If you’re like me, you learned pretty early on in life that different people have different personality types. Some personalities are more eclectic than others, but in general, personality traits occur in clusters that cause us to see people in terms of certain archetypes: the boss, the nurturer, the absent minded professor, etc.
The tendency to think of people in terms of “types” is not without its dangers. If you get too comfortable shoehorning everyone you meet into a relatively narrow catalog of oversimplified cliches, you run the risk of stereotyping people in a way that can become, well, offensive.
However, the idea of personality types is hardly the sole domain of pop psychology and casual stereotypes. In fact, academic psychologists from Carl Jung to Paul Costa have been interested in the broad categories that human behaviors fall under: extraversion, introversion, judgment, perception, agreeablenness, etc.
Having an awareness of personality types can help you tremendously when you write. Whenever you write something, be it sales copy, fiction or political opinion, you should always have a “target reader” in mind.
In sales writing, the “target audience” is more or less synonymous with the “ideal customer,” the person who is most likely to buy whatever you’re selling. If you know which “personality types” you ideal readers/customers fall under, you will be equipped to use the types of language that are likely to appeal to those customers.
The following is a list of the four major personality types (according to Paul Keirsey’s interpretantion of Briggs and Myers’ famous MBTI personality inventory), along with some thoughts on how to write for an audience made up primarily of each one. This list is not comprehensive, because each MBTI further breaks down into four subtypes. However, it does provide a little bit of insight into different types of people, and distinctions and nuances within each major type.
1. Guardians (a.k.a. people-people)
Guardians are people who live primarily for other people. Whether it’s society at large or just the people in their lives, they love to protect and maintain social networks, structures and institutions. Most guardians have a high level of concern for others, and will respond well to the language of empathy, feelings and social concern. If you’re marketing birthday supplies, high school spirit decorations or gift cards, a disproportionate number of people in your audience will be guardians. Win their trust by empathizing and talking about peoples’ emotional needs.
2. Rationals (a.k.a. nerds)
These days, it’s hip to be square. Okay, maybe not, but with the rise of electronics, computing and the internet, nerds have definitely gotten cooler. They’ve also gotten more money, as technology entrepreneurship has become the preferred method of getting insanely rich in today’s world. There was a time when, if you were writing about computers, you’d be writing primarily for an audience of rationals; however, those days are long gone. Still, if you’re writing about Linux, Texas Instruments or c++, there’s a good chance you’re writing for rationals. Earn the respect of these types by knowing the facts and theory behind everything you say, and knowing all the relevant “nerd speak” for the topic you’re writing about.
3. Artisans (a.k.a. painters, carpenters and car mechanics)
Artisans are people who love to work with their hands. Artists, athletes and builders by nature, they love to deal with things that are immediate, visceral and real. If you’re selling lumber, art supplies or mountain climbing gear, you may be selling to an audience of artisans. Appeal to these down-to-earth souls using precise facts and by painting clear pictures that appeal to the physical mind.
Mother Theresa. Ghandi. The Buddha. These are just some of the people who can be descibed as idealists. Less illustrious examples include your vegan friend who won’t stop talking down to you for eating meat. But I digress. Idealists are people with a strong sense of justice who are attracted to ideas of harmony, charity and love. If you’re selling free range meat or fair trade coffee, your target readership will be made up of idealists. Let your idealist readers know you care by playing up socially, economically and spiritually progressive aspects of your goods. And try not to mention the word “corporation.”
Don’t think that the above is the only way of thinking about readers’/buyers’ personalities. These four types break down into many subtypes, and besides, there are plenty of other widely accepted personality type inventories out there. However, MBTI is a pretty good system, and a great place to get started thinking about the personalities of readers and other people in your life.