Psychographics has gotten a bad name. And not just because it shares a dictionary page with psychosis (losing touch with reality), psychosomatic (psychical problems caused by mental problems), and plain old psycho.
As if that weren’t enough, 2018 kicked off with a big hubbub about psychographics and Cambridge Analytica, the infamous consulting firm that scooped up data from Facebook to run psychographic targeting on behalf of presidential candidate Donald Trump. This shadiness prompted headlines like Cambridge Analytica and the Perils of Psychographics.
But even if psychographics has been dragged through the mud, it is still something that every marketer should understand. This post will take a closer look at:
- What psychographics is, and why it’s different than other types of data.
- How psychographics data can be used by marketers, not just slimy consulting firms.
- How psychographics data is collected.
- How you can outsource that data collection to our all-knowing friends at Facebook and Google.
- And how to implement and maximize psychographic segmentation.
If you stick around for the next seven minutes, you’ll understand exactly what psychographics is, and how anyone with something to market – like, say, an ecommerce store – can use psychographics to their advantage.
What is Psychographics?
Psychographics refers to people’s qualitative characteristics. Unlike demographics – which analyzes black-and-white traits like age, income, and marital status – psychographics focuses on opinions, behaviors, and attitudes. You know, the softer stuff that’s harder to wedge into a data set.
Even if it has only penetrated the mainstream recently with the Cambridge Analytica cluster, psychographics is nothing new. It popped up in the 1970s, and its power to help marketers has been apparent from the get-go.
In 1975, Journal of Marketing Research published a paper titled, Psychographics: A Critical Review. In the paper, advertising expert William D. Wells breaks down what this emerging field of psychographics is all about:
All psychographic researchers have attempted to move beyond demographics… [and] have embraced a wide range of content, including activities, interests, opinions, needs, values, attitudes, and personality traits.
Psychographics, however, is not just a bunch of flowery questionnaire responses. The goal is to accumulate reliable, quantifiable data. Wells, for example, talks about using “cross-tabulation and multiple regression” to unearth information and execute psychographic segmentation.
So all that vocab you learned in Stats class is alive and well in psychographics.
How Do You Use Psychographics?
As far as marketing goes, the goal of psychographics is to deliver more impactful campaigns by understanding customers better. In other words, psychographics is supposed to shed light on what will best convert target audiences.
Wells uses the Ford Pinto as an example of psychographics in action. Not familiar with the Ford Pinto? Here is a picture of one. (The waitress on roller skates gives us further context for just how long psychographics has been around.)
Wells explains that Ford’s original advertising plan for the Pinto centered on the car being “carefree and romantic.” Psychographic research, however, showed that
potential Pinto buyers had a less romantic orientation towards cars and driving. They endorsed statements like “I wish I could depend on my car more,” “I am more practical in car selection,” “A car offers me a chance to tinker with machinery…” “The only function of a car is transportation.”
This psychographic data inspired some repositioning. Ford’s advertising for the Pinto evolved accordingly, presenting it as a practical, economical vehicle.
Speaking of huge psychographic-driven successes, let’s devote a paragraph to the use of psychographic data during the 2016 US presidential election. It’s not clear how much of Trump’s success is owed to psychographic segmentation. Regardless of how effective Cambridge Analytica was, people were spooked enough to write articles like, Does Data Threaten Democracy? Cambridge Analytica’s Influence on Your Vote. What is known is that Cambridge Analytica sought to build psychographic profiles using data collected on Facebook.
And this brings us to our next topic: Just how do people get their hands on psychographics data?
How is Psychographic Data Collected?
If you’re into marketing – as opposed to, say, swinging elections – then you can find lots of guidance on how to collect psychographic data and implement psychographic segmentation.
Here are some suggestions from around the web.
Conduct surveys: “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?’” (Crazy Egg)
Focus groups: “Conducting focus groups can be an excellent method of gathering psychographic data.” (WordStream)
Interviews: “You can ask what she did over the weekend, if she’s seen any good movies lately (no? you’re more of a tv or online entertainment fan?), found any great holiday deals, made any New Year’s resolutions.” (HubSpot)
Alas, online store owners, dropshippers, and side hustlers probably don’t have the time or money for any of those methods. Sure, it’s a great idea to shoot out emails to customers asking for feedback. But trying to hold focus groups and conduct exhaustive surveys – all while running your online business – would be, well, psycho.
