Are you sold on the idea that it’s beneficial to understand your customer?

Hope so. If not, it’s guess work. When you know who your customer is, where they are, what they love and what they hate, you can market to them much more effectively.

There are a variety of ways of learning about your customer – some quantitative and some qualitative, some passive and some active.

Market research, both traditional and online, often deals with two types of customer data: demographics and psychographics.

Psychographics are usually underrated but can be valuable as well.

What Are Psychographics?

Demographics and psychographics both make up characteristics of your customers, or of your target market.

The Difference Between Psychographic and Demographics

A demographic relates to the structure of a population.

It deals with 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. But 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).

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When I studied advertising in University, we spent a lot of time talking about demographics in media planning. We spent less time talking about psychographics.

Psychographics deals with attitudes, interests, personality, values, opinions and lifestyle. Psychographics, for this reason, are incredibly valuable for marketing, but they also have use cases in opinion research, prediction, and social research in a broad sense.

Psychographics deal primarily deal with what are known as IAO variables – interests, activities, opinions. They attempt to find the beliefs and emotions of an audience, not just their age and sex makeup.

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They don’t need to and shouldn’t stand alone. You can analyze psychographic data in relation to demographics, geographic, behavioral data, and firmographic data (especially important for any account-based marketing approach).

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 it and cut it 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 as well as put it in the right place. They’re less objective and clean, but for a marketer, they are super useful.

Types of Psychographics

The main types of psychographics are IAO’s – interests, activities, and opinions. You can split that into subcategories as well (attitudes and opinions are slightly different. Lifestyle and behavior are slightly different than activities). However, let’s stick to the main three…


Activities are what people do. Things like skiing, reading, fishing, weightlifting – the list is endless.

Sometimes this data can be irrelevant. For instance, you can’t immediately do anything with the fact that some of your customers like fishing if you’re selling SaaS.

But if you ask the right questions, good open-ended questions that let you know your customer better, you can learn how your 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 approach events and even selling in a more catered way.


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 GA’s 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:

Which, I suppose, could provide a little bit of insight into what your best customers are like. Realistically, I don’t think this is the most valuable GA data (someone could point out otherwise and convince me though).

Opinions and Attitudes

Everyone has opinions. When people have similar opinions, they tend to form tribes (which is when the Cialdini’s Unity principle comes into play).

Have you noticed an increase in brands displaying their opinions and values? Superbowl commercials have seen controversy for a variety of reasons (especially this year), and it’s usually because they ventured to share an opinion of the world.

Opinions and attitudes are really 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.

I think 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 psychographics? There are many ways, some easy and passive, some rigorous and active.

In an excellent HBR article, Alexandra Samuel outlined some key ways 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:

alexandraAlexandra Samuel:

“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, though, is through rigorous user person 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:


  • Male
  • 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 would be less rounded. That’s my guess for a Headspace persona, by the way.

The process for building rigorous user personas is better left for another article, but now we’ll focus on how to gather that psychographic information. Outside of the above sources (social media analytics and listening), the easiest way for someone to get a jumpstart is through customer surveys.

Another great way is to do one-on-one customer interviews and ask great open-ended questions.

How to Use Psychographics in Your Digital Marketing

The problem with psychographics, at least historically, is that people have deemed that data to be less actionable (and harder to collect) than demographic data. However, Alexandra Samuel explains that the internet has made psychographics more important by making them more actionable and easier to access.

A user persona is a good example of 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 more granular level. But psychographics – why they make decisions – help you with messaging, persuasion, and creative.

Alexandra Samuel explains this really well in the HBR article:

alexandraAlexandra Samuel:

“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.”

This type of data makes it easier to design landing pages for key personas. When you’re creating messages and designs for a specific person, you’re doing less of the guesswork involved with typical best practices.

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Psychographics don’t just help with the messaging and creative; they also help with keyword targeting. So not only can you build the right message, but psychographic targeting helps you put it in the right place in front of the right people. As Samuel put it:

alexandraAlexandra Samuel:

“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).

Some of it can be pretty accurate, for instance, the news and entertainment section is semi-close I suppose:

And I’m a big fan of my “hobbies” section, if only because it contains like 4 dog related categories and a fox (for some reason):

Then Facebook gets weird sometimes. 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 ads platforms are making the data useful to ad buyers. You can target people at an incredibly level of behavioral, demographic, and psychographic granularity now. Sometimes Facebook gets it wrong, though. We still have a long way to go with psychographic targeting, for a variety of technical and methodological reasons.

But for the most part, we’re getting better. That’s why I’m able to be targeted by both 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 actually 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 or not it works, either, with the ability to test messaging at scale.

Knowing your customer better makes your marketing better. How do you use psychographics?