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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Individual differences in personality and why it matters in Marketing, Sales, and HR

Measurement and Structure
Various attempts to classify personality have gained new ground over the last decade given the access to new, unprecedented amount of data (Fisher & Robie, 2019; Gerlach, Farb, Revelle, & Amaral, 2018). The goal still is to find a higher concept of personality, which can be used to clearly classify a person’s personality.
In traditional approaches, adjectives are sometimes used to describe a person’s personality (McCrae & Costa, 1987). Those adjectives are clustered in sub-categories, which in turn represents a higher-order trait. One of the mostly used models is the Five-Factor Model (FFM). It consists of 5 traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (Emotional Stability).
As aforementioned, those 5 traits have sub-dimensions, which describe each trait. For instance, Openness has sub-dimensions such as intellectual curiosity, aesthetic interest, and creativity imagination. Conscientiousness is measured by a person’s behaviour in terms of productiveness, responsibility, and organizing things. Extraversion describes a person’s social, energetic, and assertiveness. Agreeableness captures a person’s compassionate, respect- and trustful behaviour (Soto & John, 2017). Especially, extraversion and agreeableness are used to describe interpersonal, while conscientiousness and neuroticism are used to describe intrapersonal behaviour.
In sum:
· Adjectives are used to describe sub-dimensions of different personality traits
· Sub-Dimensions reflect 5 personality traits
· A general personality model (by combining the 5 traits) is still lacking (3~4 possible profiles)
Coming back to the yet unanswered question, whether a general personality exists, the approach of Fisher et al. (2019) seems an interesting approach in this direction. Why?
1st) Humans undergo an evolutionary development
2nd) A person’s behaviour is a function of his personality and the environment
However, as Buss (1991) postulates, the five factors might have emerged as a reflection of behavioural strategies on how to respond to important social challenges, which humans have faced and are still facing during their development. While the adaptive challenges humans face are still the same (e.g., cooperation, reproduction, etc.) the best strategy to handle those depends on a person’s environment. That’s why research is needed to figure out if there is a) a “best” adaptive personality and b) in which environments, which personality is more adaptive. So far, it can not be argued that a “general” personality exists, which is superior nor inferior to others. In fact, it might be a temporal reflection of how people respond to today’s social challenges.
Especially the operationalisation of the higher-order factors found need to be re-thought given evidence that higher levels in one personality trait is not always better (Carter, Miller, & Widiger, 2018).
This is why, again, further research is needed to understand how to use these new concepts found in practical applications. Therefore, the further parts are related to the traditional Big 5 concepts.

Why the FFM (Big5) model is relevant marketing and sales
It was found that personalizing messages according to customers’ personality characteristics can increase its effectiveness (Moon, 2002; Wall, Campbell, Kaye, Levy, & Bhullar, 2019).
Thereby, using respective keywords and language in marketing messages (e.g., exciting product) and sending them to the matching audience (e.g., extroverted people), lead to a higher attitude towards the advertised product (Hirsh, Kang, & Bodenhausen, 2012). Even more interesting, other studies have shown similar effects in real-world scenarios (Matz, Kosinski, Nave, & Stillwell, 2017). In their study Matz et al. (2017) found that the effect of tailored messages was especially pronounced for people on the extroverted personality trait scale. Tailoring messages for people high (or low) on the extroverted personality trait scale yielded to a 1.38 higher click rate for the respective ad.
One can conclude that including tailored keywords and messages in their marketing campaign that are concurrent with the recipient’s personality can increase its effectiveness. However, marketing managers have to scrutinize for which levels (i.e., high vs. low) of the respective trait messages are more or less effective.
Crafting messages incorporating Big 5 language and matching it with people’s personality traits works for:
o Extraversion (Matz et al., 2017; Moon, 2002)
o Low-levels of openness (Matz et al., 2017)
Higher attitudes towards an personalized ad in match with a person’s personality was found across all personality types (Hirsh et al., 2012).
In sum, personalizing messages and matching it with consumers’ personality profile is a) able to change their attitude and b) able to change their behaviour. Further research in that direction for other personality traits is necessary. So far, it seems that effect is especially pronounced for interpersonal personality trait dimensions (e.g., extraversion, agreeableness).
While the goal is always the same: Change behaviour of a person, the messages and means you use can differ.
As aforementioned, one way is to use personality matched messages. Another approach, which is related to the concept, is to make use of social appeals (Cialdini, 2004) and cognitive mechanism.
Cialdini (2004) distinguishes between 6 different principles:
1. Authority (Social Imitation)
2. Consensus (Social Imitation)
3. Commitment/Consistency (Default/ Status Quo)
4. Scarcity (Relative Status/Future Discounting)
5. Liking
6. Reciprocity (Self-Interest)
The classification in parentheses are derived from Griskevicius et al. (2012), who describe evolutionary principles and their role in marketing.
The first principle, authority, describes people’s tendency to follow signs that signal authority and legitimacy. Those can be, for instance, visible markers such as clothes, title (e.g., professor), or jobs (e.g., doctor). Also statements, which appeal to moral values of authority, can be considered as markers. For instance, respect, tradition and order (Graham et al., 2011).
Consensus/Social Validation
The second principle, consensus, refers to people’s inclination to follow the masses as a proof of correctness. This behaviour has a long tradition in human history, because it outsources knowledge and helps to make faster decisions in uncertain situations (Griskevicius et al., 2012). People can be persuaded by, for instance, statements, which describe a desirable behaviour from a large group (e.g., 60% of your neighbours are part of the program). It is notable to state that messages have to be crafted carefully, because they can imply that if the majority is doing a certain behaviour, people can infer that an undesirable behaviour is tolerated. Simply due to the fact that a lot of people are showing it.
The third principle refers to people’s propensity to stick with once made commitments. One explanation for this phenomenon can be, for instance, the status-quo theory (Samuelson & Zeckhauser, 1988). People have problems to opt-out of decisions and situations they once or pre-defined (Beshears, Choi, Laibson, & Madrian, 2009; Johnson & Goldstein, 2003).
The fourth principle describes how people behave, if resources are limited. One mechanism is that if people feel that resources, such as an offer, is limited, the likelihood of wanting it increases (Wall et al., 2019). Why is that? People get insecure in fast changing environments and discount future states (Griskevicius et al., 2012). Thus, if a resource is limited and might not be available in the future, people might get more inclined to want that resource to not forgo this opportunity. The fear of losing something, which might turn out be worthless, is higher than having missed it in the first place.
The fifth principle is associated with people’s tendency to be persuaded by things the like. What sounds very generic in the first place, can be explained with various psychological mechanism. One is: Similarity. People just like other people that are similar to themselves. You can achieve this artificial similarity be referring, for instance, to common history (e.g., sociodemographic: education, country) or mimicking behaviour (Chartrand & Lakin, 2013; Cialdini, 2004).
The sixth principle refers to people’s desire to benefit from others. As a kind of cooperation, the giver hops to have a benefit from his behaviour in return (Griskevicius et al., 2012). This evolved principle has allowed to build cooperation with nonkin-related people in our old world. Even today, people are inclined to give back something as a favour to help strangers. This effect works best, if you can already provide that you have done something for the stranger, so the urge from his/her side to reply is higher (Griskevicius et al., 2012).
All this different principles work differently strong depending on individual differences in personality (Wall et al., 2019). This is relevant to tailor messages according to the respective audience.
Wall et al. (2019) examined the effectiveness of persuasive appeals using Cialdini’s (2004) principles in dependence of people’s Big 5 personality traits. Thereby, it was found that:
· Openness is negatively correlated with Consensus and Authority; is positively correlated with Commitment
· Conscientiousness is positively correlated with Commitment, Reciprocation, and Authority
· Extraversion is negatively correlated with Consensus and Authority
· Agreeableness is positively correlated with Reciprocation, Commitment, and Authority
· Neuroticism is positively correlated with Liking, Consensus, and Scarcity
To sum up, it makes sense to consider sending tailored messages in sales talks depending on your counterpart. As some numbers indicate, not only sending the wrong messages might lower the likelihood of persuasiveness, they might even have a negative effect.

