Using a psychographic profile in marketing

A psychographic profile is a definition of a person (a purchaser in our case) based on psychological characteristics such as values, fears, goals, interests or opinions. It defines people by their personality traits as opposed to demographic facts like age, gender, income or location. It’s also different to the occupational characteristics we often use as marketers: job title, seniority, et cetera.

Take a look at this chart that compares psychographic, demographic and occupational attributes:

Psychographic Demographic Occupational
Concerned about equality Gender Job Title
Dismissive of Health & Safety Age Seniority
Risk-taker Income Qualifications


Psychographics in brand advertising

Brand advertising relies heavily on psychographic profiles. Because it doesn’t promote a product, it has to focus on the potential purchaser. It tries to match its brand with the characteristics and aspirations of the potential customers. That’s one aspect of their psychographic profile.

Take a look at this advert from Sky TV.

The demographic this advert is aimed at is home-owning grandparents with a fairly high income. But the advert doesn’t target these demographics.

  • It doesn’t say “You’re too old to play football, you’d better watch it on Sky TV.”
  • It doesn’t say “Your lovely living room would be even better with 420 TV channels.”
  • It doesn’t say “Rich people like you don’t have to put up with the crap on Freeview.”

Nor does it put too much emphasis on features like the number of available channels and voice control. They’re mentioned, but they’re sort of in the background.

No, this advert targets a psychographic profile. It homes in on a grandparent’s desire to improve their connection with their family or grandchildren. It tells them that having Sky TV will make little Millie look forward to a day at grandpa’s. It might even be making grandpa a better grandparent. It’s total rubbish on both counts, of course, but this is advertising so we’ll let that ride.


A psychographic profile is important for marketing

The advantage of a psychographic profile is that it strongly motivates a person. It influences their behaviour and purchasing decisions. A psychographic profile identifies what a person is interested in and what they care about rather than who they are.

On LinkedIn, for example, you can see that Hillary is a marketing manager. But that’s just her job title. It’s an occupational attribute. It doesn’t tell you what she cares about or what she’s interested in. It doesn’t tell you about her ambitions.


A psychographic profile reveals characteristics that motivate people.

A psychographic profile reveals characteristics that motivate people.

If you look at the groups she’s joined on LinkedIn you get better psychographic information. If she’s a member of the Salesforce user group, you know she’s fairly devoted to CRM and that product in particular. If she follows the Women in Marketing group, she’s concerned about gender equality. If she’s joined a venture capital group, she probably wants to set up her own business one day.

This tells you what Hillary is interested in. More importantly, because she’s made a conscious effort to join these groups you know she has a certain level of devotion to them. These issues motivate her. You can phrase your approach to Hillary far better knowing this information than you could if you only knew that she was a marketing manager. If you only know she’s a marketing manager, all you can do is talk about the kind of things most marketing managers are concerned about.

Some psychographics are more useful than others. Whether Yasmin is an introvert or an extrovert is not the most important characteristic affecting her decision to buy or ignore your product/service. Whether she’s a risk-taker or a conservative might be more influential. That type of characteristic might influence how you design your messaging.


A psychographic profile is unimportant for marketing

There is one sense in which a psychographic profile don’t matter at all. It’s this: if you’ve been doing your marketing right, you already use them. You may not have known the term, but you knew the concept and you exploited it.

Take a look at our lead generation process. The step on “goals and problems” is built on psychographic profiles. This step is about identifying the goals people are trying to achieve or the problems they’re trying to remove. These aren’t demographic or occupational characteristics, they’re psychographic attributes.

  • This managing director wants to improve productivity.
  • That finance director is terrified of a VAT audit.
  • That operations manager wants to reduce administrative overload.

When you identify these attributes, you tap into the motivations that are powerful enough to prompt a purchase.

Even if you don’t follow a strategic approach in your business, if you adopt a more ‘seat of the pants’ approach, you’ve probably been exploiting psychographic profiles. For example, we did a lot of work in the on-site power generation industry. It depended heavily on diesel generators so when the Medium Combustion Plant Directive (MCPD) came into force to reduce emissions, everyone was worried about the effect it would have on their businesses.

These existential fears are psychographic attributes. But you don’t need to know they’re psychographic attributes to exploit them. You just need to know that people have been motivated to think or act a certain way.


The problem with profiles

A psychographic profile is only part of your marketing challenge. Once you understand that a finance director is terrified of a VAT audit, you still have to create the messaging that’ll attract his attention. You still have to find the right channel through which you can get the message to him.

Psychographic profiles might also be very specific, making your target audience very small. A campaign on improving cash flow can go to every financial director in the country. A campaign on avoiding a VAT audit is going to be relevant to far fewer directors. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does mean you could be doing a lot of campaigns for very small audiences.

So keep psychographic profiles in the back of your mind but don’t obsess about them.


How do you identify a psychographic profile?

Some psychographic profiles – or psychographic attributes, at least – are easy to identify. The same power generation companies that were worried by the MCPD are now equally worried about the viability of their businesses when they lose access to red diesel.

We are currently working with companies in the telecoms industry because they have a similar watershed moment happening in 2025. ISDN is going to be switched off. Practically every business in the country uses ISDN for their telephone service (even if they don’t know it).

IT and telecoms managers in big companies (a demographic attribute) are already worried about how they’ll cope with the change (a psychographic attribute). The concern will move into smaller companies as the deadline approaches. It’ll turn into outright terror for the businesses who’ve still done nothing a couple of months before they lose their phone lines.

Legislative or regulatory changes like this always generate psychographic attributes. These attributes are a market you can identify and tackle.

You can also identify a psychographic profile through market research. Questions like “What are your main business concerns for 2021?” are inviting answers that will reveal a psychographic profile. In reality, you’d need to be a bit smarter about your questions. If you ask a generic question, you’ll get generic answers like “Brexit” or “coronavirus”.

You might prefer to offer a selection of issues a person might be concerned about. If you do this, it’s vital that you also ask how concerned the people are about each option. The strength of the characteristic is as important as its presence, especially when they compete against each other. If James cares about both sustainability and economy, which does he prioritise? Will he pay more for a sustainable product? How much more?

If you’re thinking that market research is too complicated or expensive, think again. Take a look at our free guidance on market research.


What else makes a psychographic profile different?

Psychographic profiles can change over time. What worries somebody today might not tomorrow. The power generation companies that were so worried about MCPD are not worried any more. They’ve addressed the issues it presented and moved on. Opinions can change over time too. The rash risk taker in his 20s might be a cautious conservative in his 50s.

You can also fit into more than one psychographic profile. In fact, it’s almost certain that you will. You can care about sustainability and yet make price one of your primary buying criteria. This makes a psychographic profile fundamentally different to a demographic profile: you can’t be employed and unemployed.