The psychology of choosing the right phone for you

In fairly rapid succession, Apple has released the iPhone 8, the iPhone 8+ and now the eye wateringly expensive iPhone X. If you’re an iPhone 7 user looking to upgrade, the choice you make will say quite a lot about you and your psychology as a phone user.

If you prefer tried and tested technology, and are slightly cynical about marketing, you’ll go for the 8. If you like life at the cutting edge and want to know what the latest phone can do, it will be the X. And if you believe in functionality without frills and are happy to sacrifice kudos for lower cost, you’ll probably get an Android.

Smartphone suppliers are well aware that psychology plays a major part in buying choices, and that people’s personality and habits affect the brands they identify with. They use this awareness, based on lots of expensive research, to market their phones. So if you’re aware of the psychological factors involved, you can even things up and make a choice based on who you are and what you need, not on what the phone companies want you to do.

Psychological profile of different brands

We all know “iPhone people” – their iPhone is an important part of who they are, and they wouldn’t dream of buying another brand. Even when their phone suffers a problem or they break their screen because of using it too much, they decide to look into finding a “Fix Phone” service before taking the time to even think about switching phone providers, regardless of how popular they are. And we all know “anti-iPhone” people who have strong criticisms of the brand are often more based on antipathy than on a coolly rational critique.

Marketers know that the more psychological characteristics a person shares with a brand, the more likely they are to buy that brand and to feel loyalty to it. These users may even feel that the brand embodies values they think are important.

A recent paper by academics at Stanford, Columbia, Wharton and Cambridge reported on an experiment that aimed psychologically tailored advertising at 3.5 million people. They started from the now accepted finding that you can build an accurate psychological profile of a person from their Facebook “Likes” and Twitter and Instagram use. You can tell whether they are extrovert, how open they are to new experiences and so on.

When they targeted people with ads specifically aimed at their psychological type, there was a huge increase in the users’ purchases and “click rates” – up to 50%. And of course, smartphone makers are keen to exploit this.

Does your phone’s personality match yours?

Personality traits cluster around five key factors – how conscientious we are, whether we’re open to new experiences, how neurotic or agreeable we are and how outgoing we are.

Lancaster University psychologists devised a study of over 500 smartphone users, including iPhone 7 and Samsung phone users. They carried out personality tests on the participants, using the character traits mentioned above. They analysed the results and then compared them with which type of phone the person used.

They discovered that the iPhone users were more extrovert, younger, and twice as likely to be female. They were more likely to think of their phone as an object that gave them status. They were more individualistic, not being worried about owning the device that most people had.

Whereas Android users (mostly Samsung phone users) were more likely to be male, tended to be older and scored highly on traits such as honesty, agreeableness and being less concerned with status or wealth.

Even the way you pay reveals your personality

And finally, there’s how you choose to pay for your phone. Some people are very much the responsible family provider, whose account hosts the whole family’s phones on monthly payments. But some unlimited mobile data plans are clearly aimed at the next generation who only access the internet from a mobile. Yet those same unlimited mobile data plans may also be used by professionals or business people who are on the move all the time.

It’s a fascinating area once you start to think about what our mobile phones reveal. The next time you’re out for a drink or coffee and everyone puts their phone on the table, take a look at those phones and see whether the brand profile matches what you know about the person.

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