Marketing is all about knowing your customers and the best way to respond to them.
That’s why marketers love data. I’ve spent much of my career working on software that helps marketers understand what their customers are doing, and how to best respond.
All this data is great, and we need to know it. But there’s another side to the customer data that’s easy to overlook: psychographics.
Lest you recoil from that word, don’t worry. I’ll explain it. Unfortunately, psychographics is the missing ingredient in many marketing efforts. What we don’t know can hurt us. What you’ll discover in this article are three features that you can learn about your customers.
What are psychographics?
The definition of psychographics is: “The study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria, especially in market research.”
Definitions are great, but explanations are better.
At face value, the word “psychographic” itself can be a bit misleading. As Jeremy Smith remarked, “The term psychographic sounds like voodoo.”
Obviously, as Smith’s masterful article explains, psychographics is “the greatest thing that ever happened to marketing in general and conversion optimization in particular.”
First, let me place psychographics within their marketing framework. Informed marketers try to understand the most they can about their customers, demographics, being one of the most obvious and important areas. Included in this marketing segmentation spread are behavioral characteristics, geography, and psychographics.
One helpful way to understand psychographics is by contrasting it with demographics. Most marketers understand demographics – statistical data relating to the population and particular groups within it.”
Demographic data is relatively easy to find. Why? Because it depends on hard numbers. This is the kind of information that we can access in Google Analytics and other data reporting systems.
But while demographics works with hard data, psychographics shows soft information. Here’s the difference:
Using demographics, you will understand the following about your target customer:
- Age: 34
- Status: Single
- Location: New York, NY
- Education: B.A.
- Annual income: $65,000
Is that information helpful for marketing? Absolutely.
But it’s limited. It’s just data. It doesn’t convey the deeper motivations, interests, attitudes, and personality of the customer.
Psychographics, by contrast, shows what this user loves, what she does, and the features that might make her buy.
Demographic data can only show us who the customer is, not why they might buy. Psychographics looks deeper, and discovers the motivations in a user’s life.
To state it another way, demographics is about objective data, and psychographics is about subjective information.
Psychographics are extremely powerful. Why? Simple: psychographics gains actionable information about what motivates the user.
Let’s dive in the fuzzy mass of psychographic possibilities and explain what information exactly you should learn about your target audience.
1. What are their interests?
Another term for psychographics is IAO variables (or AIO). IAO stands for interest, activities, and opinions. These are three major areas of psychographic research.
The leading feature on this list is interests. Interests is mind-numbingly broad, both as a term, and as it applies to psychographics. Interests include the information and life experiences that occupy a customer’s mind.
Interests are shaped by the surrounding culture, socioeconomic status, the current economy, one’s upbringing, and one’s self-identity.
The concept of interest refers to the ways that a person interacts with the world around him. The best way to explain may be to provide some examples.
- Someone who has children is probably interested in raising them, caring for them, and providing a good upbringing. They probably look for information that will make them a better parent. They spend some of their time learning about being a parent, thinking about being a parent, or interacting with their children.
- Some people are interested in becoming wealthy. They are interested in the lifestyles and attitudes of other wealthy people. They gain information that will help them build wealth.
- Some people are interested in physical achievements. Perhaps they want to be a certain weight, have a certain physique, or look a certain way. This interest characterizes what they eat, how they spend their time, and where they go.
- Some people are interested in partying. All they want to do is hang out with friends, get hammered, and have a good time.
Interests are only slightly different from activities (discussed below). Interests come from a deeper source within a person’s psychography. Activities are the way that a person’s interests intersect with their time and spending choices. As I’ll explain, activities are often a person’s hobby.
Someone who is interested in, say, parenting may be obsessed with the idea of parenting. That’s an interest. But it’s not a hobby. Few people call parenting a hobby. It’s too deep, too significant, and too consequential to be considered a hobby. It’s an interest.
A person’s interests change over time. The person who is, at one point in her life, interested in parenting might, years later, not have as much interest in this area. Her interests have changed.
