Consumer Psychology


The bridge between being an acquaintance and a friend is how well you know their goals, hobbies, interests, opinions, personality, struggles, and values.

Imagine that you are having a conversation with a stranger at a coffee shop that you might want to become friends with. What are the first questions that you would ask them? Perhaps you would find out their name, age, residence, family status, education, and if you’re that type of person, their income. All of this demographic information familiarizes you with the stranger, but the bridge between being an acquaintance and becoming a friend is how well you know their goals, hobbies, interests, opinions, personality, struggles, and values. This is all called psychographic information, and it helps add color to the otherwise gray world of numbers. 

Psychographics are a technique used in marketing and advertising research to fill in the missing gaps in customer personas. Prior to the invention of psychographics, researchers largely relied on demographics—age, education, gender, location, income—to formulate campaigns, copy, and products. However, after the revolution of Motivation Research brought personal qualities back into market data, researchers wanted to find a way to leverage this rich data without sacrificing the efficiency of numeric procedures. In this golden mean—between demographics and motivation research—psychographics were born (Demby, 2011, Malherek, 2014). 

An Accidental Phrase Becomes An Everyday Technique 

The term psychographic was created as a sort of happy accident in the 1960s when researcher Emmanuel Demby combined the words demographic and psychology (Demby, 1994). Demby’s early research led him to study lifestyle, self concepts, and the types of things people wanted to determine the types of people who would purchase new products first. What ensued was the creation of a technique that would allow researchers to target the masses—while still remaining sensitive to their attitudes, behaviors, and feelings—to create similar groups of people (i.e., segments). In short, when demographics fell short, psychographics could fill in the gaps. More critically, they still allowed for focused campaigns (Arora, 2018). 

Despite some confusion in online media, psychographics are a quantitative technique because the data they produce are amenable to statistical analysis (Wells, 1975, Demby, 2011). Even though a statement like “I enjoy spending my free time in the wilderness” appears to be qualitative, the psychographic data is collected through a questionnaire in the Likert Scale format, where the respondent can agree or disagree with the statement on a scale of say 1—meaning that they completely disagree—to 6—meaning that they completely agree. This allows researchers to leverage the existing psychological body of knowledge created in the empirical study of personality. In short, it’s a quantitative method for extracting personal qualities. 

Psychographic Research  

One of the first psychographic studies was conducted in 1971. Tigert and Wells sent out 1,000 surveys that contained demographic questions as well as 300 AOI (activities, opinions, and interests) questions, which were the earliest form of psychographic data. The researchers used the 6 point Likert scale to probe a wide range of product preferences and AOIs. What they found demonstrated the potential power of psychographic segmentation. For example, when it came to the demographics of eye makeup users, they found that these people tended to be young, well educated, and living in metropolitan areas (Wells and Tigert, 1971). Next, the researchers reviewed a cross-reference of related products used by the demo and found that they also applied other cosmetics like lipstick and eye polish. Additionally, the type of person who was using eye makeup also had certain interests, likes, and personality traits: they were interested in fashion, liked going to parties, and were very concerned with appearing attractive. They accepted modern style and rejected the orthodox—spitting images of Tom Wolfe’s radical chic (Wolfe, 1970). 

The researchers concluded eye makeup is not a solitary venture, instead the demo is made up of patterns of “organized tastes and values” (Wells and Tigert, 1971). With this knowledge the researchers envisioned a new way to differentiate and segment the market—they could paint a picture of the differences between generations, or as Wells put it, “add flesh to the bones of demographics” (Wells, 1975, p. 198). 

Wells presciently elaborated how psychographics could transform industry by leveraging a marketer’s intuitions from demographic data to confirm hunches, dispel assumptions, and uncover new relationships. For example, instead of guessing where the best opportunities lie for targeting a certain consumer, psychographic research would tell you where to advertise. 

Wells overviewed the demographics of the target buyer for shotgun ammo: young, blue collar, and lower in education and income. An advertiser at the time—tasked with increasing sales—would need to find new outlets to communicate their shotgun ads, but where? Enter AOIs (activities, opinions, and interests). The psychographics data showed that in addition to hunting, shotgun ammo buyers also liked other outdoor activities like fishing and camping. They consumed outdoor media like magazines and tv, and even worked outdoors. With this information, an advertiser could form a national campaign to target relevant audiences and reach them through media and retail campaigns. Why not advertise shotgun ammo at a fishing store, or a camping magazine? The potential applications for psychographics could inform how to write the copy and package the product, and where to deliver it. 

At this point, the power of psychographics are in the open and up for grabs, but what’s the proper way to use them? 

Marketing Personas 

Let’s return to our original query about the best approach for turning a stranger into a friend at the coffee shop. Once you’re past the basics of demographics, a psychographic approach would let you quickly identify the activities they enjoy on the weekends, the genres of music they listen to, the food and restaurants they like, and even the movies they don’t like. From here, you’d be able to assess your mutual compatibility and trade notes on similar interests. With any luck, you’d be in the fast lane towards friendship, or at least know if ‘acquaintance’ would be the more appropriate friendship status. Well, if people use psychographics to get to know each other, why can’t researchers use them to get to know their audiences? Of course they can

Marketers use psychological data to create personas of a certain segment of the consumer population. By finding out who (i.e., demographics) the customers are and why (i.e., psychographics) they buy certain products, researchers can target advertising and product design that is more likely to fit the persona’s preferences and needs.


Arora, R. (2018). Consumer Psychographics: Why are these gaining importance more than Demographics? TIJ's Research Journal of Social Science & Management - RJSSM, 8.

Demby, E. (1994). Psychographics Revisited: The Birth of a Technique. Marketing Research; Chicago Vol. 6, Iss. 2. P. 26-29. 

Demby, E. (2011). Psychographics and From Whence it Came. (n.p.): Marketing Classics Press.

Malherek, J. (2014). Ernest Dichter and American Market Research, 1946-77. Market Research & American Business, 1935-1965, Marlborough: Adam Matthew. 

Wells, W. D., & Tigert, D. J. (1971). Activities, interests and opinions. Journal of Advertising Research, 11(4), 27–35.

Wells, W. D. (1975). Psychographics: A critical review. Journal of Marketing Research, 12(2), 196

Wolfe, T. (1970). Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the flak catchers. Nymag.

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