The limitations of personality tests for advertisers

Sheffield Business School Student shows just how to create blog on serious topics engaging


Gray (2015) states that the personality testing industry is worth $2 billion. Whoever invented the initial personality test would now be like


When it comes to advertising and targeting potential customers, personality tests may have several limitations. As I explained in my previous blog, personality tests sometimes do not always prove to be accurate. Giang (2013) implies that the test results can sometimes be flawed because respondents may answer how they think you want them to, so you do not have a true representation of their personality. This not only wastes time, it wastes a LOT of an advertiser’s money if they are advertising a product towards someone how would not dream of buying it, but said they would in a test.

If this is the case, an advertiser might as well just do a Leonardo and throw their money away!


Another limitation according to Burnett (2013) is the limited answer…

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Don’t confuse customer value with customer satisfaction 


I’ve been watching the channel 4 documentary series British Army Girls which follows the lives and experiences of young women during their initial military training. 

There have been a few documentaries of this type and watching how people transform over the weeks is captivating. 

An incident in last nights episode got me thinking. The recruits were on a three day field training exercise towards the end of the first phase of becoming professional soldiers. The women were tired, cold, and fed up. They had been subject to mock attacks on their patrol and were being pushed to their limits by their officers.


At this point if we were market researchers and we wanted to know how good the service experience was we would do a satisfaction survey. Guess what the results would be pretty dire. Just listening to the girls in the documentary is enough to tell you ‘at that point’ they were very very unsatisfied. 


Now fast forward to the end of the exercise and imminent passing out parade. The girls expressed how amazing they felt at being challenged, how they had faced and overcome things they didn’t expect and how a great sense of professional pride and self esteem had been created. The recruits had clearly derived immense value from the experience. Value that would serve them well time and time again in the future. 

In modern management and particularly in the public sector it is fashionable to be obsessed with satisfaction metrics. Doing this is meant give commercial teeth to soft public service delivery. The problem with this approach is that it is underpinned by a simplistic assumption that we are all customers and displays an impoverished understanding of the latest marketing thinking. This satisfaction metric approach is at least twenty years out of date.

The argument runs that because services are ‘paid for’ via taxes, student loans etc we are thus ‘customers’. Satisfied customers come back and tell others how good the service is and so their satisfaction matters. 

This whole customer centricity argument has been a main plank of marketing management thinking for decades. Hence a fixation on customer satisfaction. 

Current academic marketing research on real world commercial businesses challenges this view. Measuring satisfaction does not give you a fix on the value created. Evert Gummesson suggests that customer centricity is a wild goose chase that ignores the real complexities of value creation and delivery for all stakeholders involved and that includes the service provider as well as the customer.

In our forthcoming book provisionally titled Unlocking Customer Value (Simon Kelly, Paul Johnston and Stacey Danheiser) to be published by Palgrave Macmillan we explain that there is a crucial difference between quality, satisfaction and value

Academic Robert Woodruff says that a problem with value is that it is often used with other hard to define terms like utility, worth quality, satisfaction and benefits. 

Let me share a couple of everyday business examples to illustrate the distinction between the two concepts. I worked for two decades in the gambling industry. In the long run most players lose. So if you ask satisfaction questions then most players are disatsified. Probe on value and you get a different perspective. Players will talk about the value they get from trying to beat the slots, the social value of passing the time and the buzz and excitement of playing etc. 

Budget airlines often get complaints from disatsified customers annoyed at pay as you use services. However the value of cheap tickets and efficient boarding and disembarkation often trumps the dissatisfaction. 

For sure customer satisfaction is one very common and in the right place a worthwhile measure of marketing effectiveness. The problem with satisfaction measurement is that it can only be measured after the customer has used or experienced the product or service at a specific point in time. This might be ok for a product. It worked well or it didn’t. Service value on the other hand works through time and can be derived way after its initial delivery. Measuring the satisfaction you get from something is always immediately after the event. Measuring satisfaction is not measuring value. Ultimately it is value we pay for. As Warren Buffet said:

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get”

Value is different and can be judged before, during and after the experience. It is the worth of something regardless of how satisfying the experience seemed at the time. 

Value also emerges out of the difference between expectation and experience. Professor Sam Ham in his book Interpretation: Making a difference on purpose. Explains that setting out clear expectations affects our sense of value. 

The army girls were told continually to expect challenge and hardship, pain and fear – hardly things you would associate with satisfaction. The expectations were clear. Surpassing expectations delivered value.

Here’s one final example. The Century Egg. A highly valued Chinese delicacy. Highly valued and yet:

‘the yolk becomes a dark green to grey color, with a creamy consistency and strong flavor due to the hydrogen sulfide and ammonia present, while the white becomes a dark brown, translucent jelly with a salty flavor.’ 

How satisfying to eat must that be! 

