It’s time to stop using demographic data

Harris Galloway
By Harris Galloway | 31 August 2023
Harris Galloway.

Harris Galloway, Brand and Behaviour Strategist at Keep Left.

When Keep Left repositioned in 2022, audiences were at the centre of our renewed focus.

We launched our new proposition, “Ideas people choose”. The theory behind it is simple: the only way we can get people to engage with the work we create is to know and respect what they care about and the values they hold.

Adopting that philosophy meant demographics naturally took a backseat. The only way to truly understand what matters to people is to think about them in psychographic terms.

Psychographics refers to people’s attitudes, aspirations and interests, compared to demographics which speak to a person’s age, gender, income, location, and so on.

Following this shift, it's rare that we look at demographic data. The way we think about our audiences is now led by psychographics. Which can require some re-education.

It's easy to get hung up on what the data tells you your audience is. You might, by habit, focus on a core demographic, such as women over 30 in New South Wales. And yes, that might be the audience your brand is currently attracting – but that doesn't mean you can’t appeal to other people. In fact, you probably should be casting a wider net.

Forget for a second those women over 30 in New South Wales. What else does your current audience have in common? Are they health-conscious, for example? Or do they over-index for something completely unexpected? This is the most fertile ground, strategically speaking.

Briefs can often start with demographic figures and facts about an audience, but the real gold lies in putting a psychographic spin on it.

For example, we recently worked on the “Get Your Move On” campaign for the Victorian Government Department of Education which sought to encourage kids to be more active. The brief came to us with a target audience of young Victorians aged five to 17.

Our approach was to take this broad age range and break it down into segments based not just on age, but on psychographics. This led us to base the activities around fun for the younger audience – making them feel like a game rather than a chore. For the older cohort, it was a case of finding a way to communicate that getting moving is something they could do with their friends – a social thing that wouldn’t be perceived as lame.

If you’re not sure how to get off the demo drug, there are a number of tools that can help.

We use an audience insights platform called Global Web Index (GWI) that measures internet users’ attitudes and values (among other things), allowing us to create bespoke audiences based on specific psychographic data. This approach also allows us to gauge how a client’s audiences compare to one another on any number of variables of interest.

That's a quantitative way of doing it. The other way is qualitative. If you have the budget to run formal interviews or focus groups with people that fit within your defined audience, this will give you rich insights to use as fuel for your campaign.

Failing that, there are likely people you know that fit that bill. It doesn't matter how old they are, where they're from or their gender, if they meet the psychographic criteria, give them a quick call. It’s a great way to get a better picture of the audience you’re looking to appeal to, especially if you’re in a pitch situation and time is of the essence.

Extending this psychographic lens into media requires a delicate balance, especially online. Using interest-based targeting is always going to be better received than retargeting a person simply for visiting your website. People appreciate being served content that speaks to their interests and what they believe in. But you need to be wary of taking it to a level where it’s creepy.

Ultimately, things like age, gender and geographic location don't define today's consumer. If we want to genuinely connect with people, we need to understand what makes them them.

Only then will they willingly choose the ideas we put forward.

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