How Personality Can Predict Media Usage

Mindset Study Finds That Certain Characteristics May Provide More Info Than Standard Demographics

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NEW YORK ( -- Forget using focus groups and demographic data to find out what media your target audience uses. Go with a personality test instead.

According to data from psychographic-research company Mindset Media, personality is often a more effective prediction tool for media usage than age, gender and income.

Sarah Welch
Sarah Welch
"We had a hunch that people's personalities played into the kind of media they consumed," said Sarah Welch, Mindset Media co-founder and chief operating officer. "Demographics have long been thought to be [the indicator for] media consumption. Young people use the web and watch TV, for instance. But there are so many different effective ways to reach people ... using whatever psychographic your target segment has."

The study did include demographics, and those overall findings reinforce common notions such as younger people consume more new media, like the internet; older generations prefer print; high earners are most likely to read a newspaper daily; and women read magazines more than men.

However, Mindset execs said the real discoveries are the findings based on personality. For instance, people who have a lot of "bravado" -- who prefer to leap before they look -- are 50% more likely than the average person to be heavy consumers of all media. The same is true for people who rank low in "compliance" -- those who chafe at rules and may be sarcastic. They are 60% more likely than the average person to be high consumers of all media.

Mindset Media works with 21 "standard elements" of personality it's come up with, including leadership, openness, perfectionism and dynamism. Survey respondents are ranked in those attributes on a one-to-five scale. Leadership ones, for example, are follow-the-crowd types, while leadership fives blaze trails.

Mindset surveyed more than 5,000 respondents via Nielsen's Online Panel in late 2008 and plotted their media proclivities along with those personality traits.

And while the personality findings alone are interesting, the added value for marketers lies in combining those preferences with traditional demographic data, as well as other habits and tendencies. Taking all that information into account can sharpen a media buy, narrow down possible product extensions or just offer a better read on core audiences' attitudes and behavior.

Below is what Mindset found, in categories broken down by media.

If you do the following, which medium are you likely to consume?

Drive a hybrid car

The interesting thing about the internet is it's starting to look more like TV. That is, the internet is almost more of a mass medium than TV.

"What we're seeing is that almost everyone is using the web in some way. So in the aggregate, it's a bit more vanilla than it used to be, because it's so integral to everyday life," Mr. Durant said. "And more and more people are reducing their TV watching, so TV is actually less vanilla than it used to be."

Top web users rank high in openness, and to a smaller degree, those who rank high in bravado are top users, too. Those highly open people who favor the web are 153% more likely to always buy organic products and 104% more likely to drive a hybrid car.

Low-level consumers of the internet tend to rank high in dogmatism, and are described as socially conservative people who tend to look to a religious or moral authority for guidance. "People who are more liberal are more likely to have the internet as the most consumed media," Ms. Welch said.

Eat organic cereal

Finally, some good news for newspapers: Optimists are on your side. Optimists spend more time with newspapers than any other medium, and they probably recycle it, too. They're 51% more likely to go out of their way to purchase recycled goods, 34% more likely to drive a luxury car and 30% more likely to have bought four or more PCs in the past two years.

Dynamic people rank as the largest group of newspaper readers, followed by leaders.

"Essentially what you're seeing here is what TV doesn't have, newspapers do," said John Durant, Mindset manager-product development. Bravado fives, who can be stubborn and show a willingness to be sharp-tongued, are the least likely to read newspapers.

The strong-leadership group, described as people with strong decision-making skills and a preference to include everyone, read newspapers and also are 68% more likely to always purchase organic breakfast cereals and 61% more likely to buy three or more pairs of sneakers every year.

Have a large music collection

Magazines do tend to follow a bit in the footsteps of newspapers, with dynamic people again ranking as the largest group of readers. However, the second-biggest group of magazine readers is people who are very open.

Those open people, those who are willing to explore and are comfortable with emotions, are also more likely to try new foods, go out to the movies and own large music collections, Mr. Durant said.

People who rank low in diligence, or those who aren't goal oriented or self-motivated, also rank low in magazine readership. Introverts also were found to shy away from print in the study. Introverts are 56% less likely to vote in presidential elections and 34% less likely to own a car.

Watch movies

Dynamic people don't watch TV. Neither do people who rank high in openness and leadership. Dynamic people, described as always on the go with a hectic lifestyle, are 50% more likely to watch less TV than the average person and are 59% more likely than the average person to watch less than an hour of TV daily.

Dynamic people are also 45% more likely to buy movie tickets online and 26% more likely to describe themselves as Mac people. "The lesson here is that if your core target is really dynamic, open and assertive, TV may not be the best place to reach them," Ms. Welch said.

So who does watch TV? People with low dynamism are 53% more likely to watch more TV, as are those who rank on the low end for openness and leadership. Those who rank high in bravado or are risk takers also rank high for TV watching. Why? Ms. Welch hypothesized, "Bravado fives are [people] who [don't] plan, so it's easy to see how [they] can end up sitting on the couch watching TV for an unplanned amount of time."

Click from show to show

Here's where the dynamic people come home to roost. While they eschew TV, they devour radio--not only in their cars when they're on the go with their busy schedules but also at home, where they can multitask while listening to the radio.

Highly dynamic people are also 36% more likely to click around from show to show (on both TV and radio) and say, "I'm always looking for something better than what I'm watching."

Introverts consume almost no radio, according to Mindset's study, and people low in diligence also consume less radio. The nondiligent are also 50% more likely to watch five hours or more of TV a day, 32% more likely to not plan ahead and just pick a movie when they get to the theater, 27% more likely not to have an affinity for either PCs or Macs, and 25% more likely to restrict their kids from using the internet instead of other media.

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