Design emails for 4 personality types to win back customers

By Kath Pay

Try these steps before giving up on disengaged and inactive email recipients.

Email marketing is better than ever, but there’s one problem that just won’t go away – inactive customers.

If you’re like many of the email marketers I’ve worked with, you try everything:

  • You dig into your analytics to learn when and how customers disengage.
  • You analyze your acquisition sources to make sure they’re sending you the kinds of customers who are most likely to buy your products, especially if you have a premium brand.
  • You use your marketing automation platform to create a reactivation program that aims to prod your sleepers into opening and clicking again.

For many brands, the next step after these measures is to break up with the customers who seemingly ghosted you. But before you do that, let me suggest an alternative: Your email content and design don’t match the way your customers act.

Target email content and design to your customer’s buyer personalities

“Personality” addresses your customers’ temperaments. What triggers them to act? How do they read your email? What do they do when they reach your landing pages? How do they get the information they need to buy?

As I’ll explain below, people fall into four general buyer personalities. Some buy on impulse. Some need lots of persuasion. Logic drives some shoppers, while emotion-driven triggers can get others to act.

Although most people have at least two personalities, one usually dominates — for either business-buying or personal-buying. That determines how they interact with your emails. Each personality looks for different things, asks specific questions, and responds to certain words, phrases and processes.

By leveraging buyer personalities, you not only know where to place content, images and set tasks, but also which tone of voice to use, what offers to deliver and how to help customers accomplish their tasks. This enables more and potentially faster conversions.

I just completed a project in which we wrote content that met the needs of all four buyer personalities.  We then went on to train the email team on how to revise their email focus to align with these principles.

As soon as they understood what drives their customers to act, they immediately used that information to rework both their email content and designs.

What are the dominant buyer personalities?

Our modern understanding of buyer personalities began back with the Greek physician Hippocrates. He defined four human personality types: choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic.

Research from sources as disparate as Myers-Briggs and marketing experts Bryan and Jeffery Eisenberg further shaped our understanding of the four major buyer personalities. Layered on that is research from web usability expert Jakob Nielsen. In 2007, he defined four ways people use the web — all of which tie in beautifully with these four personality types: Search Dominant, Navigation Dominant, Tool Dominant and Successful.

1. Competitive/Choleric/Search Dominant

Competitive buyers want to move fast. Give them the pertinent details, let them click and convert effortlessly, and then get out of their way. They want products and services that will help them be more effective and see making fast, smart decisions as a competitive advantage.

Challenge: Your email copy must go all in on benefits, not features. Answer the question “What’s in it for me?” quickly and clearly. This is the hardest personality to sell to — they will only buy when they’re ready.

2. Spontaneous/Sanguine/Tool Dominant

These are your impulse buyers. If they like what they see, they’ll buy it without shopping around or reading the fine print. They love the emotional high that comes from pouncing on the perfect item or the best deal.

Challenge: You need to provide excellent customer service (think ‘Make it easy’) and keep those great deals coming so you don’t reduce their shopping high.

3. Methodical/Melancholic/Navigation Dominant

Methodical buyers are your fine-print readers and the ultimate comparison shoppers. They will read all the fine print to assure themselves that they’re making the right choice.

Challenge: These buyers usually won’t move to convert until they have soaked up all the relevant information in your email.

4. Humanistic/Phlegmatic/Successful

Humanistic buyers don’t just buy the product; they want to know about the company they’re buying from and seek out social proof to approve their actions. What’s your mission? Are you trustworthy? Humanistic shoppers are hard to lock down. They likely won’t act on your emails right away. Once you earn their trust, however, they are loyal repeat shoppers.

Challenge: Assure your customers by including reviews and testimonials from customers and influencers, news about your company’s social or charitable projects and guarantees about privacy and security.

Design your win-back program to appeal to all 4 personalities

From my experience, many email campaigns or email programs are designed and written by one or two people and reflect, consciously or unconsciously, their own buyer personalities, which can reflect only one quarter or one half of your customers.

When you create or revamp your win-back or reactivation program, look for opportunities to include something to appeal to each of the four personalities I’ve outlined here. This doesn’t mean you have to try to cram everything into a single email, though.

Appealing to overlooked buyer personalities is a great argument for creating a reactivation series instead of relying on a single email to do all the work for you. One email could appeal to shoppers motivated by logic, while another can ramp up the emotional approach.

But even if you tailor each email to speak to a different personality, you should still include something to appeal to the other personalities in each email.

Experiment with subject lines and copy focus. If you discover that you have overlooked a significant personality, designate an email in your series to appeal to those buyers and test subject lines, page design, images, copy and offers that would resonate with them.

You might learn, for example, that Methodical customers who were turned off by a constant “buy this now” approach could be intrigued by a detailed buyer’s guide that shows them how to buy the right product for their needs. Dialing up the “why we’re the best” focus can attract Competitive shoppers.

That doesn’t eliminate your thrill-seeking Spontaneous customers who jump at the chance to snag a bargain before the deal expires. Add an email to the series that includes an irresistible but short-term offer.

Putting principles into practice

Understanding what helps your customers act doesn’t mean you put them into boxes and seal them up. People don’t react the same way to every email. It will take time to discover how to tailor your emails to the personalities that make your audience unique.

What you learn about your buyer personalities and how to speak to your customers in the ways that encourage them to act can inform all levels of your email marketing program. Starting with your inactives will give you a sound foundation to guide future renovations.