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6 Considerations Before Engaging in Psychographic Targeting

Cara Pring.
By: Cara Pring  |   November 8, 2012  |   View Comments

Psychographic Targeting

Ask any marketer you know what they think is the most exciting aspect of Facebook ads, and I can just about guarantee the response will be something like:

"Targeting! There's so much opportunity for targeting people! Such specific targeting too, not just by age or gender, but even interests and location relationship status and more!"

Which is true. It's what I'd say. It’s what I have said when people have asked me. I've written about it before, and as you can see, I've just written it again. Being able to target people is exciting, because once upon a time we had to spend bajillions of dollars sending our marketing messages to the masses in order to reach those few who were actually interested in our product/service. Sure, you could target to some degree based on what TV show you advertised in, or which paper your advertorial was featured, or the radio station you put your 30-second spot in, etc. But you couldn't be sure you were capturing the right people.

There was no capability to reach a very specific target niche. Not until social media showed up. We weren't telling our TVs, newspapers, radios or billboards every sordid detail of our lives, who we liked, what we didn't like, what brands excited us, where we worked, how much we made and who we were dating. They were lucky if they even knew our name. But social media sites changed the game plan, because all of a sudden they not only knew our name, age, gender and location, but they knew just about everything else about our personality, lives and interests too. And it wasn't long before they realized the goldmine this information was and introduced ads to their networks.

We're still coming to terms with the sudden wealth of psychographic data we, as marketers, have at our fingertips. Now those 'personas' that our agencies charged us millions of dollars to create may actually be useful. All of a sudden 'Mike,' who earns over $75k a year, likes keeping fit, is technologically savvy and loves 18th century collectible clocks might actually be targetable.

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Psychographics?

I like the SEOmoz definition of psychographics as "a means of identifying users by interests, occupations, roles in life, predilections, and other personal characteristics."

It's not about how old you are or where you live anymore, but the stuff that really defines who you are – like the fact that you enjoy Italian food, or Mad Men, or staying up late, or that you're an entrepreneur or stay at home mom with a 6-month old. Do you think someone selling Mad Men merchandise would make a better return on investment targeting males 18-45 living in the USA, or by targeting everyone who likes Mad Men?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess the latter option, and the good news is that thanks to social networking sites like Facebook, it's now possible to do so.  Psychographic targeting is pretty cool, but it also has some inherent dangers – in particular, it's very easy to get carried away. It's easy to get too specific or try to be too smart, which is why it's important to consider a few important factors before engaging in psychographic targeting:

1. Do You Know Who Your Target Market Really Is?

Now most marketers have a pretty good idea on the general audience they are looking to target when it comes to age, gender and location. But when we're talking about psychographic targeting, we're really talking more about people's interests, attitudes and behaviors. If you want to engage in psychographic targeting, the first thing you need to do is formulate a detailed view of your target market(s).

If you're lucky, you work for a company that has lots of money and a big marketing department, in which case you may already have access to marketing persona research or some demographic/psychographic research on your customers. If not, sit down and think about your product, and everything you know about your customers and the reasons why they would buy your product. Then list the attributes you can think of that would likely make up your target market.

Now you have a good idea about what you think your target market looks like, you can marry these attributes up with the options available in the channel you're looking to advertise. And then you know what your options for targeting are.

However, be very careful not to go too crazy on defining the characteristics of your target audience. People can get very overzealous about psychographic targeting, so if you're not altogether sure what sort of interests or attitudes your customers exhibit, then don't go guessing. Psychographic targeting can be very successful, but only if you truly know who your target market is. If you don't, then stay away from guesswork because you may just end up wasting your money on the wrong market.

2. Are You Being Too Selective?

Once you've established the psychographic attributes you're hoping to target, sit back and consider whether you've been too selective. Advertising is often not effective if the pool of people in your target audience is only a handful people in the whole world. Platforms like Facebook give you an indication how many people you can reach based on the traits you've chosen to target. If that pool of people is looking small, you know you need to start again.

3. How Are You Paying for Your Ads?

If you're paying CPC (cost per click) for your ads, the need to target is not nearly as strong as if you're paying CPM (cost per 1000 impressions). Think about it: if you can make the ad creative and messaging strong enough to resonate with your target market, those people are the only ones who will click on your ad anyway. Everyone else who sees it will likely just ignore it if it's not relevant to them.

