September 3, 2018

The tension with personality

PullString CEO Oren Jacob gave an excellent talk on Storytelling in the Age of Conversational Interfaces at Google I/O 2017. Drawing from his experience at Pixar, he outlined his foundations of design in computer conversation.

PullString CEO Oren Jacob at Google I/O 2017

Part of this craft comes from traditional screenwriting, stage writing, poetry, prose, and the art of creating character, story, and dialog—the linear, narrative arts. And the other part comes from gaming, web and mobile design, and the art of creating engagement and retention—the interactive arts.

It’s that intersection of narrative and interactive arts that gets me excited about conversational games and assistants. There’s an art to balancing intent recognition with content and delivery.

At the end of his talk, Jacob raises the tension of personality: The more personality, surprise, and delight you offer, the more you polarize and segment your audience. As an app or bot developer, you may want to capture as many users as possible, so Jacob recommends creating a countable plurality of personalities to reach >95% of your potential audience.

This struck me as the fundamental language of marketing—the 5 C’s, 4 P’s, and STP—specifically, the segmentation, targeting, and positioning of your virtual influencer, customer service chatbot, or audio AR game.

If you design the exactly average personality to reach the largest possible audience (Red X), this might work in the short run if you’re the first to enter the space.

Personality positioning chart

But designing for everyone can mean designing for no one. If you’re successful, over time new competitors will enter the market and design their apps or bots for specific customer segments. For example, some people find funnier, more compassionate bots (Blue X) more engaging and delightful. Others prioritize usefulness and straightforward answers (Yellow X) so they’ll avoid what they might consider distracting features.

Your exactly average personality will lose in the long run.

Start with identifying users’ needs or pain points, pick a specific segment of users to cater to, and design your personalities to meet those users’ needs.

2018 Brian Rose