So watch out. Don’t confuse satisfaction with value. 

Does management destroy value?

I saw this thought provoking quote today on Facebook which comes from the website Keep it on the deck.

What it got me thinking about was value creation and value destruction. These are themes that are very topical in marketing academia.

Value destruction can happen through incompetence, unfulfilled  promises, rudeness, aggression. Usually this is meant to refer to service staff treating customers badly.

But what if the same applied to managers and staff and coaches and players?

In business the idea of ‘managerialism’ is taken for granted. We all assume things can and need to managed. Otherwise we have chaos and wasted and misdirected resource. Things need to analysed and controlled for there own good otherwise business would be a bun fight a free for all. Managerialism manifests itself in sport through sports science and match analytics.

Managerialism aims to stop businesses looking like a junior school football match where all the players chase like a bee swarm after the ball. No roles, no system, no tactics. 

But what happens to talent when it is overly constrained ? what happens to  what sociologists call ‘agency’, what Antony Giddens calls our ‘ability to do otherwise’?

Managerialism is a toxic phenomenon beloved by the unimaginative. They love it and enforce it control the one thing they haven’t got and envy. Talent. 

Uniqueness comes not only from doing otherwise but ‘seeing’ otherwise. This is an imaginative capability that is not uniformly distributed amongst human beings.

Soccer fans intuitively know this. The player that ‘reads’ the game differently and better to others, the player that breaks the pattern to create surprises.

So I urge managers to ask themselves if they inadvertently destroying the value that is created in their staff through their fundamental passion for customers and the service they provide.

Just look how junior doctors are being treated to see what I mean.

I don’t ever believe skill was ever or will be the result of management. It’s a result of a love affair between a person and their profession.

Disruption is ‘in’ and innovation is so 20th century

So claims Mary Harper -head of digital Standard Life in Marketing Week.

Talking ‘as if’ things are ‘in’ belies a fascination for the trendy and fashionable. There seems to be nothing more ‘hem line’ savvy in marketing management than the term disruption. 

The question is ‘so what’? Is disruption really new and how is it any different from innovation? 

As a piece of rhetoric it’s pretty powerful isn’t it. It evokes awareness of an edgy world where surprises happen and the need to unsettle things is essential. 

Disruption is positioned as a fearful problem that faces your business…but don’t worry your marketing people are on the case. 

Be quick on the draw. To avoid being disrupted we have to disrupt. 

I agree with Mary. Disruption is a slippery concept and it means different things to different people. One thing seems clear though and that is ‘disruption’ is an effect, an outcome that is the result of something else. That something else being innovativeness!

In that sense dirsuption is hardly new at all. It comes from imagination, avoiding complacency and critical thinking. Things that most informed business people know can make a difference. 

Disruption is therefore notice of a meaningful difference. As Gregory Bateson would say:

‘A difference that makes a difference’

So what might the unintended consequences be for unthinkingly buying into and adopting the fashionable disruption discourse? 

Less reflective marketers will simply latch onto the latest management fashion without a care for where the ideas come from or the real world consequences.

In that sense Disruption could go the same way as Salience which became a licence to shock regardless of the relevance or the ethics. 

Disruptiveness could become an arbitrary management metric along the lines of ‘I don’t think you or your ideas are disruptive enough’ – you’re fired. Even more dangerous could be throwing the baby out with bath water – disruption for disruption’s sake.

Mary introduces the idea of disruption altitude to sensitise marketers to the need to think about the type of disruption that is relevant to their business. A good idea I’d say. 

The fashionability of the idea of disruption stems from the effect of ‘I know about something that you don’t’. A glossy attempt at seeming erudite and able to see beyond the self-evident. Most cult leaders do the same.

So to illustrate just how fashionable disruption is here it is being used to explain The rise and fall of Apple phone. Does disruption actually a better explanation than not watching the competition and giving people a reason to buy your products? 

Is there such a thing as helpful disruption or do you just want to be a bull in china shop? Charging around being disruptive and smashing everything to bits in the process? 

Being wary of management fads and fashions you avoid making a fashion statement and potentially looking ridiculous in the process! 

The Flowery Brand Rhetoric of Flora Margarine

I caught the recent news about Flora margarine’s re-positioning in Marketing Week today. You can read the article here: Powered by Plants

I was struck by a couple of things. One was the marketing rhetoric used and the other the omission.

The rhetoric was a great example of the battle for your mind discourse (cf Reiss and Trout). All to do with how the brand is perceived. 

The really interesting thing was the emphasis on features rather than benefits. Something we urge students not to do.

“Powered by plants” will focus on the plant-based ingredients, such as rapeseed oil, linseed oil and sunflower oil, used in the product.”

Only in passing was it mentioned that these result in (undefined) health benefits. 

