What's the Difference Between Target Demographics and Target Psychographics?

Every business owner knows that the key to selling anything is getting in front of a specific target customer most likely to buy. Traditionally, we would narrow a customer down by age, gender, location, and maybe their annual income. The idea was: attract a very specific demo and adjacent demos (like younger or older customers) will organically follow.

While target demographics are important, they’re arguably not as important as target psychographics.

Here’s a quick example:

A 21-year-old guy and a 29-year-old guy walk into a bar. No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. But if you’re targeting 21-35 year old males the same exact way, it sort of is. When business owners notice the range of demographics they reach, they make the mistake of saying “my business is for everyone!” instead of understanding what other commonalities can be found.

Even though they fall within the same age bracket, we all know from life experience that the 21 year old is likely looking for a very different experience than the guy nearing 30. Everything from their purpose of going to the bar, what they order, who they’re there to meet can be so vastly different that it makes zero sense to group them together under one demographic.

The one thing you do know is that they both have needs fulfilled by the same bar. Understanding those needs and expectations is key to consistently attracting more of the same customers.

This is when psychographics come into play, because it dismisses measurable traits like age or income and instead groups people into bigger traits like dreams, aspirations, and core values.

Just as you can group people by the color of their eyes or the length of their ring fingers, you can group them based on the stories they tell themselves. Cognitive linguist George Layoff calls these clumps ‘worldviews.’

A ‘worldview’ is the shortcut, the lens each of us uses when we see the world. It’s our assumptions and biases and yes, stereotypes about the world around us. [...] We can make pretty good assumptions about how someone will react or respond to a piece of news or a work of art if we have evidence about their worldview.
— Seth Godin, "This is Marketing" 2018

21-year-old guy (we’ll name him Alex) and 29-year-old guy (now Steve) may very well have similar worldviews, even though one lives at home and the other is the last of his single friends looking to find their person. Alex drives a Honda; Steve a Subaru. Alex attends university; Steve makes six-figures. Alex orders a PBR; Steve a whiskey on the rocks.

Both value having a local watering hole. Both see cocktails as “girly drinks”. Both think bars should be “no fuss”.

Different demographics, similar psychographics.

As you begin to define your targeted worldview, ask yourself these questions:

1. What type of experience do they expect from similar businesses?
2. What causes them to pay more for a similar (or even lesser quality) product?
3. What kind of messages are their favorite businesses saying?
4. How does my product or service further perpetuate their values?
5. How public or private are they with their consumer habits and how can I cater to that?

If you’ve been in business for a bit, the best thing to do is recount on some of your most loyal customers. What were some of their common dreams, biases, and values? What seemed to be the underlying factor to their happiness? Building a psychographic narrative and creating content that speaks to a specific worldview is the key to effective content.