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Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Presidential Candidates, Temperament & Website Copy?

By Jeff Sexton
October 30th, 2008

I knew I had to buy a copy as soon as I saw it on the magazine stand: the issue of Time Magazine with Presidential temperament as the front cover story.  They even had four presidential faces on the cover, which, before examining them, made me think of previous explanations of temperament using the Four Presidents on Mt Rushmore:

  • Dutiful George Washington for Sensing-Judging / Methodicals
  • Philosophical Thomas Jefferson for iNtuitive-Thinking / Competitives
  • Rambunctious Teddy Roosevelt for Sensing-Perceiving / Spontaneous
  • Idealistic Abraham Lincoln for iNtuitive-Feeling / Humanistics

Unfortunately, the cover story (though excellent) treated temperament from a Nine Characteristics perspective rather than a Four Temperaments perspective in a way similar to this Slate article or some recent blog posts regarding presidential personality type.

Yet at least the Time cover/article got me looking for and reading those posts, because the authors guessed slightly different temperaments from each other, and I found the differences illuminating.

But before discussing the blog authors’ picks, my personal predictions were SP/Spontaneous for fiery, action-oriented McCain, NF/Humanistic for idealistic and emotionally intelligent Obama, and NT+Judging/Competitive for sharp-minded and power-hungry Hillary Clinton.

So here’s how the experts typing matched up with mine:

  • Everyone agreed that McCain has a spontaneous temperament.
  • Emily Yoffe felt that Hillary was an SJ, but it turns out that Hillary has actually taken an MBTI test and has tested as an NTJ, which matched up with most blog post guesses.
  • Some experts believe that Obama was an NT, while others felt he was more likely an NF

And here’s what you can take away from the misperceptions and disagreements surrounding presidential candidate typing:

1. Myers-Briggs Preferences (and Temperaments) are just that: preferences.

People are adaptable and can develop or use weaker sides of their personalities – and may even prefer to use them in a given situation.  Introverts, for instance, all have an auxiliary personality that they use for social situations or work.  Johnny Carson was a legendary introvert, but hardly came off as one during The Late Show.

So too could an NT politician learn to speak empathically about deep emotional issues and learn to champion inclusive policies.  Or conversely, NF’s are more than capable of adopting an NT mindset when the need for tough-minded leadership decisions arises.  Hence the NT/NF disagreement over an emotionally savvy, but also emotionally flat “no drama” Obama.

And it’s also why Future Now analyzes buying behavior in terms of “buying modes,” rather than assuming that buying mode will line up with temperament preference.  No one buys accounting software spontaneously, and even the most hard-headed and practical of us have been known to make spontaneous purchases on vacation.

2.  Knowing how temperament preferences overlap – and where they differ – is important

Why would one person see an SJ/Methodical when another sees an NT/Competitive?  Well because both temperaments have a strong preference for logical decision-making.  And an NT with a strong Judging preference, like Hillary’s INTJ personality type, can come off as an organizer – reliable and sufficiently detail-oriented to fool you into thinking they have a methodical temperament*

So what does this mean for your Website/copy?

Rather than pushing copy or messaging styles onto visitors, it’s best to cover all the temperaments persuasive needs according to the “fast up top and slow down bottom” layout method.  That way you can let visitors self-select the copy and links that most appeals to them without worrying about improperly typing them. You can get a sense of how these temperaments interact with a page by reading Howard’s analysis of Jakob Nielson’s eyetracking study.

Conclusion: Put Copy for Fast Decision Makers Up Top and Slow Decision Makers Down Bottom

So the default copy organization for most pages will include copy, links, and calls to action intended for competitive and spontaneous temperaments (your fast decision makers who are less likely to scroll and spend the time to examine the entire page) up top, and copy more suited for methodical and humanistic temperaments (slower decision makers who will examine the entire page) below that.

For instance, if you have an NT/competitive who follows a link intended for Methodicals, the page he lands on will still have some bottom-line or big picture copy at the top of the page and a call to action appropriate for his temperament.  And if that particular competitive keeps reading, well, he may just be in a more Methodical Buying Mode.  No big deal – as long as your pages are set up properly.

And that’s what I took away from the recent spate of articles and blog posts on Temperament and MBTI.

P.S. If this stuff interests you, I highly recommend that you check out this free audio book.

* For the record, what probably should have pushed Yoffe away from typing Hillary as an SJ, is that she is very much an ideologue.  Her political stances were sharply radical when she adopted them and required something of a philosophical bent to arrive at.  She didn’t enter politics by being an outstanding administrator; she entered politics because of a commitment to her political theories and ideas.  Plus, her career as a lawyer indicated an NT preference over SJ.

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Comments (18)

  1. [...] Presidential Candidates, Temperament & Website Copy? …on the cover, which, before examining them, made me think of previous explanations of temperament using the Four Presidents on Mt Rushmore: [...]

  2. [...] Presidential Candidates, Temperament & Website Copy? NF/Humanistic for idealistic and emotionally intelligent Obama, and NT+Judging/Competitive for sharp-minded and power-hungry Hillary Clinton. [...]

  3. Well I have to get this copy too! Wow, this does sound interesting, I think temperament matters a lot! A hell lot!

    I think many false decisions were made because of the lack of temperament. Need to read this.

  4. Besides getting me to think about my own NTness you’ve really opened up a whole new ballgame when it comes to copy.

    I may think about this if I have the courage.

  5. I found this to be extremely interesting. I will have to go get a copy of Time for myself too.

  6. Interesting! In the work I been doing on Temperaments in the last year, I’ve had Hillary pegged as an NT in the presentations I give. Excellent point you make about these being PREFERENCES… a good reminder for all of who try to teach the basics to business owners and marketers!

