Industry-insights | 06 min read

Will psychographic targeting in adverts be the next big thing?

The targeting options in advertising are wider and more readily available than ever. You can target by location, age, gender, online behaviour, amongst countless other aspects. One thing that could make a big impact though, is psychographic targeting.

What is it?

Psychographic targeting overlaps with other targeting methods, but what sets it apart is that it takes into account the personality, values, attitudes and opinions.

There’s certainly a lot of common ground between this and behavioural targeting, but there are a few key differences. Behavioural focusses on the person’s actions online, so it allows marketing companies to target individuals based on what they have been doing online.

This can be based on anything from the articles they read to the products they look at, and it works well because it gives an indication of the interests and allows marketers and advertisers to try and make the most of this knowledge, by offering related products and services.

Psychographic targeting goes deeper than this. Rather than look at the behaviours themselves, it focusses on finding out what drives the behaviour. This gives a fuller picture of each individual user, and allows advertisers to more accurately predict what their audience will be looking for at any given time.

Over a period of time, you can build up various psychographic profiles. This helps you when building your buyer personas, and can give you a much more rounded profile than if you just looked at behaviours or demographics.

When psychographic info is used in the right way, it can allow you to construct a very specific message which appeals directly to a certain profile, pressing emotional triggers that wouldn’t be touched without it.


Why isn’t it used more already?

As Mark Ritson says, psychographic info has been around for over 50 years, along with the other three types of segmentation. The main issue up to now, according to Ritson, was “You might know, for example, from a representative survey that 28% of your target market are neurotic conscientious consumers. But unless you also know specifically the names and contact details of those three million people in the UK that make up this group, there is very little you can achieve with this segment because targeting is either impossible or highly inefficient.”

This makes sense. It’s all very well having this detailed information about people’s preferences and beliefs, but it’s not much use if you can’t put it into action. It’s been a major stumbling block for a long time, but now, businesses are starting to be able to harness the power of psychographic targeting.


The psychographic comeback

What changed? Why are more companies than ever embracing psychographic targeting? The main advance is big data.

There have been a few articles written recently on this, due to two massively unexpected and world-changing election results. First, Brexit, and then Donald Trump winning the Presidency of the USA.

Both of these results were massively unexpected. The campaigns for both remaining in the UK and Hillary Clinton looked like winning by a comfortable margin, right up until the days of voting. So what happened?

Well, one company has stepped forward to claim some sort of responsibility for both results: Cambridge Analytica. In the weeks leading up to both elections, both winning campaigns announced that they were using a big data company as part of their efforts. It wasn’t really until both won, and it was discovered that both had used the same company, until people really started to take notice.

What were they doing differently to other marketing and big data companies? What part did they play in these huge, yet unexpected, successful campaigns?

They are using psychographic data alongside big data, which allows them to split people into different segments based on their personality traits. The massive amounts of data they have also allows them to make predictions on this basis, so can put someone into a certain category based on certain factors.

They use the well-established OCEAN scale, which factors the personality traits of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. This apparently covers all bases, and gives a well rounded reading of an individual’s personality traits.

This, in turn, allows them to tailor messages specifically to groups of people which have have a much bigger impact than if it was based solely on behaviour or demographic.

As Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, said, “Up to now, election campaigns have been organized based on demographic concepts. A really ridiculous idea. The idea that all women should receive the same message because of their gender—or all African Americans because of their race.”

From there, he explains the impact of big data in tandem with psychographic data, garnered from things like Facebook ‘likes’. “At Cambridge, we were able to form a model to predict the personality of every single adult in the United States of America.” It sounds scary, but this isn’t about personal, private data. It’s about tailoring a specific message to a specific audience.

For the Trump campaign, this was incredibly effective. Nix states that “pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven”. For one Facebook campaign, they actually tested 175,000 different ads, which is astonishing. They fine tuned different ads for different audiences, but based on the psychographic data.


Of course, it’s impossible to say that this alone was responsible for the surprise success of the campaign, but it clearly played a big role in it. The fact that a lot of Trump’s success may be attributed to his online message, as well as appealing to very specific demographics in the US, would suggest that this method is extremely effective.

There are some question marks over how much influence Cambridge Analytica had, as you’d expect, but this is so difficult to accurately measure. Would Trump have won without them? It’s impossible to say. This article suggests that what they’re doing almost mirrors standard behavioural targeting, but the company argues that behaviour is driven by personality.

It’s unpleasant to think that you can be placed into a group or subsection of people based on a few data points, but it seems to be working for Cambridge Analytica. Or at the very least, they say it is.


So how can marketers use this in the future?

Using psychographic targeting, alongside demographics and behavioural, could help you create really detailed segments of potential customers.

You should only look into this method if it will really help in what you do, as it can be costly and time consuming. There are clear benefits to knowing more about your audience and what they want to see, but there are many ways to get to know your audience. This is just one option.

So rather than offering a product based on other products they have shown interest in, you can show them something based on their values and beliefs. Potentially very powerful stuff.

Targeting is constantly evolving, and becoming ever more complicated, but this feels like the next step, if everything we read is to be believed. Harnessing the power of big data and combining it with the segmentation and automation options available to marketers everywhere means that ads will become more specific and relevant to each user than ever before. The only real risk here is where the audience is concerned. Will it be deemed too personal, and too invasive? Only time will tell.

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