Demographics are dead: the five essential rules of using psychographics for business success

rolling stones ticketsI am a white American female, age 32, living in NYC (zip code 10012), household income over $300k per year, no dependents, college graduate, registered Republican (ha!) and self-identified Christian/other denomination, self-employed, carry about $30k in student loan debt. What this doesn't say is: I believe in the power of love, that people can change, that much wisdom can be learned from other world religions, that horoscopes can be transformational, that no one has been able to explain all that is seen and unseen, that playing like a kid keeps us young and innovative, that miracles happen every day, that commerce is a vehicle for social change, that deep pain and sorrow can lead to deep exploration and ultimately peace and joy, that good can come from awful circumstances, that we're better if we try to be, that growth and contribution are paramount, that art should be every day, that a conscious and present approach to most things makes them better, that flawed people who acknowledge the shadow will change themselves and then the world, that love is hard but hate is harder, that we're all better off if we're tapped into and living our purpose.

Who would you rather hang out with?

Demographics like the first paragraph above give quantifiable information about a chosen population.

But psychographics like the second paint a rich and layered picture of a brain and heart and soul, and make it much easier to connect with someone, even on a commercial level.

It's helpful to know demographics when you're tackling a strategic marketing calendar, writing your web copy or putting together a business plan.

You do need to know who you're talking to (teens or Boomers?) and what their deal is (one percenters...or not).

Demographics are important, to an extent. When experts talk about finding your niche in business, they often talk about your target market's demographic.

"I work with female health coaches between 30 and 50."

"My clients are middle-aged professionals in NYC who have back pain."

"I mostly market to dual-income, no kids couples for financial planning."

All of these are fabulous niches based on demographics.

Demographics are a great foundation upon which to base the aforementioned marketing copy, your branding (look/feel of website and logo), and your products and services.

But I think we've entered a new era where demographic target marketing is leaving us (both consumers and marketers) cold.

I believe that cut-and-dry marketing reduces us (the complex and incredibly interesting humans we are) to mere numbers, avatars, statistics.

Someone told me recently that The View had done some focus groups and decided to cut the two most polarizing members of their show (Joy Behar and Elisabeth Hasselbeck) because the middle ground the network is so desperately trying to court doesn't like liberals (the former) or conservatives (the latter).

According to demographics, the execs at The View might be making a good decision, but what about the psychographics? Aren't the most controversial shows the ones with the highest ratings (and thus ad dollars)?

Sadly, day time TV is still a slave to demographics.

In the nimble small and mid-sized startup and entrepreneur crowd, however, we can be MUCH more attuned to our customer and give them both what the want and what they need because we understand their psychology.

Psychographics are not quantifiable by nature.

Let me give you a quick glimpse ad the psychographic of my average client:

  • Intense desire to achieve something great.
  • A thriving business or career that has garnered you attention and the world’s definition of success.
  • Dissatisfaction with where you currently are compared to where you’d like to go, even though you’re already awesome (see above).
  • Insatiable curiosity about life and experiences and people.
  • Incredible drive to achieve whatever you set out for yourself.
  • Leadership in your sphere of influence. When you speak, others listen.
  • A seeker’s heart. You learn, integrate, iterate constantly.
  • A chameleon-like quality that allows you to navigate seemingly different worlds with ease.
  • High risk tolerance. You love thrills. Almost too much.
  • An ability to make friends in all kinds of situations.
  • Intelligence that can’t be taught. Wisdom that required experience to gain.
  • A subtle knowing that whispers, “There is more here for you.”

That's pretty specific stuff, no? And here's the demographic kick-in-the-pants: my clients have ranged from college students to high flying executives, from entrepreneurs in startup phase to CEOs who run 100 million dollar companies. They have almost ZERO in common demographically, other than that they pay for my services. What unites them all is a psychographic. For the first seven years of my business, I couldn't understand why I created a brand, a logo, a website, a suite of services for a specific demographic, marketed it and...failed. I completed the same creation/branding process based on demographics over and over and over again. (Five times actually.) Until I realized that demographics don't work for me. I'm a psychographics girl. And it was only in working with multiple clients over a many year period that I realized the distinct characteristics of clients who excel during our work together, who apply what they learn to lead their companies, who take our time and multiply its effects exponentially.

When I first started out, I didn't have enough clients to KNOW my ideal market's psychographic. Now that I do, I have a literal checklist to see if a company and their C-suite fit my criteria;  to assess if a 1:1 client ticks off the majority of the points and is ready and willing to make change; to gauge whether a startup entrepreneur is the right mixture of risk-tolerant and self-aware for my process.

If not, that's great! I can recommend them to someone else. Ultimately, clarity around psychographics has given me what seems like a magic tool to grow my business in a more effortless way than I ever thought possible.

