Are you sold on the idea that it’s beneficial to understand your customer personas?
Hope so. If not, it’s guesswork. When you know who your customers are, where they are, what they love, and what they hate, you can market to them much more effectively.
There are a variety of ways to learn about your customer—quantitative and qualitative, passive and active. Market research often deals with two types of customer data: demographics and psychographics.
Psychographics are usually underrated. But they can be exceptionally valuable.
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What are psychographics?
Psychographics is the psychological study of consumers and their attitudes, interests, personality, values, opinions, and lifestyle. Psychographics are incredibly valuable for marketing, but they also have use cases in opinion research, prediction, and broader social research.
Psychographics deal primarily with what are known as IAO variables—interests, activities, and opinions. They attempt to identify the beliefs and emotions of an audience, not just their age and gender.
The difference between psychographics and demographics
In contrast to psychographic data that covers opinions and interests, demographic data relates to the structure of a population—factors like age, race, sex, and income. Demographics are, of course, used in a broad variety of areas, including education, government, business, etc., for things like policy development and economic research.
Even at a micro level, it’s nice to know your audience’s demographics and which demographics make the best customers for your business—especially when you’re ramping up ad spend.
Neither data types should stand alone. You can analyze psychographic data in relation to demographic, geographic, or behavioral data, in addition to firmographic data, which is especially important for account-based marketing.
Why psychographics are important
What’s the big benefit of psychographics for marketing (other than sounding cool)?
Essentially, if you know how people choose and compare products in your category, you know how to structure and prioritize content:
- If you know their deepest held beliefs, you can align your marketing messaging more closely.
- If you know what they don’t care about, you can dismiss those messages and pull them from your site.
- If you know what they read, you know where to reach them.
- And on and on.
Psychographics tell you why people buy. They help you build robust user personas. They help you craft the right message and put it in the right place. They’re less objective and clean, but—for a marketer—they’re super useful.
3 types of psychographics
The main types of psychographics are interests, activities, and opinions. You can split that into subcategories as well. (Attitudes are slightly different than opinions; lifestyle and behavior are slightly different than activities).
However, let’s stick to the main three.
Interests are inclinations and affinities.
You can find some basic interests and affinities in your Google Analytics data. I’ll be honest, I really haven’t done much with Google Analytics’ reported interest data (at least in terms of conversion optimization), though there are ways to use this data.
For instance, you can see conversion rates and ecommerce data based on affinity category:
This data, I suppose, could provide a little bit of insight into your best customers. Realistically, however, I don’t think this is the most valuable Google Analytics data.
Activities are what people do—things like skiing, reading, fishing, weightlifting.
Sometimes this data is irrelevant. For instance, if you sell a SaaS product, you can’t immediately do anything with the fact that some of your customers like to fish.
But if you ask the right questions—good, open-ended questions that let you know your customer better—you can learn how customers spend their day, what they care about, where they hang out, and what they align with. A simple question like, “Other than work and sleep, how do you spend your time?” can elicit great responses.
You can use trends in activity psychographics to better target your customer via ads, write better content that uses metaphors and references from their activities, or cater events and even selling to their preferences.
Everyone has opinions. When people have similar opinions, they tend to form tribes (which is when Cialdini’s Unity principle comes into play).
Have you noticed an increase in brands displaying their opinions and values? When Super Bowl commercials have been controversial, and it was usually because they ventured to share an opinion of the world.
Opinions and attitudes are an untapped opportunity for brands. Instead of repeated exposure via display ads, introducing values to your brand can help people know where to stand in relation to your company.
Think of a brand like Patagonia. You know what they stand for.
This is one of the most important areas in psychographics. Read more on how brands can create shared value in this great article.
Psychographic research methods
How do you learn about the psychographics of your target market? There are many ways, some easy and passive, others rigorous and active.
In an excellent HBR article, Alexandra Samuel outlines how technology has enabled us to collect psychographic data more easily. She includes online communities, social media analytics (including sentiment analysis), and social media listening in this list:
Online customer communities let you ask about a range of consumer attitudes: my own data on 10,000 North American parents was gathered from two such communities.
Social media analytics let you identify trends in interests and attitudes, and even use sentiment analysis to help dig a little more deeply into psychographic attitudes.
Social media monitoring is hugely valuable, too, since the organic conversations that emerge online may help you spot emerging issues or psychographic clusters.”
Even Google Analytics gives you some data on your customers’ affinities and interests, as mentioned above. But the best way is through rigorous user persona research, customer interviews, and customer surveys.
In fact, the best user personas contain demographic, psychographic, firmographic, and behavioral data. For example, here’s a customer profile:
- Aged 24–35;
- Single, no children;
- Household income $75k–125k;
- Works in technology.
