Personality tests: why are they so popular?

My city: Timbuktu. My totem animal: rat. My ideal job: sheep farmer… What about yours?

You surely have seen or taken part in these types of tests on various websites, social networks or on the very popular American site Buzzfeed, which loves this kind of interactivity. These tests are nothing new though, having featured in women’s and entertainment magazines for many years. And as you can see from your Facebook wall, their popularity does not seem to be waning. So it’s not just a fad, but an addiction? Or is it just an effective marketing tool enhanced by social networks?

Why do we take personality tests?

Most personality tests that do the rounds on social media are not based on any scientific methodology. But at end of the day, does that matter? We all know that the results of these tests are approximate at best: we are talking about entertainment, not scientific inquiry. So why does it work so well? Why do we still play along? Some see it purely as entertainment, while others are just curious, but most of all, there’s the need to compare ourselves to others in this interconnected society. In fact, it’s noticeable that while we like answering personality tests, we especially like seeing the results others got, commenting on them and… sharing our own on social networks – even to the point of retaking the same test until we get the “desired” or “shareable” result.

An effective marketing tool

Media and brands understand the popularity of these personality tests and use this effective marketing tool intensively. They know that these quizzes and tests can easily engage the reader while also supporting an editorial strategy. But for the publisher or the brand, what are the desired benefits of a personality test?

  1. Entertaining the community: today’s Internet users are demanding, and online communities expect media or brands to interact with them regularly and in a fun way. A personality test is an appealing way of getting in their good books, courtesy of fun, interactive content that generates traffic and views and has high viral potential.
  2. Better than market research: the results of personality tests can help media or brands get to know their target audience or market better. For example, organized a very visual and fun personality test in conjunction with Levi’s: “What pair of jeans suits you the best?”. Like a survey, but much more fun, this test allowed the advertiser to increase its knowledge about the type of jeans users like most.
  3. A well-targeted marketing format: the test enables information about a product or service to be provided on the basis of the profile defined by the personality test. Around Father’s Day, Galeria Inno (a Belgian luxury retail chain) posted the test “What’s your Dad’s personality?”, with links on the profile display page to gifts that fitted each profile.Other conceivable “calls to action” include downloading a brochure, watching a video (for example, a demo), reading advice (link to a blog post for example), a promotional tie-in or information about products or services.
  4. An audience growth lever, thanks to viral marketing: the key to the success of personality tests is their viral potential. So don’t neglect the appearance of the profile screen and/or what you offer for your users to share with their ‘friends’ on Facebook etc., as this is often how users will decide whether to do your quiz.

How to set up personality tests?

Before creating a personality test, it’s advisable to first establish the different possible results that you wish to display at the end of the test. In most cases, this will involve writing out the different profiles and describing their main characteristics. These will be a source of inspiration when writing the questions and answers, which will be the next step.

Let’s imagine that our test is called: “What type of traveller are you?” We define our possible results: the meticulous planner, the adventurer, and the seeker of ‘dolce vita’. We establish the typical profiles and after listing their personality traits, we compose the questions. One of these could be: “When I take a weekend trip… ”. And the answers will each be linked to one of the profiles:

A. I organize everything weeks in advance, with a meticulously planned schedule and suitcases ready 2 days in advance.

B. I get my motorcycle and pack it with a tent and climbing gear. Next stop: the Marseilles Calanques!

C. I go on a road trip: destination unknown. We’ll see where the road takes us. And with every question, we make sure that each answer is linked to one of the result groups. At the end, we display the profile containing the highest percentage of corresponding answers, or show the percentage obtained for each profile.

Six pointers for a successful personality test

  1. Focus on the writing: a personality test requires a bit of thought and some smart, careful composition.
  2. Keep it playful and fun: don’t be too serious. This is meant to be a relaxing moment for your audience. So stay light and use a good dose of humour!
  3. Viral: don’t forget about sharing on social networks via a share button or an invitation. If you offer a gift to participants via a random draw, you can help it go viral by giving people extra chances in the draw.
  4. Work on visuals: use visuals that are likely to be shared. Make sure that they are striking!
  5. Mobile: a large fraction of your tests will be done on mobile devices, so make sure that your personality test is compatible with tablets and smartphones.
  6. Not too long or too short: don’t discourage your readers with 50 questions. Ask just enough questions to make the results credible and give some variety to the profiles.