The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator™ is the world’s most popular tool for evaluating personality type. Does it have anything to say to us about digital content structure?
We humans are forever collecting ourselves into a handful of categories, usually 4 or 5, based on observations of our different temperaments and behaviors. Today’s most popular version of this impulse is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator™, or MBTI™, which measures a person’s orientation on 4 scales. According to Myers-Briggs theory, you tend to:
- Draw energy from either the outer world or your inner world (Extraverted vs Introverted)
- Take in information either abstractly or concretely (iNtuitive vs ObServing)
- Make decisions based on either external criteria or internal leanings (Thinking vs Feeling)
- Prefer either closure or open options (Judging vs Prospecting)
Note: Myers-Briggs aficionados will notice some slight differences in terms from traditional MBTI™ material. These tweaks come from 16personalities.com, which I find to be a useful update.
How you answer the test’s questions produces your type, a 4-letter combination of the above orientations. There are 16 of these 4-letter types, which are themselves collected by some into 4 broad categories: SP (observing, prospecting), NT (intuitive, thinking), NF (intuitive, feeling) and SJ (observing, judging).
SPs, or explorers, tend to focus on information about action or impact and make decisions as quickly as possible. These are the “just bottom-line me” and “Next!” people.
NTs, or analysts, tend to focus on information about achievement or mastery and make decisions in a driven but deliberate manner. These people see credentials and successes before other types of content.
NFs, or diplomats, tend to focus on information about human experience and make decisions at an open-ended pace. These people look at pictures of your staff and want evidence that others like you.
SJs, or sentinels, tend to focus on information about responsibility and risk and make decisions carefully and methodically. These people see processes and schematics and look for details.
Myers-Briggs influenced content structure on promo pages
OK, so what has all that to do with the elements of digital layout?
Promotional pages have 2 communication purposes: Explain and call to action. Myers-Briggs theory about different information-processing and decision-making styles speaks directly to those purposes. Here’s a personality-type content structure for a hypothetical page promoting a professional-development class:
1st on the page: At-a-glance box with the essentials
- Name, date, time, location, price, instructor
- Call-to-action (CTA) button for registering
For SP, who’s decision pace is fastest and who needs only what’s necessary to make a decision
2nd on the page: Achievement section
- Message focused on what audience will achieve, how their mastery will grow
- Graphical evidence from trusted source, credential, successes
- CTA button or text link for registering
For NT, who sees info about achievement and whose decision pace is driven but more deliberate than SP’s
3rd on the page: Experience section
- Message focused on who’s involved with and who’s benefited from the organization and its offerings
- Testimonials, instructor headshot and bio
- CTA button or text link for registering
For NF, who sees info about experience and whose decision pace is personal and somewhat arbitrary
Last on the page: Details/process section
- Message focused on how we’re going to do what we claim
- Details, charters, outcomes, class outline
- CTA button or text link for registering, how to access the webinar, more details
For SJ, who sees info about details explaining how we’re going to fulfill our claims and whose decision takes however much time is needed to gather all the necessary facts
Myers-Briggs or not …
I’m well aware that the Myers-Briggs approach has its detractors. Not to worry if you’re not a fan: This promotional-page content structure (summary → what’s in it for the audience → who’s involved → how it works) makes sense on its own terms, regardless of where it came from.
But in my experience, there’s a compelling reason for explicitly referencing Myers-Briggs as you pitch or present your proposal: Clients love it.
Often clients come to a digital project unsure how it works and therefore more sure than is warranted what they want. Using Myers-Briggs categories to explain content structure immediately puts them at ease and removes some of that natural defensiveness. They’re usually familiar with these categories and don’t expect them to be applied in the world of digital projects. This pleasant surprise helps them to trust you.
Trust me on this. I’ve seen it happen time after time. Even for those SJ clients who thought before the meeting that the details should come first since that’s what people are really interested in, right?