- Does yoga on the weekends;
- Believes we need to do something about climate change;
- Hobby photographer.
- Shops at organic grocery stores;
- Spends a lot of money on travel;
- Volunteers at a climate-change organization;
- Logs into our app on a daily basis.
With just one of the above categories, you can see how the picture is less rounded. (That’s my guess for a Headspace persona, by the way.)
How to use psychographics in your marketing: an example
The problem with psychographics, at least historically, is that people have deemed the data to be less actionable (and harder to collect) than demographic data.
However, as Samuel explains, the internet has made psychographics more actionable and easier to access.
Take a user persona based on a mix of demographic and psychographic data. Sure, you want to know their general age range, salary range, and geolocation. Those things make it easier to target your customers on a granular level.
But psychographics—why they make decisions—help you with messaging, persuasion, and creative.
Here’s Samuel again:
Yes, families with different incomes, or with younger and older kids, make somewhat different technology purchases. But their reasons for purchasing are much more closely tied to parent psychographics.
Parents who trust their kids to make their own tech decisions (whom I call “enablers”) tend to evaluate their tech purchases in terms of fun and entertainment value. Parents who focus on minimizing screen time (“limiters”) gravitate towards software and devices that support their kids’ literacy, math, and academic skills. Parents who actively guide and encourage their kids’ technology use typically look for purchases that offer a balance of fun and educational value, and that offer ways to engage and play as a family.
When you understand these kinds of psychographic differences, online marketing tools will make your insight actionable in a way that was nearly impossible before the heyday of Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
With psychographic data, it’s much easier to design landing pages for key personas. When you’re creating messages and designs for a specific person, you’re doing less guesswork than what you might if you followed typical best practices.
Psychographics don’t just help with messaging and creative; they also help with keyword targeting. Not only can you build the right message, but you can also use psychographic targeting to put it in the right place in front of the right people.
As Samuel put it:
Using psychographics allows you to do smarter keyword targeting – for example, targeting one message about your programming game to parents who are searching for “kids programming” and another message to parents who are searching for “kids videogames fun.”
Once you know the key differences in what your customers care about, you can target Facebook ads to parents who’ve liked specific pages or identified particular interests; you can figure out the hashtags that different psychographic groups use on Twitter, and target different tweets (or even different accounts) to those groups.
Want to see something hilarious? Check out your ad preferences on Facebook. It shows you exactly what Facebook thinks you’re into (and alludes to why you see some of the ads you do) and all kinds of segmentation that applies to your profile.
Some of it can be pretty accurate. For instance, the news and entertainment section is semi-close for me:
And I’m a big fan of my “hobbies” section, if only because it contains four dog-related categories and a fox (for some reason):
But, sometimes, Facebook gets weird. It thinks that my “lifestyle and culture” category should include The Conservative Party of Canada, Communism, Meme, and Citrus:
Anyway, brands are collecting this data about you, and ad platforms are making that data useful to ad buyers. You can target people at an incredibly granular level of behavioral, demographic, and psychographic data.
Still, we have a long way to go with psychographic targeting, for a variety of technical and methodological reasons, even as we’re getting better. That’s why I’m targeted by Chubbies and The Economist.
Facebook, for the most part, knows what I’m into:
Psychographics are important—not just for messaging strategy and emotional targeting in your ads and on your site, but for how and where you acquire customers.
It’s increasingly easy to get good psychographic data and to put it to use through advanced ad targeting and even on-site personalization. It’s no longer a guessing game as to whether it works, either, given your ability to test messaging at scale.
Psychographics help you know your customer. And knowing your customer better makes your marketing better.
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Really interesting article Alex! I’m interested in how you’re actually using the psychographic data in optimizing online communications: if everyone has different psychographic information, then you’re still unable to run well-targeted marketing campaigns.
I also would like to point out that psychological studies have shown us that our needs and motivations for things shift very quickly and that’s mostly because of a changing environment i.e. weather, mood, but also gender differences or differences in intention.
My conclusion is that it’s always good to figure out what the psychographic information of your customers is and keep the interesting findings in mind. However, for marketing outings, I recommend to focus on differences in situation, not personality, because all the more studies show that our personality changes so often.
Hey Joost – thanks for commenting.
I’m personally mostly using psychographics for ad targeting, in addition to demographic and behavioral ad targeting.
Though, we’ve also included psychographic data in the process of building our user personas, which will help us design landing pages and build website and in-product experiences. I’ll write a post on that in the next few weeks :)
I still trust the controlled experiment above all, so psychographics end up being helpful as a guiding heuristic for targeting and tests, not as a rule to implement without question.
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