psychographics vs demographics

Psycho Graphics vs. Demographics

“The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.”

When marketers talk about targeting specific people in their advertising, PR and influence campaigns, they’ll typically use two different types of targeting approaches. The conventional (and older) form of targeting is called demographics. This is information about gender, age, marital status, location, and household income. Focus groups used to ask for this basic information before they led people through surveys about their buying habits, preferences and so forth. It’s basic information that could allow a marketer to buy a list of people from a list broker with some general accuracy about what kind of neighborhood the person came from and how much they might be able to spend on a particular product. Credit bureaus and credit analysis firms like Experian, Equifax and Transunion would gather up this information, as well, and stockpile it in huge databases so they could make semi-accurate credit decisions about specific individuals.

Years ago, when most people in the U.S. purchased magazine subscriptions that were physically delivered to their homes (think Time, Newsweek, Field & Stream, Cosmopolitan, People Magazine, The Economist, Sunset, Good Housekeeping, etc.), another layer of analysis was possible. They called it psychographics. This data could be meshed with demographic data in order to create an even better understanding of the consumer’s potential buying potential. If they subscribed to Field & Stream, you could safely assume they might like fishing poles and off-road vehicles. If they subscribed to Good Housekeeping, you could assume they fit the psychological profile of a housewife. Buying decisions about cleaning products, interior design, family vehicles and food choices could be assumed and the appropriate advertising targeted to that person. Back in those days (think 1845 to 2000), the advertising was typically delivered via direct mail – postcards, letters and other types of color-printed mailers that pitched very specific products and services to these psychographic targets. E-Commerce had not taken off to any significant extent until post 2000.

In simple terms, demographics show the marketer who the buyer is, and psychographics tells the marketer why the buyer would buy something.  The former is about generic profile, while the latter is about specific motivations.

Let’s create a very basic buyer persona based upon what we know about the ideal customer for a nutritional counselor. Here goes!

With the internet, advertisers and companies like Facebook and Google are able to make psychographics even more granular in their specificity. As you like bits of information on the web and share information about your life and preferences, these platforms learn details about you which they can share with advertisers. Here’s the difference, showing typical data fields these platforms collect:


  • Female
  • Aged 45-65
  • Married, with three children
  • Lives in Boca Raton, Florida
  • Household income $100K+

Psychographics (informed by the Internet):

  • Health and diet conscious
  • Busy lifestyle (based on LinkedInwork profile and school website logins)
  • Purchases groceries at one specific market (based on loyalty card data)
  • Surfs the internet in the evenings for pleasure
  • Prefers Pinterest as a social network
  • Buys monthly from Etsyand Amazon
  • Purchases quality
  • Always uses two-day shipping
  • Reads articles mostly about recipes, psychology/self-help and health/nutrition

If you combine both of the data sets, you get a pretty clear vision about what this woman might like to purchase in the future. That information allows advertisers to purchase advertising targeted at this specific profile of person. The advertisers and their agencies can also cross these data points with other similar profiles to come up with new ideas about what a similar type of woman might like to buy. If, for example, 90% of women with similar profiles took an online course in Yoga, that advertiser might want to purchase a Facebook ad with this new persona or demographic/psychographic profile as the target.



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