The 6-Minute Guide to Psychographics

2012 | Apr 3 in Home Page News , Marketing

By Joseph Wollenweber, Senior Coach

Without customers, a business does not exist.

This sounds so utterly rudimentary, right? So why am I focusing on it?

You would think that if customers are so important to your business, you would spend ample amounts of time seeking to understand them.

Yet, my experience tells me owners spend far too little of their time and resources truly getting to know their customers.

The marketing term for getting to know your customers is psychographics: the study of personality, values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles.  

This article lists six simple methods for gathering information about your customers. Spend a minute on each topic and you will see that gathering information about your customers’ psychographics is not as intensive as it seems.

Defining Psychographics

For the small business owner, this simply means getting to know your customers as deeply and clearly as you can.

It is of utmost importance to understand their relevant expectations for your product or service and to know the best way to draw them to your business, convert them to customers, and deliver on the promise exactly as they hope to receive it. You might say everything depends upon truly knowing your customers.

Are you convinced? After understanding the importance of this, our clients usually are, only to be confused by the next hurdle. How do we do it? How do you really come to understand these strange, quirky creatures called customers?

Although a variety of shades and permutations exist, there are really only six typical ways to learn about your customers:

  1. Personal observation
  2. Employee observations 
  3. Oral interviews
  4. Written surveys
  5. Focus groups
  6. Psychographic research

Let’s dig in and discover how these six methods can further your understanding of your customers.

1. Personal Observation

First, you have to get out of your own mindset and get really curious about your customers from their perspective. If you have a store or a place of business where customers come to you, observe them and seek to understand their values, interests, personalities and lifestyles.

Can you see what they are reading? Can you observe what kind of interests they may have from their behavior?

For example, a restaurant owner can easily come to understand their customers more deeply through observing them first hand and seeing and hearing what they are talking about.

2. Employee Observations

Get your team involved. Challenge them to become more keenly aware of your customers. Delivery people, customer service associates, service technicians, coaches, everyone in your business that has contact with customers can participate in furthering this psychographic understanding.

Have a monthly meeting where all you do with your team is talk about their observations of your customers.

3. Oral Interviews

Here you go further than observation and engage customers in either formal or informal dialogue.

The informal path points to you and your team having a few simple questions to ask your customers so that you come to understand them more deeply. What is important to you as a customer here? Why do you choose our bakery over the competition? You can even ask about hobbies or lifestyle if you like, or find out what their basic attitude towards life is.

You’d be surprised what you discover from customers if you are simply willing to ask.

A client of mine once wondered why his customers were choosing to leave his club at midnight to patronize another. I challenged him to just go out there and ask, and when he finally did, he discovered, through midnight curbside interviews with his clientele, exactly why they were leaving his place to go to the competition’s.

A more formal style of interview can be created with a series of questions, almost like a written survey. In this way, you ask each customer the same questions to develop a better statistical research base. Some clients reward customers who participate in this way. Others have a few key customers that they know will help them in this regard, by being both accessible as well as sincere in their responses.

Oral interviewing is the favored technique of many marketing researchers.

4. Written Surveys

Get creative. With online tools like Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com), or Zoomerang (www.zoomerang.com), it’s simple and easy to create a survey and send it to your customers.

Not everyone will respond, but many will, particularly if you provide a small incentive. The most important thing is to think through your questions to get at the most important relevant information for your business, and to not ask too many.

5. Focus Groups

While typically the domain of market research firms, a small business owner can model the idea, gather a few customers together, and ask questions to get a group conversation going which is certain to elicit important information.

6. Psychographic Research

If you know the demographics of your customer base (e.g. twenty-something, urban, single, professionals), there is a wealth of information online, in journals, and in periodicals that can help inform you of the underlying attitudes, lifestyle, and interests of these customers.

Get creative. Find out what magazines your customers read, or the movies they watch, and then do the same. Gather information from trade associations and chambers of commerce. Get completely fascinated by your market segments and you will find loads of information that will inform you of their attitudes, lifestyle, interests and values.

