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Not Everyone Thinks Like You

A good writer creates content that speaks to all users, no matter what their personality

If you’re writing an email or copy for a website and you’re like most people, you will write for people like you. I know, you say you’re writing for your audience, but you’re really writing for yourself. I do it all the time. We all do. That is to say, we tend to write for people who think the same way we do.

But not everyone thinks like you.

Here, I’ll prove it. Read these two excerpts from interviews we conducted with students at Northwestern Health Sciences University. Both are telling us about how they decided to apply to NWHSU.

Student A (“Amy”)

“I’d been looking at Northwestern for three years, and because of the commuting, and I had a decent job and it just — I couldn’t make it into the schedule. So jumping into the unknown when I had stable employment wasn’t the best decision for me at the time.

”

“And honestly, the website was very helpful. The fact that they had some layouts of how the trimesters would be arranged and what the classes were, you know very specific schedules. So I could see in advance if it would work.

”

“Yeah, before — you know, really being able to see the nuts and bolts beforehand online really broken down gave me an overview of what the content was. I knew what the layout for books and supplies and tuition was going to be. There weren’t any hidden costs that were going to be popping out at me.”

Student B (“Beth”)

Q: So how much did you know about becoming a massage therapist when you started thinking about it as a career?



A: I really didn’t know anything. I had just seen a commercial on the web for a different school, and I contacted that school and I was going to enroll, but they’re a little far from my home and from where I work here, so I decided that probably won’t work out. A gal that I work with here suggested Northwestern. I called them on a Tuesday, enrolled on Wednesday and started the next Tuesday. So it was a really fast process.

I didn’t really know a whole heck of a lot about the program and the classes that I needed to take. So I kind of went into this whole thing almost sort of blind. I just had this gut feeling that this was what I was meant to do, and it really didn’t matter to me as long as it was an accredited school that my husband’s VA benefits would transfer over for me.

Chances are you identify with one of these students more than the other. The other one may drive you crazy.

Why are they different?

If you’re already familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, you can skip this part.

In the 1950s, Isabel Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs developed a system to understand the differences we see in how people think, feel and act. Their system is built on the idea that people are born with preferences, or ways that we naturally “prefer” to do certain things.

Myers-Briggs lists four pairs of opposite preferences. Within each pair, we favor one side over the other, and we tend to use that one most of the time because it comes more easily to us. Each preference draws more from either the Left Brain or the Right Brain, similar to being left-handed or right-handed. Try signing your name with your opposite hand — it’s slower, more awkward, requires more concentration, is more stressful and doesn’t look right. Likewise, we can learn to function on the other side in any of these four areas, but it does not come as naturally. But in what ways do your Left Brain and Right Brain excel?

Your Left Brain is the realm of the conscious, factual, concrete, analytical. Our language ability lives in the left brain. The left brain loves to take things apart, focus on details. It is black and white, right and wrong.

Your Right Brain, on the other hand (or the other brain?) is the land of fantasy, subconscious, the abstract, intuition. The right brain looks at the whole and recognizes patterns. Our ability to understand and appreciate music lives in the right brain. The right brain has no verbal language, so it must communicate in pictures, symbols, color and feelings.

Hemisphere Preference Left Brain Right Brain
E/I - Extraverting- Introverting-
This pair refers to where we prefer to focus our attention and WHAT ENERGIZES US Get their energy from the outer world of people, activities and things Get their energy from their inner world of ideas, impressions and thoughts
S/N - Sensing- iNtuiting-
Refers to how we prefer to take in information Pay attention to information taken in directly through their 5 senses and focus on what is or was Pay attention to their 6th sense, hunches and insights, and focus on what might be
T/F - Thinking- Feeling-
This pair refers to how we evaluate information and make DECISIONS Make decisions in a logical and objective way Make decisions in a personal, values-oriented way
J/P- Judging- Perceiving-
This pair refers to our LIFESTYLE ORIENTATION Tend to live in an organized, planned way Tend to live in a spontaneous, flexible way

Temperament and Personality Type

Depending on your preferences in these four areas you will fall into one of 16 types. For example, someone who is Extraverting, Sensing, Thinking and Judging is ESTJ. You might be borderline in some of the preferences, or you might be strongly oriented to one side or the other.

In the 1970s David Keirsey looked at Myers-Briggs’ 16 personality types and realized that they could be grouped into the four main temperaments that philosophers and psychologists had observed for centuries. It turns out that all forms of SJ (ISTJ, ISFJ, ESTJ, ESFJ) have a lot in common. So do the variations of SP, NF and NT.

  • If you’re an S, your second letter comes from the lifestyle orientation category (J or P).
  • If you’re an N, your second letter comes from the decision-making category (T or F).

Regardless of your four-letter type, you’ll share many characteristics with others in your overall temperament group. The Greek philosophers Hippocrates and Plato both wrote of four types of people around 370 B.C.