Why the FFM (Big5) model is relevant at work
First, the organization becomes a reflection of the people who work in it (Oreg & Berson, 2018). Thus, if all people have the same personality it can be counterproductive for the company (Joshi & Roh, 2009). Even more important, a misfit with a persons personality and their job tasks can lead to dissatisfaction and demotivation (Judge & Cable, 1997; Loveland, Lounsbury, Park, & Jackson, 2015).
Attraction, Selection and Allocation
Attraction and Selection
One important factor that attracts people is the culture within an organization. Thereby, the description of a job announcement can have an influence of a company’s perceived culture (among other external signalling factors).
It was found that people with different levels of Big 5 personality traits are attracted by different cultures characterized through personality. People with high levels of the respective personality trait are attracted by a company’s culture of:
· Openness:
o Attracted by: Innovation
o Repelled by: Aggressiveness, Outcome-Orientation, Team-Orientation
· Conscientiousness:
o Attracted by: Detail-Orientation, Outcome-Orientation
o Repelled by: Innovation
· Extraversion:
o Attracted by: Team-Orientation
o Repelled by: Detail-Orientation
· Agreeableness:
o Attracted by: Team-Orientation, Supportiveness, Detail-Orientation
o Repelled by: Aggressiveness, Outcome-Orientation, Reward-Orientation, Decisiveness, Innovation
· Neuroticism
o Attracted by: Detail-Orientation
o Repelled by: Reward-Orientation, Decisiveness, Team-Orientation
While the question of the right composition depends on your current workforce or members you have in the team, the question of how to attract them is answered (by research that goes beyond this single study).
Another question that remains unanswered is for which positions they fit best? A classical answer is: It depends. While there is no right or wrong personality, it is more a question about the task of the person.
For instance, in sales, there are different sub-tasks related in that domain. The point is a recruiter should be able to answer is, for which task(s) am I hiring? Since there is not the “ideal” sales person able to do all tasks that are necessary to fulfil his job. However, if a complete sales team consists of different personality types, in the end, they all might contribute better to the overall goal, because each of them is a specialist in its field.
As at the beginning mentioned, individual differences in personality traits have emerged as a function of the person and the environment to solve adaptive problems. In a sales context for example, “adaptive” problems are to negotiate, do research, etc.
For tasks that have to do with social interaction, people higher levels of extraversion were found to be a valid predictor of job performance (Barrick & Mount, 1991). However, recent studies have shown that not the highest level of “extraversion” determines the best seller, because the person tends to sell more itself and or can be too bossy towards others (Carter et al., 2018; Grant, 2013). Rather intermediate values are preferable. Another study by Loveland and colleagues (2015) also found support for this factor by additionally arguing that low levels of neuroticism can be helpful when interacting in a sales context with clients. They also suggest that more introverted people are better suited for tasks as research.
Combining the research from sales in particular in personality in general, one can conclude the following allocation (not exclusively):
· Calls: Extroverted (mid-point) and low levels of neuroticism
· Research: Conscientious people
· Listening skills and proposal writing: Agreeable and conscientious people

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