So, I want to help you do the same.

The Five Essential Rules for using Psychographics for Business Success

1. You are your client. I once worked with coaches who asserted that you only have to be a few steps ahead of your ideal client in order to help them. For the most part I agree with this approach. Indeed, it helps immensely if you are "further along the path" than they are. And that path need not mean that you have actually run a 100 million dollar business if you aim to coach someone who does.

For example, I had one CEO of a company with 1000 employees who was hopeless with communication. I was further down the path regarding communication and thus able to help him improve his own style and then improve his relationships with his team and his family for the win/win.

That's a fairly tactical application though, and psychographics can become much more nuanced than a skill set like "communication."

With regards to psychographics, it's even more important that you do your own work (meaning your own personal excavation of the psyche regarding your motivations and your fears, your weaknesses and your joys) so that you know the ins and outs of the people you'll be working with. Remember, you are often your client. You need to get inside their heads.

When you closely understand yourself, you will understand your client more deeply because you've been there and come out the other side. You know what has worked and what hasn't and you're ready to share your experiences as a guide to clients.

2. You are not your client. Ah yes. That's right! In direct contrast to rule #1, I invite you to welcome the paradox. You are NOT your client.

What this means in practical terms is that you have the opportunity to get to know (very well) The Other. When you start to dig into a groups' (or an individual's) motivations/fears/foibles, it helps if you take a detached approach. Look at them as if you were a scientist studying an interesting species, noting behavior trends and gathering data points. This is especially important if you're early on in the process of identifying your psychographics.

As a product or service provider you must suspend judgment and logic at this point to see the patterns potential clients show you. Because you are not them you will not be able to explain their behavior all the time. And that's ok!

Your external perspective is why you're so good at coaching, selling soap, healing bodies, getting new users for your app. Maintaining a bit of detached curiosity will help you identify the psychographics that you vibe with and help decode those clients' future behaviors and what makes them buy.

3. Ask them what they want and then ignore their responses. Demographics tell you what your target market is interested in. Psychographics will tell you why they buy what they buy and when.

Your customers are unreliable witnesses. You might be B2B or B2C, but buyers make emotional decisions at both levels. Because buyers are people. The more you understand their underlying reasons for buying and the more clearly you identify the need that's hidden by the want, then you will be more successful in selling with integrity.

It's vital to do your quantitative research about what your peeps want, and then you need to reject that concrete data for the gut feeling of what is really at stake, the real reasons for their choices, and the costs of ignoring either. If you've done #1 and #2 well, then you'll start to get really good info by step #3.

4. Be clear and very public about your target psychographics. Once you're clear on psychographics, shout them from the rooftops! Ramit Sethi is brilliant with this. In a few simple words he eliminates whiners, complainers and people who don't get shit done from his newsletter list and from his programs and courses. The length of his average email newsletter eliminates lazy peeps. He frequently pisses off people who want success by sitting on the sofa eating bonbons by calling them out on his sales pages. And he warns those with credit card debt (both a demographic and a psychographic) away from his business.

This costs him money but yields a better pool of participants who are willing and able to get results.

In my target psychographic, I screen for willingness and ability to change. If that's not there, we're not a fit. I have no quantitative way to check that criteria yet it's an essential part of my initial conversations with both businesses and individuals.

If someone passes my criteria for ability and willingness to change, then they've passed the last threshold to working with me. It's as much helping them find out if I'm right for them as it is that they're right for me.

That's why I post my target psychographics on my website. I recommend that you do this too, albeit in a way that makes sense for your style.

5. Psychographics make branding so much simpler. Remember when you had to create a business name and a logo mark and a color palette and a whole bunch of marketing copy that appeals to a narrow demographic niche?

Yeah, those days are over. Now you get to create an aesthetic home online that appeals to you and that communicates a set of feelings to anyone who might vibe with those feelings. It's no longer about political or religious affiliation, income, gender, age or location.

New marketing is about the common denominator of heart: that we're people and we get to market and sell to people as people. Remember what I said earlier? (Hint: that people buy based on emotion.) It's true! People tend to make emotional decisions. So why would you want to appeal to logic if emotion is what's driving them?

In psychographics, you start to get much clearer about the emotions and are able to communicate your product or service's value from a place of emotional integrity to a place of emotional integrity. And that is very very good.

All because of psychographics. This may seem revolutionary. (In a way, I suppose it is.)

In closing, I tell my corporate clients (frequently when I'm training sales teams) that the Rolling Stones were amazing marketers. They understood the essence of psychographics.

"You can't always get what you wa-ant. You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you will find, you get what you ne-ee-eed!"