  7. [...] Presidential Candidates, Temperament & Website Copy? And here’s what you can take away from the misperceptions and disagreements surrounding presidential candidate typing:. 1. Myers-Briggs Preferences (and Temperaments) are just that: preferences. People are adaptable and can develop or … [...]

  8. Anyone going into sales or marketing should take the Myers-Briggs. Understanding personalities is key to a successful presentation and closing process. But as a citizen, I don’t feel that temperament should be a major factor in who I vote for – there are more important issues that should be examined and factored into your decision. But thanks for the post!

  9. I disagree. Appealing to all temperaments is completely unnecessary.

    Every person is a ‘product.’ Our friends choose us, just as our partners/wives/husbands choose us.

    They choose us for who we are. And who we are in relation to who they are.

    If you’re an extrovert, you’ll find that your partner is more than likely to be an introvert, or at least less keen to meet people than you.

    You’ll find this common amongst your friends too. You’ll find people of different temperaments calling you their friend.

    So what did you do?
    Did you change your temperament for each friend? Do you keep changing your temperament for your partner, depending on the mood?

    I think not.

    The easiest role to play is the role we’re most comfortable with. That role polarises people. There are those who love you for who you are, and those that can’t stick you.

    And yet, you attract enough people in your life, no matter what your temperament.

    We’ve never written our pages to appeal to a broad spectrum and you can see for yourself that you’ll instantly (and I mean instantly) like or detest us when you get to our site.

    You don’t need to package yourself. In fact, you need to ‘un-package’ yourself and your company. Bring out the real DNA of who you are, instead of appealing to every one.

    Try being true to yourself.
    It works.
    Not to say the other system doesn’t work, but being true to yourself is a lot less hard work. And far more consistent.


  10. I have to take issue with what Sean posted. I think temperments are a very useful tool in designing web copy. I’m sure we can use such a tool without pretending to change ourselves or be someone else. It just makes sense to me that this is another tool for putting myself (INTP) in my customers’ shoes and attempting to communicate in a way that they can hear the message better, or more clearly. I don’t think of this as trying to appeal to everyone. No matter what our temperment we probably all buy a lot of the same stuff: books, cars, newspapers, stationery, you name it. So my question is, in what situations does temperment play a more critical role on a web site? Should we plan to use it in some situations more than others?

  11. I wasn’t expecting anyone not to take issue. But there are other ways of putting yourself in your customer’s shoes.

    What we try to do on websites is appeal to half a dozen temperaments. And usually conversion increases when you take a crappy web page and give it some direction (with or without temperaments). But if you told me that you needed a specific temperament to get conversion, then that’s not what we’re seeing.

    We clearly don’t want all customers. We’re clearly attracting customers who suit the temperament we’re putting out.

    Too many businesses are trying to second-guess their customers. Customers have a clear ‘want factor.’ Deciphering the want factor is (at least to me) more important than having to work out a temperament.

    If the right want factor is put out to the customer, they’ll convert, even if at first it doesn’t suit their temperament.


  12. Roger & Sean,

    OK, so here’s my take on your respective comments:

    Sean is right that there are times when you might actually need to create an “anti-persona” – someone who you do NOT want as a customer and who you want your copy to actively discourage or drive away. Roy Williams calls this “choosing whom to lose”

    Sean is also right that building your brand appeal around your core identity means that you can’t be all things to all people.

    But I also believe that Sean confuses the issue on two points that Roger briefly touched upon:

    1) Communicating your core appeal in the preferred language and style of a given temperament is NOT a form of false packaging, nor is it in any way an erosion of who you really are.

    Take Sean’s example of have multiple friends of differing temperaments and imagine planning a group trip to the beach. Depending on the particular friend you are talking to, you might pitch the idea in different ways, based upon what you know that person finds most appealing and persuasive. So does this common sense approach require you to change what you’re selling (a beach trip) or to fundamentally change who you are?

    Answer: only if you have a severe personality disorder or are some type of politician.

    2) Choosing whom to lose normally doesn’t mean disregarding an entire temperament. It would be extraordinarily rare for a company to decide that they were ONLY going to market to Competitives, or even that they had absolutely no desire to work with Methodicals.

    While a product category may dictate that, for example, Spontaneous are unlikely to shop in their preferred mode while buying network storage solutions, that’s usually more the exception than the rule.

    What’s more likely is that, as a consultant, you’ll make a decision to only seek business with clients who are looking to form longer-term partnerships/alliances, and that you want to actively drive away transactional clients. Great! But which temperament does that line up with? Possibly any of them!

    Yeah, Humanistics are more likely to shop relationally, but ANY of the temperaments can shop relationally, and you’d do yourself a huge disservice to stop talking to the other three temperaments based on a decision to target relational customers.

    - Jeff

  13. Oy, what are you doing Jeff? Appealing to two temperaments? :)

    I guess I have to admit it’s what we do, though we call it ‘safe zone.’

  14. [...] just means they wanted 4 judges, and not necessarily that they wanted the judges to line up with the 4 temperaments.  But when you look at the roles and personalities of the judges, the overlay with the [...]

  15. I want to see a followup time article in 4 years to see what their opinion is after the first Obama term!

  16. and now we all the the original temparament and the intentions from all selected ppl. and we know, at least that one head is always alternates.

  17. It makes sense to try to appeal to as many people as possible. I don’t see the argument for the opposite.

  18. I think this is a great point. I guess having options to catch different eyes is what we all should be doing.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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