Thankfully it’s 2018, and these days, Google and Facebook have all the psychographic data you could ever want. And they’ll let you use it.
Want Psychographic Data? Facebook and Google Got You Covered
Here are some descriptions of psychographics:
Hmm… if only there were a company whose mission it was to figure out what people liked. Oh, wait. There is!
Indeed, Facebook borrowed from the psychographic lexicon when it launched its ongoing, international campaign to determine what people “like.”
Remember how the 1975 explainer said that psychographics was all about about people’s “activities, interests, opinions, needs, values, attitudes, and personality traits”?
Well, what are Facebook and psychographic brother-in-arms Google doing if not tracking our activities, interests, opinions, needs, values, attitudes, and personality traits?
Just think about all the different ways that these companies keep tabs on us.
Ever confirmed that you’re attending an event on Facebook, or looked for a specific location on Google Maps? Those signal your activities. Ever joined a group on Facebook or searched for something on Google? Bam – they have your interests.
It of course goes deeper than this. Tracking from Facebook and Google is planted all over the web, so these companies are collecting data about you no matter where you go.
In essence, there is a silent, never-ending psychographic survey running at all times.
For example, the conservative news website Breitbart uses all sorts of Facebook and Google tools, such as Google Analytics, Google AdSense, Facebook Connect, Facebook Custom Audience, and so on. They also use Facebook Social Graph, which is designed to identify connections between Facebook users.
Facebook is pretty coy about Social Graph, but way back in 2007, Mark Zuckerberg said: “As Facebook adds more and more people with more and more connections, it continues growing and becomes more useful at a faster rate. We are going to use it [to] spread information through the social graph.”
It’s not hard to brainstorm ways that Facebook could use the information. For example, if Breitbart is feeding data to Facebook about who’s visiting its site, then Facebook can start looking for correlations in interests, etc., between Breitbart fans and Breitbart fans’ friends.
The precise logistics of how Facebook and Google use their Everest-sized mountains of psychographic data are not clear. But the days of relying exclusively on surveys and focus groups are gone.
If you have the time and financial resources to get a bunch of customers in a room, do it. If you don’t, read on.
Implementing Psychographic Segmentation
You might be thinking: “Alright, I know what psychographics is, and I’m convinced that Facebook and Google are sitting on the biggest collections of psychographic data in history. How does that help me?”
Well, these companies would never give you their psychographic data. But they’re more than happy to let you use it!
Let’s take a look inside Facebook Business Manager. Here is how you can set up demographic targeting in Facebook. Stuff like location, age, gender, language, etc.
Want to target people who are interested in beer? No problem. And what about certain types of beer – craft beer versus light beer? Also no problem.
How does Facebook know who’s interested in certain types of beer? Hard to say. Could be the websites they visit, the events they checked in at, the pages they follow, the posts they’ve liked.
Facebook will never give us the recipe to its psychographics sauce. But boy, do they have lots of info.
Facebook doesn’t own a monopoly on this sort of data. Google’s “audience targeting” inside of AdWords – which is where you set up campaigns across the Google suite of advertising services – lets you use the same sort of psychographic criteria as Facebook. In Google’s words,
Adding audiences to a campaign or ad group helps you reach people based on their specific interests as they browse websites, apps, channels, videos, and content across the Google Display Network and YouTube. You can select from a wide range of categories — such as fans of sport and travel, people shopping for cars…
This nugget about “across the Google Display Network and YouTube” is vital because it shows you how far Google’s psychographics tentacles reach: Someone watching loads of yoga videos is forking over valuable psychographic data.
Here is a very small sample of the interests that Google assigns to users – and the interests that marketers can use to create psychographic segments:
Conclusions on Psychographics
Ideally you will craft your copy, images, and offers in such a way that they leverage the psychographic data at your fingertips. This will look different for different markets and niches.
Just remember that you can go way beyond targeting “American males between 20 and 30 years old.” You can merge those demographic factors with psychographic data that you think is consistent with your products, your brand, or both.
For example, if you cook up a great ad with a Star Trek joke, you could use one of the many, many Star Trek targeting filters inside Facebook:
You need to stay on the right side of copyright laws, of course, but psychographic segmentation from Facebook and Google gives you all sorts of avenues to create hyper-targeted ads that have a higher chance of converting customers.
And conversion is something that we all like.
Want to Learn More?
Here are some more posts about Facebook, Google, data, and all that good stuff.