As a CEO or CMO, you've likely participated in an exercise to define your customer. Your senior leadership team probably got in a room together and crafted a version of this:

Our customer is a [age] year old [gender] who lives in [locations]. They are [marital status], [education level], and make [household income] per year as a [occupation].

In theory, understanding your customer demographics should improve your chances of reaching the right customer at the right time with the right message. 

So you argued and debated and finally came up with an airtight paragraph, and proudly declared victory: You defined your customer.

Ironically, demographics could be hurting your ability to create strong messaging.

Why? Demographics are limiting because they center around external, easily identifiable traits. On the other hand, psychographics are about what's happening in your customer's heads: how they think, feel, what their worldviews are. Psychographics describe consumers on psychological attributes to get a better understanding of personalities, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles.

Here are the three reasons that demographics have become outdated, and why you should use psychographics instead:

1. Demographics assume characteristics within a group are limited.

Your customers are multidimensional humans, like you and me. They often have nuanced, seemingly contradictory worldviews depending on the topic.

Let's say you use demographics to target single, college-educated men in their twenties who live in coastal cities. With psychographics, you realize that not all 23-year-old men care about learning and growth and adventure. Some care about stability, reducing risk, and taking a proven path. Knowing this helps you narrow down your ideal audience, and how to speak to them in a way that fits into their existing worldviews.

You might use demographics to reach baby boomers, married, with adult children, and a household income greater than $100,000. There are 65-year-olds who believe in continual improvement, trying new things, and are committed to personal growth. On the other hand, there are 65-year-olds who fit the same demographic profile, but are laggards with technology and prefer to stick with their existing habits.

Psychographics capture these crucial details and rich insights, so you can position your product to help customers achieve what they want.

2. Demographics give a false sense of confidence about your customer.

Being able to reach people doesn't necessarily mean your message appeals to them. Too many marketers spend a ton of energy and time running A/B tests and experiments to test their messaging with different sub-segments of audiences. That won't help you do the most important part: figuring out what this group wants and how your product fills its needs.

For example, you might label your customer an early adopter. What does that mean?

A person can be an early adopter for consumer gadgets, but a late adopter for personal care products. Someone else might be a risk-taker in their career, but hate taking risks with new foods or travel destinations. People are rarely early adopters across the board. Without getting specific, an insight like this is useless.

Psychographics allow brands to better understand nuances and distinctions about how people think. They're especially helpful when you need to draw your customers out from the woodwork. When you stay curious about your customer, you can find patterns that inform the creative elements of your messaging. 

You can use these insights to prioritize how, when, and where you connect with your audience.

3. Demographics don't translate well for creating customer-facing material.

After reviewing your customer demographics, it's normal if you're unsure what to do next. You didn't gain more clarity about what copy to write or what images would appeal to your customer. You don't know how to translate that demographic information into messaging on your website, social media, email marketing, and other customer touchpoints.

Many of these judgments are subjective. What's normal for one person could be outrageous for another, and you wouldn't be able to tell based on their outside characteristics. With psychographics, you can adjust your tone, words, posture, and creative nuances to resonate with your customer, which ultimately gives you more control about what to say.

The first step is to look at common patterns of your ideal customer. What do they believe that others might disagree with? Do they tend to be more skeptical or trusting by nature, and why? What do they tell themselves and their friends when they talk about your product?

The best marketing campaigns and strategies combine psychographics with demographics.When you stay open-minded about understanding worldviews, you can reach customers who would be glad to find out you exist.

Published on: Jan 31, 2019