Individual customers are not as individual as you think

Silhouette of a man head isolatedThere is more than one person inside your head. Trust me – you are not an individual.

All the people who are fans of personality testing and doing “Myers-Briggs” type tests will now leap up and down and tell me they know “exactly” what their personality “type” is. “I know I am an ENTJ,” they will say. Of course, they don’t “know” this. Those are just the labels provided by a testing system for personality – one of many different kinds of personality tests.

The truth is, we know diddly-squat about personality. Come back in a couple of hundreds from know and people will be saying “they thought you could fill in a questionnaire and work out your personality?” much like we nowadays say, “they thought the Earth was flat?”

However, increasing amounts of research are finding that we do not have one personality; there appear to be several identities inside our heads. Indeed, you already know you have different personalities that pop out when required. Your personality in the bedroom with your sexual partner is probably not the same one you use on the phone to your Mum and Dad. Equally the “person” you are in the office is probably not quite the same one who goes down the pub with some mates on a Friday night. We clearly have multiple identities muddling around in our heads.

This notion is further emphasised in new research published this week about the fact that some people love crowds. Far from being put off by being in a big crowd of people at a pop concert, for instance, it transpires that people feel as though they have become part of that crowd, as though the are merely a part of the whole. This adds further weight to the argument that our brain changes aspects of our identity according to the situation and that we are not just one person.

That could be quite a conundrum for online business owners. In the real world we can use all kinds of non-verbal communication to get the measure of our customers face-to-face. They adopt their favoured personality for that particular situation and we, as sales people, would tap into that.

But if people have multiple identities and we are trying to communicate with them online, how do we know which one they are using. After all, they could be engaging with our web business whilst in the office or while on the train – two situations in which different identities may be utilised. And that means the persona we may be aiming our websites at could be more suited to one than the other identity.

If there are several different people inside your head, you might need several variations of the same website to truly engage whichever person you are at that moment in time according to the situation in which you find yourself.

Of course this is all theory and speculation based on only a little science. But what it does tell us is that engaging with customers is more complex than we might think. Prior to the Internet we used all kinds of human-to-human subconscious processes to work it all out. Online we have dispensed with all of that, which is why it is much harder to truly gain as much customer engagement online than we might think. Once again, it is further evidence that to truly engage people online you have to have a deep understanding of them – far deeper than most businesses attempt.

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