There is no single interest that will characterize your target audience. Instead, you’ll encounter a spread of interests, depending on who it is that you’re targeting and the product you are marketing.
As you conduct your psychographic research, look for trends. Chances are, some interests will be more prevalent than others among your target audience.
2. What activities do they participate in?
Every person on the planet has some activity that they spend time on. The question for your psychographic research is what are the activities of your target audience
When you conduct psychographic research, an easy way to find out activities is to ask about hobbies. You’ll probably get a wide variety answers:
- I don’t have any hobbies
- Stamp collecting
- Online gaming
- Craft brewing
This list is potentially endless. However, the more information you gain, the greater you’ll understand your particular audience’s interests.
You may start to learn, for example, that a huge number of your customers are interested in fishing. They absolutely love it. They spend time on fishing websites, play fishing simulation games, research techniques for catching bass, spend large amounts of money on fishing reels, and basically breathe fishing. When they are at work, they’re dreaming of going back out to the lake to go fishing.
You think this would have an impact on how you do marketing? Where you sell your product? What images you place on your ads? What websites you retarget on? What Facebook ad settings you adjust?
Questions about hobbies only go so far. Some people, for example, don’t have hobbies, per se. Or they don’t consider what they spend their time on as a hobby. But they still have activities that they’re involved with, and those activities are crucial to a psychographic understanding.
Instead of just asking about hobbies in your psychographic research, make an effort to understand how the person spends their time.
A possible survey question could go like this: “Outside of the time you spend sleeping and working, how do you spend most of your time?”
It’s a broad and open-ended question, but it will give you a sense of people’s activities.
- “I spend it just commuting to and from work!” This person spends a lot of time either in her car or on public transportation. How might this impact the way that she interacts with your product?
- “All I do is spend time with family.” He’s a family guy. He doesn’t have any hobbies, but he’s playing with his kids, spending time at home, and interacting with family members on a daily basis.
- “I go to tons of PTA meetings, HOA meetings, church, and community organization meetings.” This person is heavily involved in their community. They might be a leader, an active citizen, really sociable, or just can’t say “no” to being involved.
Each of these hypothetical responses tells you a lot about your audience’s activities.
3. What are their attitudes about _____?
Attitudes are the ways of thinking about a given topic.
You don’t simply find out someone’s attitudes. Instead you must research attitudes on a given topic. An attitude is a specific thinking response to a person, a concept, a theory, a belief, a thing.
When it comes to discovering your audience’s attitudes, you’ll need to narrow your focus to some degree. What is it that you want to get your customer’s attitude about?
If you sell a health-related product then you may be interested in getting your audience’s attitude towards the role of government in healthcare. (It’s a big question.)
A good way to understand an individual’s attitude is to discover their opinion on a given topic. There are certain opinion-related questions, that will help uncover a person’s attitudes:
- What is your opinion on the place of personal faith in the workplace?
- What is your opinion on the current condition of the government?
- What is your opinion on the greatest social needs?
- What is your opinion about early childhood education?
- What is your opinion on how individuals should be involved in environmental protection?
Each of those are broad opinion-related questions. The better you know your audience, however, the more focused you can get with your opinion-related questions.
- What is your opinion on the performance of Microsoft 10, compared with Microsoft 8?
- How do you feel about the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage?
- What’s your response to the Tesla’s Model S P85D?
Understanding opinions is one of the most valuable areas of psychographic research. Opinions reveal values. And values are one of the most enduring forms of personal motivation that exist.
One of the reasons for the slow uptake of psychographics among marketers is that psychographics are difficult to gain. It takes time, effort, research, and surveys that don’t produce pie charts and bar graphics.
The data is admittedly fuzzier, just as the motivations and inspirations of your target audience is a bit fuzzy.
Don’t let these challenges keep you from diving into the world of psychographics. As Mashable stated, “Build a deep understanding of your customer, or risk irrelevance.”
That deep understanding is found in psychographics.
The information is there — powerful, game-changing, and remarkable in the depth of understanding that it conveys. All you need to do is learn it, understand it, and act on it.
What kind of psychographic research have you done? What was your experience?