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Psychographics: The Secret to More Strategic Advertising


It’s no secret that a large number of ad campaigns fail within the first 6 months. Not everyone can stumble upon advertising gold like Progressive with their spokesperson Flo or AT&T with their new Lily campaign. More common are the failures like McDonald’s ‘Transparency’ campaign where they agreed to divulge the ingredients in a Big Mac.

So why are so many campaigns failing right out of the gate? It’s due in part to psychographics. Or more accurately, a lack of accurate research into what makes their target market tick.

But psychographics is a big word, and not just because it has 14 letters (interesting fact: the most common length of an English word is 5 letters). There are hundreds of subcategories that fall under psychographics, so what are a few examples and where should you focus your energy for more effective advertising?

First, What Are Psychographics?

I prefer Google’s definition of psychographics because it’s appropriately vague: the study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria. These criteria are less quantifiable than demographics, which tell us things like: how old our target market is, where they tend to live, gender, home ownership, and employment status.

Theories about which comes first, demographics or psychographics, are abundant. But my personal opinion is that demographics are the foundation upon which you build psychographics. For example, if you sell wedding supplies then it’s a pretty safe bet that your target market is around 21-30 years old. Using this information, you can start your research and begin to gleam insights into aspirations, attitudes, etc.

Here are a few examples of the psychographics I have found to be the most important when determining an advertising strategy:

  • Occasions – weddings, births, job changes, buying a home, etc.
  • Behavioral – what types of information do they consume and where do they consume it?
  • Buyer Readiness – on average how long does it take before a prospect is ready to purchase? and during this time frame, what types of media are they consuming?
  • Interests – music? sports? beer or wine? etc.
  • Social Class – income is a relative number depending upon where you live, so determining the social class is important for your advertising strategy.


How Should I Use Psychographics to Be More Strategic With My Advertising Dollars?

The 4 things that form the foundation of a successful advertising campaign are the right messaging, on the right channels, at the right time, at the optimal frequency. Psychographics can help you determine all of these.

Understanding what resonates with your target market is critical to success. So understanding how and why your prospects consume different types of media (behavioral), helps you determine the right mix of message and ad placement, while things like social class and buyer readiness give you insight into how much you can afford to spend on acquisition of new customers.

For more detailed information on how to apply the 5 psychographic research suggestions listed above, see the chart below.


Perhaps it’s because psychographics are less concrete, that marketers often fail in their research. It’s all just a guessing game anyhow… right? Not anymore. Thanks to platforms like Google Adwords, Facebook, and Linkedin, psychographics can now be quantified more accurately.

I’m a big advocate for using digital ad platforms to determine not only your potential reach, but more fundamentally what your target market is looking for and when. Above is a chart detailing each of the psychographics I find most important and tools to find this information. To learn how to use Facebook and Linkedin to gather psychographic information, see my last blog post on media planning.

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