of us can be scored.

Unlike popular corporate personality measurements like Myers-Briggs, the OCEAN model meets the scientific standard of statistical reliability, meaning that if someone takes a test twice, their OCEAN scores replicate well. Moreover, the results aren’t designed to be flattering; terms like Neurotic, Disagreeable, and Cynical are all dimensions measured. Rather, they are designed to be accurate and predictive of real human behavior.

Using OCEAN to understand your customers

Historically, the only practical way to obtain OCEAN personality scores for your customers has been to ask them to take an in-depth personality survey. Obviously few, if any, customer groups will invest their time in surveys. So in the best case, any results are a very small set of responses that must serve as “representative” of your overall customer base. This approach generally fails to meet marketers’ commonly accepted standards for useful segmentation: meaningful size, stability, accessibility, and especially actionability.

Pinpoint has addressed these shortcomings with a proprietary and patent-pending approach that produces privacy-safe OCEAN scores for the vast majority of the US adult population. We continually analyze billions of de-identified data points, extrapolating patterns with statistical learning algorithms that correlate with standardized psychometric scores. This enables us to quickly and anonymously assess the psychological characteristics of any meaningfully sized customer segment, and to provide recommendations on how to best personalize their experience to attain optimal results for all parties.

The next time you need to write marketing copy and you’re not sure what to say, move beyond the typical stereotypes. The same advice goes for designing creative or real-time personalization strategies. Pinpoint allow you to easily leverage powerful psychometric data, to communicate with real emotional resonance.