If you're advertising a vacation package deal with the headline 'Need a vacation?,' you could have targeted people who have 'travel' and 'vacations' in their interests (and thereby cut down your reach), or you could expect that people who are not interested in a vacation would see the headline and promptly ignore it. I am not sure who on earth those people would be, or if they would even exist, but it's still a reasonable assumption to make. This is of course, if you're paying only for each person who clicks on your ad. If you're paying for everyone who is exposed to it, you're definitely going to want to get selective.

4. Psychographics Don't Take Into Account Why People Share

So the end result of your social media advertising campaign is most likely to get your target audience to do something – more often than not this is to buy your product/service, sign up for a newsletter or enter a competition. Psychographic targeting can help you hit the people who may be most likely to engage in your end-goal: that is, to purchase from you or whatever it is you want them to do.

However, it doesn't take into account which people might actually share your content or why they may do so. The key to social media success is having shareable content, which can then get you much more exposure than your original paid advertising (for free). By targeting the people you think are most interested in consuming your product or service, you may be missing out reaching those who would be more likely to share it with their friends and networks – thereby missing out on potentially hundreds (or thousands) of dollars worth of free advertising exposure.

5. Privacy Issues and Misdirection

These days most of us expect our data is going to be used to some degree by evil corporations to funnel their marketing messages our way. Even if it's true, I'm not upset when I am fed Facebook ads promoting the box set of Community, because I openly liked the TV show on Facebook. Fine. But the problem we have as marketers is that most of us don't know how Facebook gets all of their data. Do they only use the data from what we willingly enter into our profiles and the public Facebook pages we like? Or do they use the content we put in our status updates too? Most people don't realize, but they actually do. Ever see a Facebook ad that so closely relates to something you've written in your status update it was just a little too coincidental? It's happened to me a number of times.

6. What About Gift-Givers?

Don't forget that sometimes the people who purchase from you may not be the ones who will actually consume your product or service. They may be buying it for a gift or on behalf of someone else. This is just another reason you may want to be careful with how selective you get with your targeting. What can you do in this case? Create different ad campaigns: one targeting those who will buy and consume your product, and the other targeting those who may be interested in buying on behalf of someone else.

The Final Word

The ability to target is fun and exciting, but it's altogether too easy to get carried away with it and start making too many generalizations about your customers. Sure, they may have a propensity to attend music festivals, but how strong is the correlation between people who attend music festivals and your customer base? If it's just a vague connection, you may be cutting out a decent chunk of potential customers by targeting this one segment. Resist the urge to be a psychographic psychopath (I had to say it).

Facebook maintains they rarely do this, but I can think of a number of times it's happened to me. Once I posted about traveling to Vietnam and all of a sudden I was hit by Vietnam-themed ads. Another time I questioned my desire "to ever have children" within a status about my sick cat. Facebook wasted no time in hitting me with ads directed to parents. It was so obvious I even tweeted about it at the time (evidence below, just to prove I’m not making it up!)

In the first example, the Vietnam-themed ads were actually relevant, albeit a bit of an invasion to my privacy. In the second example, the ads were completely irrelevant. The question then becomes, how accurate are some of the psychographic targeting options via social media channels like Facebook? How are they getting their information, and is it bordering on an invasion of privacy? People can be very antsy about privacy issues on social media networks, and if you're connected to what is perceived to be an invasion of their privacy, it may actually have a negative impact on your campaign.

It may seem that I'm trying to warn you off doing any psychographic targeting, but that isn't the case. Targeting of all kinds – including psychographic – is a brilliant tool to add to any marketer's arsenal. I've used it plenty in the past and I'll use it again in the future. It's worth embracing the technology and testing out what results you get by targeting more specific traits and personas. But it's also important to use it intelligently, and to do so it is worth considering the points I've raised above. Once you've done so, go forth and target psychographically (also not a word, but should be) to your heart's content.


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Comments
  • Anonymous

    Nice article! What about creating an ad specifically targeting "sharers" instead of potential clients or being broadly targeted? I imagine that theoretically that could be done somehow, so that a small investment resulted in many free 'ads'?. Cheers

  • Gone_Walkabout

    Nice article! What about creating an ad specifically targeting "sharers" instead of potential clients or being broadly targeted? I imagine that theoretically that could be done somehow, so that a small investment resulted in many free 'ads'?. Cheers

  • Jack Shapiro

    It's very difficult to actually FIND specific people to match market segmentation criteria based on psychographics. Hard to recruit focus groups, for example, based on matching respondents to these criteria. If you have a sales force, it's virtually impossible to successfully match customers to these criteria. The greatest disappointment marketing directors and VPs have with market research has been segmentation based on psychographics, especially in healthcare.

  • jame1

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