Formalized market research may be prohibitively expensive but any small business owner can create a market research department in their company by:

  1. Acknowledging that knowing your customers is of prime importance.
  2. Participating in any and all of the six ways above and driving it through the organization.
  3. Integrating research into the business through a scheduling system that makes certain that this psychographic investigation is an ongoing part of your work.

You are in business to serve and satisfy customers. Doesn’t it make sense to get utterly fascinated by them?

Know Your Customer

Socrates said “Know Yourself,” and this is the key to leadership.

I say, “Know your customer,” is the key to maximizing the full potential of your business.

The more you know your customers, the easier it becomes to align your whole business to satisfying both their conscious and unconscious needs.

What have you done lately to know your customer?


  1. .James N. says:

    Thank you for these posts. I read them.

    Submitted Apr 4, 2012 8:09 AM

  2. .karen j. says:

    My brother lives in Munich and works for a small microprocessor business in Austria. Last summer, the CEO flew his entire executive staff and their families (which included my brother and sister-in law) to Shanghai for 6 months, where they lived and worked among their Chinese customers. They took field trips to Japan (the Sapporo beer factory, yum), Beijing, and places so remote that I don't remember. They took Chinese lessons, and my sister-in-law now knows German and Mandarin Chinese. The children were enrolled in the ex-pat schools. They all worked prertty hard!

    So, I think that John, the CEO, walks the talk regarding the value of knowing your customer! And the company is reaping huge profits from improved customer relationships and ecxellent good-will.

    Knowing your clients and vendors intuitively makes sense. Imagine the barriers to trade if you offend the entire way of life of a culture! I hope to hear of American businesses doing this type of intensive cultural immersion as the economy improves.

    Submitted Apr 4, 2012 12:06 PM

  3. .Scott M. says:

    Nice article Joe.  Timely for us!

    Submitted Apr 4, 2012 12:48 PM

  4. .Joseph O. says:

    Joe thanks for this article. It has help me to understand more the topic Psychographics.


    Submitted Apr 4, 2012 4:48 PM

  5. .Hsiung K. says:

    Good article.  Once I thought I could predict my "customers" but attending focus groups and reading quantitative research reports proved me partly wrong.  But then, I was fortunate enough to work as strategic planner at 2 global ad agencies to gain this experience. 

    Submitted Apr 4, 2012 7:45 PM

  6. .Steve B. says:

    A bit of the "old which came first the Chicken or the Egg" don't you think?  After all, I can assume I know who will be best served with my products and services, and then I can drill into the getting to know them, and change to meet their needs.  But is there a way to determine first if there is a better market to target (better suited) before I invest these resources? ( I expect I'll hear back that it's like long range planning and you adjust as you go), but if I'm targeting clients who are price conscious but my product is more appropriate for those who are sensitive to a different need I meet and price is not an issue, how will I find that out before I adjust my service model too much???

    Submitted Apr 5, 2012 9:22 AM

  7. .Joseph Wollenweber says:

    Steve: The simple answer to your question is two fold; Market Research and Market Testing. You can develop simple methods for surveying a market and discovering before you put a lot of resources behind your effort what the potential might be. Then, after adequately assessing the potential market and its profitability, you find ways to test that assumption and see how it works in the laboratory of your business. The combination of the two: research and testing can both lead you to the rich veins of a new customer niche but also help avoid allocating large amounts of resources before your idea has been thoroughly tested. Both ways, you win!

    Submitted Apr 5, 2012 2:48 PM

  8. .Michael C. says:

    The other combination that we apply extensively is to create a data fusion between the psychographic information and customer behaviour and profiling. Often the initial segmentation analysis of customers from the company's database will generate communities of customers who share the same demographics and lifestyle profile yet their behaviour differs (products bought, RFM score, chrun point, etc). This delivers the 'golden questions' that have to be asked and these will differ between the two apparently similar groups; it provides the marketer with the questions that should be asked in the survey. It is only when the 'golden questions' used to drive the psychographic surveys are answered can we derive the true differentiators and use that to drive marketing communication.

    Submitted Apr 20, 2012 2:49 AM

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