Audience analysis: Psychology for targeted marketing


If, as marketer or advertiser, you have attempted to understand, define or target an audience, you might have noticed that the most commonly used approaches are basic. They are primarily focussed on demographics and lack the details you need when targeting a niche.

Audience profiling will usually be limited to what’s tangible. Marketing communications agencies will usually describe people by placing them in a dimension of

  • age
  • sex
  • race
  • occupation

Depending on how thorough the analysis is other data, such as geographic data, might also supplement this information. Sometimes, it’s the only thing companies are interested in; have you been ever asked for your postcode when purchasing products in a brick and mortar store? If so, how did you react?

Using insights to define targeting 

Demographics are a somewhat useful when trying to understand who or where your audience are, but surely not all 18-25 year old women living in York are interested in the same type of music or vote for the same political candidates?

Often marketing departments or agencies will describe their clients’ audiences implying that this is true, by providing only demographic-type data.

At the same time they will reserve the right to describe themselves as unique snowflakes (“intolerable before her first triple latte”, “loves Skittles”, “never met a puppy she didn’t like”, “ultimate girly girl”).

Surely there must be a way of analysing groups of individuals on more depth? Why can’t we describe our audiences in terms of their opinions, attitudes and lifestyle? We can at least try, and this is where psychographics come in.

What are Psychographics?

Psychographics can be defined as research intended to differentiate and aggregate consumers in terms of psychological traits, and are attributed to marketing researcher Emmanuel Demby. This type of research is almost always contrasted to the mentioned earlier demographics.

Similarly to some areas of psychology, psychographics aim to capture the subject’s internal processes as dimensions, which can be used for differentiation and segmentation.

In practice, psychographics can be used to select an audience that meets a certain profile and tailor a message specifically to that profile.

More specifically, you can measure and take into account the target audiences’ attitudes when evaluating campaign ideas, create tangible personas for a better understanding of who the targeted group might consist of, and write more persuasive marketing communications including website copy and outreach emails. This might also be useful when trying to explain your new approach to a client, as the might not have ventured into these areas of market research.

For example, if you’re working with a travel company and find out that a disproportionate of your website visitors have an affinity for snow sports, you might want create slightly less content focused around countries which are located on the Equator.

Central to understanding psychographics is being familiar with their components, the least obvious being “attitudes”.

Understanding Psychological Reactivity

Social psychology textbooks will define attitudes as a predisposition to respond to a stimulus (something in a person's environment, e.g. a person or event) in a positive or negative way (Bowditch and Bruno, 1997). Other researchers describe them as mental states of readiness, based on experience, exerting an influence upon the individual’s response to objects and situations (Allport, 1954).

The classic tripartite model (Rosenberg and Hovland, 1960) assumes that is that attitudes contain the following components

  • Affective (I am scared of snakes.)
  • Behavioural (I will try to avoid snakes and scream if I see one.)
  • Cognitive (I believe snakes are dangerous.)

A crossover between these three can be often observed, and in general all of the above should be fairly consistent.

When they are in conflict, subjects will experience cognitive dissonance and will aim to reduce it. This is explained well by psychologist Leon Festinger in this video.

An alternative, functional view, of attitudes has been proposed (Katz, 1960) to emphasise ways in which holding attitudes can benefit the individuals.

  • Adaptive - if a person displays certain attitudes, other people will reward them with social acceptance.
  • Self-expressive- help communicate identity and make us feel good for asserting ourselves
  • Ego-defensive - protect self-esteem, justify actions, avoid feelings of guilt or regret
  • Knowledge - enable us to understand and predict the world around us and maintain cognitive economy

Having looked at both approaches to attitudes - the structural and the functional - it becomes clear that we might want to choose one over the other depending on what we’re trying to and understand about our audience.


Some companies use their own segmentation approach, heavily influenced by psychographics as well qualitative information gathered from focus groups. For example Mazda, the Japanese car manufacturer, avoids defining its target audience by demographics; instead it uses psychographics and targets people who are young at heart, find self-expression important, and enjoy driving.

Using psychographics will give you a competitive advantage over those who decided to only use demographic data in their research, and will ultimately help you achieve better results for your client or company.


References and further reading

Bowditch, J.L.(1996) A Primer on Organizational Behavior (Wiley Series in Management). 4 Edition. Wiley

Allport, G.W. (1979) The Nature of Prejudice: 25th Anniversary Edition. Unabridged Edition. Basic Books

Rosenberg, M.J. and Hovland, C.I. (1960) Attitude Organization and Change: An Analysis of Consistency Among Attitude Components. New Haven: Yale University Press

Katz, D. (1960) The functional approach to the study of attitudes. Public opinion quarterly, 24 (2): 163-204

Solman, G. (2005) Mazda Is Fine-tuning Media Mix With Less TV. AdWeek Western Edition, December 21, 2005

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