Hippocrates Plato Myers-Briggs
Melancholic (doleful/dutiful) Guardian SJ
Sanguine (eagerly optimistic) Artisan SP
Choleric (passionate) Idealist NF
Phlegmatic (calm) Rational NT

Of course, we think of something else when we say “phlegm,” and “choleric” sounds too much like a disease you get from dirty water, so we’ll work with Plato’s names. Here’s a snapshot of the four temperaments and their Myers-Briggs equivalents, written by psychologist Dr. Richard Grant:

Guardian(SJ)

Conservative, judicious, practical, dependable, sensible, parental, dutiful, serious, responsible. They value structure, stability, work, service, authority, organization, predictability, belonging and usefulness. Wow! You want SJs on your team, they were born adults! They’re solid citizens. Their motto is “Get back to work.” Lists, accounting, wonderful people. They take care of the infrastructure, folks. We have lights and pipes because we have SJs. [U.S. Males 43% Females 50%]

Idealist(NF)

Communicative, empathetic, sensitive, imaginative, idealistic, romantic, spiritual, creative, searching. They value harmony, significance, possibilities, relations, authenticity, uniqueness, integrity, potential and honesty. NFs take care of everybody. They link to your head, your heart and your soul. NFs are great with people, and they think relationally, deeply and transformatively, so NFs are really important to have on your team. [U.S. Males 14% Females 17%]

Artisan (SP)

Why are these people not at a meeting? They are people of action. They do things. Performers, competitive, wandering, playful, impulsive, spontaneous, physical, bold, light-hearted. They value adventure, excitement, endurance, freedom, action, variety, risks, motion, fun and enjoyment. Always hit town with an SP, they know where the restaurants are. SPs are best in crises. If there isn’t a crisis, SPs invent one. They are marvelous at executive action in a crisis. [U.S. Males 21% Females 22%]

Rational (NT)

“Give me the formula, help me understand the deep-down nature of things. If I understand the formula, I can reproduce it every time and I’ll have control over nature. Won’t it be grand?” Wisdom, innovative, futuristic, critical, controlling, conceptual, abstract, systematic, independent, skeptical. They value vision, power, intelligence, capabilities, skills, precision. They may be a bit distant when preoccupied. Logic, knowledge, perfection and competency. NTs often wear their hair long. It covers their Vulcan ears. [U.S. Males 22% Females 11%]

Is that really me?

As Dr. Grant puts it, your four-letter type is like your ZIP Code. It tells you what part of town you live in, but not your street address. It doesn’t say anything about your deeper personality, character or morality. Just because someone else has your same four-letter type doesn’t mean you were separated at birth. Chances are you’ll understand each other more quickly, but you’re still uniquely you.

Look at the percentages at the bottom of each box though. These are the percentages of males and females in the U.S. in each type. It will be different for other countries. If you’re an SJ, you’re in the majority. If you’re an NF like me, you’re less than 15% of the U.S. population. So I have to be particularly careful — if I write for myself, I’ll miss a lot of the things an SJ or an SP would want to read.

What about our two Northwestern students?

Now that you know a little bit about personality types, can you guess which of the four types those two students fall into?

Amy is much more careful and methodical in her approach to the decision. She is conservative about making a big life change. She considers schedule carefully. She looks at all the details for each trimester and class. She talks about “nuts and bolts.” She needs to see all the costs in advance. She doesn’t take a step until she is confident she has considered all the angles.

She is a classic Guardian (SJ).

Beth was inspired by a commercial for a different school, then went on a recommendation from a coworker and checked out Northwestern. She went into it “blind,” trusting her gut feeling.

She’s definitely a strong P on the J/P scale, and she may be either an S or an N. The fact that her co-worker’s recommendation was important to her might suggest that she is more N than S, but it’s hard to tell. It’s a safe bet the last three letters of her personality type are SFP or NFP.

So imagine you’re deciding what content to write for a website for Amy. I’m an NF, so writing for an SJ like Amy is harder for me. Maybe it’s easy for you. What would you include?

  • Details of every step of the program, what you’ll do each trimester and what you’ll learn in each course
  • Specific examples of jobs graduates are in
  • Details of tests you will have to take to become a certified practitioner after graduation
  • All cost details
  • Any certifications or accreditations

Now start over and think about Beth (SP or NF). What is she looking for?

  • Details about the school’s atmosphere, what it’s like to be a student there
  • Testimonials from current and past students
  • Phone numbers and physical addresses so she can talk to real people who can answer her questions
  • Images, videos, and other content that will help her see herself at the school

If you take the time to learn about your audiences and talk to them, you’ll meet people like Amy and Beth. Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg have written some great books about harnessing this insight to create personas to guide your content strategy. You can create realistic personas representing your audiences or customers, and if you make sure to include a persona for each of the four personality types, it will help you to make sure you have the right content for each of them. The Eisenberg brothers call this process “persuasion architecture.” Done right, it can have a dramatic impact on your conversions — more applications, sales, donations — whatever success means for your organization.

The web makes it much easier too, because you can have some “optional” content that is created with specific personality types in mind. There will always be overlap between what each type likes to see, but the things that truly motivate them are often different.

We took this approach in our content strategy for Old Dominion University’s Distance Learning Program. In the year after our overhaul they experienced a 34X increase in enquiries and a 26% increase in enrollment.

Learn More:

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