Psychographic surveys: What they are and how to use them

In market research, psychographic surveys are used to study and classify people according to psychological criteria like their attitudes, aspirations, values, lifestyle, and personality. The word psychographic comes from the word psyche, the human soul, spirit, or mind, and graphics, to give a clear and effective picture. For example, a survey about religious beliefs or political opinions would be psychographic. In marketing, psychographic information is sometimes referred to as attitudinal targeting or “AIO,” which stands for activities, interests, and opinions.

Demographic surveys gather “hard” data like age, location, race, etc., while psychographic surveys gather “soft,” subjective data about how people live and what they think. By using only demographic data, all customers in a specific category (like high school graduates, Baby Boomers, New Yorkers) would be marketed to identically. Demographic information will help you build a vague image of your customer and give some indication as to whether they’ll be interested in your product.

For example, maybe you’re marketing to Baby Boomers. Then, of course, age is a key detail—but there are huge sub-sectors of Baby Boomers based on their religious beliefs, political leanings, and interests. Psychographics can indicate who is likely to be interested in a specific product at a specific time—such as if Baby Boomers are more likely to purchase your product the year they retire. One study found that using psychographic information to target customers was up to four times more effective than using demographic information.

Psychographics are all about how your customers behave and what motivates them. If you know more about how your customers think, you can tailor your products to their needs. It’s an extremely powerful tool. Psychographics help you build a deep understanding of your intended audience and create targeted customer profiles. As a marketer, you can drill down into specific sub-sectors of your customers, like work-from-home dads or eco-conscious business owners, and understand who they are, how they think, and how they spend their money. The information can affect how you package and promote your products.

How do you feel about electric cars?

Which make and model of car(s) have you owned in the past 6 years?

If an electric car was the same price as a car that runs on gasoline, would you consider purchasing one?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Maybe

I like to take long-distance road trips.

1 = Strongly Disagree
2 = Disagree
3 = Neither Agree nor Disagree
4 = Agree
5 = Strongly Agree

These are all examples of psychographic survey questions. The questions can be open-ended questions, like “how do you feel about electric cars?” or closed-ended, where the respondent selects an answer from a list. There are pros and cons to each: with open-ended questions, the respondent is not limited to the available answers, and is less likely to be influenced by seeing a list of responses, but the answers are more challenging to organize and collect.

Sometimes, questions can be less directly about a product, and more about customers’ motivations. For example, instead of asking respondents about electric cars, the questions may be about how important the environment is to their life or their thoughts on global warming.

Another aspect to consider: With open-ended questions like, “Why do you buy shoes?” you might receive vague answers like, “Because I like shoes.” A better approach might be to ask, “The last time you purchased new shoes, what was the reason?” Or have respondents rank whether the comfort, cost, or appearance of the shoe matters most.

Over the past few years, the car company Subaru has moved more towards psychographic data to understand their customers interest and passions. “A lot of manufacturers target customers based on pure demographics. We try to go beyond that and find people who are likeminded who have the same interests or needs, the same passions Subaru has, to find commonalities,” Alan Bethke of Subaru told Inc.

Having a better understanding of consumer behavior is especially useful before the launch of a product or service. A product’s success can often be determined by how well a company understands their customers, and can directly affect its bottom line. Today, with rapidly-changing technology, fashion, and trends, psychographic surveys allow companies to adapt as their customers’ interests evolve. In addition, most purchasing decisions have deep meaning behind them, and they’re often not rational—many buying decisions stem from emotions, values, or social pressures.

The data from your survey can help you send more targeted newsletters and emails to customers, find better keywords for your website, write better content for your website based on your customers’ interests, and create more effective advertisements.

In addition, after a product is launched, a psychographic survey can be used to demonstrate that the product is connecting with customers. The results of a survey like this can be used to grow the business and secure additional funding.

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