PSYCHOGRAPHICS VS. DEMOGRAPHICS: WHICH IS WHAT AND WHEN IS IT BETTER?
What is the difference between psychographics and demographics?
Sometimes the points of differentiation for a targeted population defy sorting along conventional demographic parameters. The zip codes don’t cluster, the age range is wide, income and education levels are evenly distributed, and there is no gender preference.
Who are these people? What thread runs through them all? And how might you gently tug it? The answer often lies in psychographics.
For example, think about people who opt for extended warranties when they purchase small appliances. These insurance policies sell well—and are extremely profitable. Obviously, there are many people quietly walking among us who are anxious about the sudden catastrophic failure of their toaster ovens. How do you reach them?
Chances are, if you were to get these folks all into the same room and ask a few questions, you would likely find only weak to-moderate correlations among them for any typically measured demographic.
This means you would still be lacking any meaningful information about (1) how to sell them more extended warranties and (2) how to market other things to them that they might really like. Obviously, you need to take a different tack, and that’s where psychological traits come in.
Psychological traits can be defined as relatively enduring predilections to think, act, or feel in a certain way in a given situation. One might say that a person is fundamentally optimistic or pessimistic, rebellious or compliant, adventurous or timid, and so on.
You can measure traits using a number of instruments, among them structured interviews, psychometric studies, and standardized personality inventories.
For example, imagine an instrument designed to measure ten different traits, and that you administer it to a 100 people who recently bought life insurance policies for their new waffle irons.
Later, you administer the same instrument to a control group of 100 people who are demographically similar, except that they have never bought such extended warranties. Minimally, you would be interested to observe any differences in patterns of scoring between these two groups—differences that you could use to develop your primary marketing message.
Such a psychographic study might reveal that as a group, people who buy extended warranties tend to be significantly more risk averse, pessimistic, and sedentary than the control group. With that kind of information in hand, you could customize your primary feature/benefit statements to best address the target audience. Consider:
- As to their risk aversion, you could describe how an extended warranty will protect them from any unexpected expenses.
- As to their pessimism, you might report how the probability of small appliance dysfunction increases exponentially with each passing year.
- And as to their sedentary lifestyles, you would stress the ease and convenience of extended warranties over finding a repairman or shopping for new.
You don’t necessarily need hard data to address psychographic traits, just as you seldom conduct a huge study to address presumed demographic data. Nor does addressing psychographic traits preclude addressing demographic data.
For instance you know demographically that the vast majority of people who buy lacy thongs are women, their boyfriends not withstanding. You can take that to the bank even if you haven’t commissioned a complex demographic study to confirm it.
Likewise, you can postulate psychographically why a young woman buys a lacy thong (fun & sexy) versus why her grandmother buys thermal long underwear (warm & comfy).
Thus, telling a college student that a lacy thong is built to last, fully guaranteed, and priced right isn’t going to move her. Telling her grandmother the exact same things about a pair of thermal underwear might get her to browse a WinterSilks catalog.
In sum, it’s important to remember that psychographics can function independently of demographics and often do.
Risk-averse people can live anywhere, be any age, have whatever income, and be of either gender. Thereby, knowing that people who buy high-tech gadgets are mostly urban, young, affluent, and male tells you nothing about their propensity to buy extended warranties. The same demographically driven strategy that impels them to buy a new iPod nano® will likely do nothing to get them to insure it.
Stephen G. Barone is a marketing communications specialist and co-principal at barodine marketing communications/research/design, a general contractor of creative and analytical marketing talent to the science, technology, engineering, medical, professional, and general business communities.
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