New Horizons in Personalization?

James Currier calls his company a “viral marketing” outfit. In fact, Emode is part game show, part database collector, and (yes) part marketing opportunity.

Currier’s site has been up since July 2000 and carries a staff of 25. He was very definite on the “P” question. “We will achieve profitability before we run out of money,” he said confidently. (Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard that before, but it’s still nice to hear, isn’t it?)

Essentially, Emode is a way to get a lot of very intimate data into a database that can then be used to target email ads toward specific demographic blocks.

To get something from the site, users have to do more than register. They have to give complete demographic profiles and then take a personality test. Actually, the site has more than 100 different personality tests (some of the questions get redundant), more than in even the average issue of Cosmo. The site admits that only five tests were written by what it calls “Ph.D. specialists.” (The rest came from high school dropouts?)

The sheer volume of prying personality questions may be one of the site’s weaknesses (only certain personality types like those kinds of questions, and I’m not one of them), but there is supposed to be a benefit. The result of taking even one test is a weekly, personalized email newsletter based on your preferences. (Of course the thing has advertising — that’s the point of the exercise.)

But it’s Currier’s view on content that I found fascinating. “You don’t need much content to create a compelling newsletter. People don’t want an overload of content, just something that’s specific to them,” he said. “We’re finding that content creation can be relatively inexpensive, as long as you’re addressing people’s core motivations.”

What are those motivations? The usual — sex, money, and romance. Once marketers know how you react and how you like to be approached on these dimensions, they usually have a good idea of how to pitch you. Someone with a “secret agent” personality (prefers working alone in a cubicle, cares little about personal appearance) shouldn’t be getting perfume samples, so Emode advertisers won’t do that.

The emphasis on psychographics attracts packaged-goods advertisers like Procter & Gamble and Unilever (both mentioned by Currier as Emode advertisers), companies that see psychology as a key to sales.

Currier also emphasized Emode’s viral component when talking about the site. “Consumers will hear from their friends about this site, they’ll take tests and sign up for our email.”

But it’s more interesting to look at the site as an example of database marketing and psychographic profiling. “When you take the tests, there’s now content about you. We can pick out the answers that are about you. Then we’ll send email based on that content that comes out.”

How accurate is Emode? According to its tests, I’m a risk-taking “skydiver” personality (I actually work at home and avoid driving) who’s not very “dot-commie.” (Most of my career has been spent online.) The site also claims my personality is that of a German shepherd, and I’ve never owned a purebred in my life.

But at a time when dot-com businesses are dropping like flies, it’s nice to see someone building something that looks like it may last.

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