What are psychographics? How are they relevant to marketing your business?

What are psychographics? How are they relevant to marketing your business?

You’ve heard of demographics: “Our target customers are 35 - 45 year old married suburban mothers with a household income of $50,000 to $100,000.” This is a fine place to start. Any marketer will want to know those basic facts about a target market. But psychographics go deeper.

The definition of ‘psychographics’ from the Oxford Dictionary of Marketing (4th edition) is:

"A general term to describe and measure the psychological and behavioural characteristics of consumers."

In a more detailed definition of ‘market segmentation’, it says this about psychographics:

Psychographic segmentation is a way of segmenting the market by cultural attitude and psychological type: for example the middle-of-the-road, the fashionable, the thrill-seekers, the security-seekers, the risk-takers, the risk-averse, the aspirational, the image-conscious; the conspicuous consumers, the high achievers, the individualists, the reformers, the highly educated, the family-oriented, the self-actualizers; the strivers, the strugglers, etc.”

You can see how this kind of segmentation could be helpful for advertising campaigns. For example, you'd advertise a holiday destination differently to fashionable thrill-seekers than to risk-averse parents.

CB Insights, a data research firm (at least I think that's what they are) says:

“Psychographics is the study of consumers based on their activities, interests, and opinions (marketers call these AIOs). It goes beyond classifying people based on general demographic data, such as age, gender, or race. Psychographics focuses on understanding cognitive attributes, such as customer emotions, values, and attitudes, among other psychological factors. Marketers, advertisers, and researchers leverage this approach to create “psychographic profiles” of consumers. These profiles help researchers understand consumer motivations and opinions that can then drive messaging tactics.”

They go on to list different ways to gather psychographic data:

  • Traditional focus groups/interviews

  • Set-top box viewing data

  • Surveys/questionnaires/quizzes

  • Psycholinguistic dictionaries

  • Website analytics (e.g. Google analytics)

  • Browsing Data

  • Social media (i.e. likes, clicks, tweets, posts, etc.)

  • Third party analytics

Psychographic profiles of customers often refer to the "Big Five Personality Traits". These traits are each on a continuum. You can be more or less open to new experiences, and so on. They’re listed here using the acronym, OCEAN:

O - Openness to experience. (Are you comfortable with new experiences? Or do you prefer routine and familiarity?)

C - Conscientiousness. (Are you disciplined and dependable? Or are you more spontaneous and flexible?)

E - Extroversion-introversion. (Do you feel energized when interacting with others and somewhat bored if you're alone? Or is social interaction exhausting, and spending time alone recharges you?)

A - Agreeableness. (Are you kind, friendly, and empathetic? Or do you lean towards being more aggressive and competitive?)

N - Neuroticism. (Do you tend towards anxiety, depression, and self-doubt? Or are you more relaxed and content with yourself?)

How are psychographic profiles used in real life? Porsche’s highly successful “Engineered For Magic. Everyday.” ad campaign is an example that’s frequently used to illustrate the idea.

Porsche already had a few different market segments they appealed to. These are from the CB Insights article, What is Psychographics?:

  • The top gun profile consists of an ambitious and driven individual who cares about power and control, expecting to be noticed.

  • The elitist profile includes an individual from old money (blue blood) who has the attitude a car is just a vehicle and not an expression of a person’s personality.

  • The proud patrons profile sees a Porsche as a trophy, considering it a reward for hard work, with ownership as the main goal, not being noticed.

  • The bon vivants profile consists of thrill seekers and jet setters, with the Porsche as a means of excitement.

  • The fantasist profile sees the Porsche as a form of escape and does not care about impressing others.


But Porsche wanted to appeal to a new market segment: “Consumers who secretly wanted a Porsche, but a sporty two-seater model didn’t fit into their lifestyle.”

Appealing to this new market segment meant understanding why they hadn’t bought a Porsche in the past, and how they might be persuaded — not just that they were a 40 year old parent with an annual income of $500,000.

In this case, although these customers loved the speed and power of a Porsche, they didn't see them as practical. So the “Engineered For Magic. Everyday” campaign appealed to this new market segment by showing them how a Porsche could fit into their life.

See the ad below:

That’s the power of going beyond basic demographics to understand the ‘why’ that motivates or holds back a customer. Psychographics involves getting inside your customers' heads.

You can see how psychographic profiles might be useful for advertising campaigns. But they may be of limited value when it comes to marketing more generally — if a marketer doesn't know how a persona’s "activities, interests, opinions" bears on their buying decisions.

Adele Revella is an expert on creating buyer personas. She worries that buyer personas are often fictional characters based on guesswork. These simply reinforce internal biases and assumptions. And they’re often not even very useful, as she explains in Psychographics and personas: How to get to the truth about why people buy:

“[A] standard buyer persona might introduce you to 'Madison, a 35-year-old project manager who loves cats and yoga.' But what does this actually mean for your business? Does her love of cats or approach to exercise help you influence her choice to try out your project management software?”

Revella thinks that the only way to build a complete buyer persona is to combine relevant demographic and psychographic information with a deep understanding of why your customers buy. She maintains that this detailed information must be obtained through interviews.

Because people have insight into their own buying decisions only when a purchase involves careful deliberation, this process doesn’t work for low consideration purchases, like buying a box of cereal. Revella’s process is suited to medium- to high-deliberation purchases like buying a new car or new email marketing software for a company. Think about why you bought Shreddies rather than any other cereal when you were at the grocery store. Compare that to why you bought your Nissan Leaf, rather than any alternative. You have insight into your decision-making for the latter purchase, but likely not for the former.

The interview conversations begin with the interviewer asking:

“Take me back to the day when you first decided to evaluate a new automated email marketing solution [or whatever category of solution your product fits into] and tell me what happened.”

If you’re serious about creating buyer personas to guide your marketing — and if your buyers’ purchases are medium to high-consideration — I recommend her book, Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight Into Your Customer’s Expectations, Align Your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business. She goes into detail about exactly how to conduct interviews to get real information that will actually be helpful for marketing purposes. Not useless tidbits like a love of cats and yoga.



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Holiday! It would be, it would be so nice!

Holiday! It would be, it would be so nice!

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