• Dr Tim Kannegieter

When stereotyping engineers can be helpful

A few years ago, while conducting communication training for 60 defence engineers, I asked all the participants to complete a personality survey. Much to my amazement, approximately 50 of those surveyed had essentially the same personality profile!

I was using the eDISC methodology, which is one of several such psychometric tools. DISC is an acronym for four behavioural types, being Dominant, Influencer, Steady, and Compliant.

My fifty stereotypical engineers all had a high proportion of S and C in their profiles and virtually no D or I. Essentially this was saying they were all highly introverted with just a variance in their inclination toward analysis and process. C’s are highly individualistic and like to make the rules, while S’s are more team focused and like to follow the rules.

How is this useful? Firstly, it gives managers of engineers to some general guidelines for helping their staff communicate better. For example, C’s generally need to put more context around the detail they are presenting and S’s need to overcome their natural reluctance to speak up.

Secondly, it gives everyone else some insights on how to better influence people with these personality types. There are certain ways of approaching S and C types that will get their backs up, and other ways that will endear you to them. For examples, C types crave respect for their expertise and S types need time to digest changes and suggestions for a new direction. Sound familiar?

From a marketing perspective, it raises several implications. Normally, personality profiling is viewed as a very personal thing and is hard to generalize. BDMs encountering a need to quickly identify people’s general characteristic and adapt to their preferred way of interacting.

However, if particular market segments or key influencers in corporate purchasing decisions (like engineers) can be stereotyped, it opens up the possibility for tayloring marketing messaging based on personality profiling.

For example, C’s want lots of detail and will delay making a decision for as long as possible, seeking every more information to support their slow-growing theory about what the righ decision might e. In contrast, D’s want the one key point they need to know to make a decision and will often come to a very rapid decision.

In recent years, psychometric profiling has taken on a new role as digital footprints gleaned by social media businesses enable marketers to determine an individual’s personality profile simply by analysing their digital footprint. For example, “liking’ something is akin to answering a question used in the normal profiling process.

This new technology was dramatically brought to global consciousness with the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal. Aside from the misuse of personal information, Cambridge Analytica claimed to use the information to profile individuals on a massive scale, allowing marketers to match their messaging to personality types.

IBM’s Watson Personality Insights is an example of a tool that allows marketers to “understand customers’ habits and preference on an individual level, and at scale”. It uses linguistic analytics to infer personality characteristics from email, blogs, tweets and forum posts.

The large majority of these new psychometric profiling tools are using what have become known as the Big Five factors. The acronym in this approach is OCEAN relating to Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion (/Introversion), Agreeableness and Neuroticism. It is widely acknowledged these factors have greater scientific credibility than other descriptions of personality.

In one-on-one encounters or in small groups, the validity of whatever profiling tool you are using is almost irrelevant. They are all useful in stimulating conversation and opening up lines of thinking that are usually constructive. For B2B marketing in highly niche fields, where networking still dominates and creating stereotypical models can be built with a degree of confidence based on your experience an intuition, psychometric profiling can be very useful.

However, when operating at scale it remains to be seen how these models will work, especially in areas outside of consumer marketing. Watch this space.

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