The other thing was how reliance on those marcomms stalwarts was included too – ‘of course we’ll be emphasising  the role our product plays in creating healthy happy families’ Showing that you can’t escape the benefits in the end.

Remember folks – your happiness depends on our products.

Most telling for me was the talk of ‘re-positioning’. A term that infers sophistication, insight and strategic thinking on the part of the speaker.

Surely though to re-position you have to have a position to re-position from? So what is/was it? 

It would have been much more interesting to me to understand the brand problem that the ‘powered by plants’ re-positioning’ was the solution to. 

Much better than professional identity positioning of the flowery rhetoric in this article to my taste. 



Do management gurus really improve your business? 

There is probably nothing less connected to everyday business management problem solving than early medieval philosophy. 

Recently I stumbled across a classic of this genre called The Consolation of Philosophy written by a chap called Boethius. It is a collection of his thoughts on life the universe and everything as he awaits execution after being wrongly found guilty of a crime. 

Just the sort of light reading you need after a hard day at the office you might think! 

In his prison cell he is visited by the goddess of philosophy who helps him make sense of his predicament and gives him peace of mind.

It was something in the first couple of pages that caught my and got me thinking about the impact and value of whole management education and consulting industry. 

Boethius is initially visited by the Muses – who inspire him to write down his initial thoughts. Then the goddess of philosophy and wisdom turns up (conventionally called Sophia – hence philosophy – love of wisdom) who sends the muses packing:

“Who,’ said she, ‘has allowed yon play-acting wantons to approach this sick man—these who, so far from giving medicine to heal his malady, even feed it with sweet poison?”

Excerpt From: Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius. “The Consolation of Philosophy.” iBooks. 

Check out this book on the iBooks Store: Consolation of Philosophy

I wondered after reading this if management gurus of all types from university researchers and educators through to management consultants are as much to business as the Muses were to Boethuis. Do they actually provide deep insight and wisdom or do they merely peddle tool kits that simply structure the analysis of issues, the ranking of options and the selection of the silver bullet. 

(Ha! My predictive text suggested mullet – silver mullet eh? well they say the fish rots from the head cf Bob Garrat) 

So there we have it! From  Fish bone diagrams (cf Ishikawa) to Porters Five Forces, Prestcom to strategy canvas. From Belbin to Myers-Briggs. All very a-musing. Rather than giving businesses medicine are these really sweet poison?

‘Don’t be ridiculous Paul’ I hear you say. ‘These tools are really helpful, what’s your problem?’ 

Well to some extent I agree. Where I start to have a difficulty is when these tools are talked about ‘as if’ they the only game in town, the only way of understanding problems, the definitive way to describe the competitive space or the definite way of characterising people. 

Then I think these tools are ‘muse-like’. Tending to poison rather than medicine, something to be rote learned rather than understood and unthinkingly applied without a care for the assumptions they are built upon. 

Assumptions such as ‘the business environment can be objectively analysed and measured’ or ‘human beings can be categorically typed regardless of social context’.

Eric Fromm in his book To Have or To Be offered what I believe to be sage advice. He said we should beware of people who claim to have the answers. In the world of management this manifests itself as Normative advice. Advice that is purportedly factual and uncontestable, the norm, what you should or must do.

So what is a management educator to do? How can they create value if they aren’t telling executives what to do to solve their problems?

I wonder if it is fundamentally about developing awareness of how we make sense of this thing we call management (cf Alvesson and Wilmott). Thus it’s about inviting practioners to think about their assumed philosophy, about the nature of the business world and how it influences the reasoning they use to decide the actions they take?

Perhaps we are about visiting practioners in their psychic prisons and providing some intellectual medicine? 

What if businesses followed the advice of Plato mentioned by Boethius.

“That states [substitute organisations here] would be happy,  either if philosophers ruled them, or if it should so befall that their rulers would turn philosophers.”

David Bowie’s Laughing Gnome: Would today’s music business have killed his creativity?

One of the quirkiest songs that David Bowie ever wrote was Laughing Gnome (1967)

“Ha ha ha, hee hee hee I’m a laughing gnome and you don’t catch me”

You can hear him sing it here Laughing Gnome video

Now as you can see it is almost like a nursery rhyme and definitely not rock or pop. So would the suits in today’s music business have given it the time of day? I doubt it. 

Too arty, too commercially risky, not good television. 

How else do we push the boundaries though if everything we do is with half an eye on the commercial outcome? It’s a perennial business problem. 

Where is the difference between astounding originality and commercial insanity? I guess it’s in the mind of the person who has the power to decide. 

So does this mean that the music industry is simply a social construction of the powerful? The people who say what goes and what doesn’t?  Isn’t it the same for any proposed concept? New rocket launch system, new taxi ordering service, new food retail outlet.

What do you think – would The Laughing Gnome have secured a recording contract in 2016?


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