Psychographic Profile 101

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Written By B. Thing

While I’ve always believed in the uniqueness of individual experiences, my journey into the realm of psychographics has revealed the fascinating ways we all interact with broader psychological and sociological patterns. My curiosity in psychology and human behavior led me to this discovery, though the realization bloomed later than I hoped. Psychographics, a term that was unfamiliar to me until recently, opened my eyes to the complex and vast domain of marketing psychology, emphasizing the profound impact of our mental processes on decision-making.

Every choice we make stems from our feelings, which are influenced by countless factors.

My exploration into psychographics, sparked at the age of 19 as a high school graduate, not only expanded my understanding of others but also helped me learn more about my psyche, which led me to question my motives before making a purchase.


Foundational Theories and History of Psychographics

The concept of psychographics builds upon the foundational theories of human motivation and personality, such as Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which categorizes human needs from the most basic to self-fulfillment needs. Arnold Mitchell and the Stanford Research Institute’s development of the VALS (Values, Attitudes, and Lifestyles) framework in 1978 further solidified the role of psychographics in marketing by classifying consumers based on psychological traits and key demographics. These milestones in psychology and market research have paved the way for a deeper understanding of consumer behavior, illustrating the dynamic interplay between individual values, lifestyles, and purchasing decisions.

If you’re looking for the ideal customer profile when it comes to marketing, there are four main types of segmentation: demographic, psychographic, geographic, and behavioral.

Psychographic segmentation stands as one of the more advanced segmentation types as its variables are subjective.


Defining Psychographics: What Does It Mean?

Psychographics are subdivisions for customer profiling in marketing, where the values, interests, lifestyle, personality, and social status of the audiences are the focal points that are analyzed to create a particular product for each categorized customer segment. It deals with the “why” behind a person’s purchasing decision: why do they prefer certain products, hold specific beliefs, or have certain aspirations? 


Psychographics in the Real World 

Incorporating psychographics into marketing strategies has proven to be profoundly effective. In the music domain, Fernández-Tobas et al. (2016) showed that online music recommendations are more successful when they leverage the correlations between people’s personalities and their music preferences. Similarly, Karumur, Nguyen, and Konstan (2016) discovered correlations between personality and movie preferences among Netflix users. Additionally, studies in marketing have found that personality explains only a surprisingly small amount of the overall variance in consumer behavior. 


Core Elements of Psychographic Segmentation:

These elements are subjective, ever-changing, and intertwined with each other. Every aspect affects the other, forming a person’s psyche as a whole. These elements, which categorize a person’s character into five broad dimensions (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism), offer a scientific basis for understanding how personality influences consumer preferences and behaviors. By considering these elements, marketers can craft strategies that resonate with the specific characters and values of their target segments, leading to more effective and meaningful consumer engagement.

  1. Personality Traits

Categorizing the personality of the audience can help study their choices, what aligns with the type of person they are, and what they prefer as someone with their own set of characters. Personality can be broad and deep, so generally most people can fall under these specific traits: creative, emotional, introverted, extroverted, opinionated, friendly, closed-off, and organized.

  1. Opinions and Beliefs

A person’s opinions and beliefs can depend on external factors such as their age, their level of education, the environment they grew up in, and other specific events in life. It shapes the priorities, preferences, lifestyles, interests, and motivations of an individual. In psychographic profiling, we look for the reasons behind these opinions and use those to influence their willingness to buy goods.

  1. Interests and Lifestyles

The interest and lifestyle aspect can be assumed based on their personality and other core elements but can also sometimes be contradictory; e.g., an introverted person can have “extroverted” hobbies such as hiking, and an extroverted person might indulge in reading books alone for a few hours. Similarly, a very organized person can have an irregular sleep schedule. If we study why their interests are in such a manner, we can create products that align with their lifestyles and the reasons behind those lifestyles.

  1. Values and Attitudes

What people hold as their truth is considered a part of their identity. Values play a big role when it comes to that. Attitude and value go hand in hand; how someone acts or reacts is how they place importance on the action/reaction. Values are generated from religion, community, culture, and such. If a product speaks to them as something that can reaffirm their values, then their identity will also be too, which persuades them to purchase the products. 

Suppose we are advertising a holistic medicine with multiple benefits, where one of them includes helping with sleeping. We can advertise it in a way that speaks to a person whose goal is better sleeping. For instance, the advertisement description can emphasize the multiple functionalities of a single product. This type of marketing can feel specific, so the customer should feel as if the product was specifically made for them and what they needed.


The VALS Framework: An Overview

The VALS framework, a tool for psychographic segmentation, stands for Values, Attitudes, and Lifestyles. Developed in 1978, SRI International Consumers are classified with the help of this framework for their psychological characteristics.


Understanding the Three Main Motivational Paths and their subtypes

Thinkers: Motivated by Ideals and Philosophical beliefs

People who fall into this category are usually strategic, planning and evaluating their actions and all the possibilities, and seeking credibility and factual benefit with proof. It’s hard to influence them and persuade them into trends; they seem to prefer traditional and reliable products with historic value 

Believers: Thinkers with lower resources

Believers are a subtype of thinkers due to three factors: low resources, many motivations, and the intensity of the motivations being different from those of thinkers. While having firm ideals and knowing where they stand, they keep them to themselves and do not strive to create change. They lead simple, normal lives and value basic rights. They enjoy books or TV shows but prefer the romance genre with hints of spirituality and humanity.

Achievers: Motivated by Status and Rewards

Achievers are often stereotyped as “me first, my family first” types of people. They are the typical go-getters who prioritize schedules, goals, and productivity. But there’s a catch, not necessarily bad: they’re image-conscious. All the hard work is worth it to them, so they can claim they are responsible for their hard-earned work and its benefits. They can lead a simple life, but they can be materialistic to a certain extent (which also should be a productive purchase).

Strivers: achievers with low resources

While strivers are typically hardworking, they do not have a sense of direction to reach their goals. They jump from job to job, and while that process shows their ambition, their lack of direction can be detrimental to their development. This group of people also engage in activities that involve feeling a sense of accomplishment, like video games. Being friendly people with enjoyable characteristics, they tend to show off things they value.

Experiencers: Motivated by Self-Expression

These people are free spirits. They are rebellious, but also very up-to-date with trends and topics. People who fall into this category love feeling the thrills of life; physical activity makes them feel alive and gives them a boost of adrenaline. This makes them try everything. Their actions are often unpredictable, impulsive, and spontaneous.

Makers: experiencers with low resources

Makers are considered to be distrustful of the government; while they view themselves as intelligent people, others may not feel the same. They believe in strict gender roles, want some sort of material possession, preferably land, and are usually protective of things they believe belong to them.

Thinkers, Achievers, and Experiencers are all primarily motivated by ideals, achievements, and self-expression respectively. 


Correlation with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The relation between the VALS framework and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a very similar baseline: there are survivors (basic needs), people who are neither survivors nor innovators (psychological needs), and innovators (self-fulfillment needs).

To reach self-actualization or be an “innovator” one must fulfill the other needs beforehand. Maslow’s principle discloses that “the clear emergence of these needs rests upon prior satisfaction of the physiological, safety, love, and esteem needs. We shall call people who are satisfied with these needs, basically satisfied people, and it is from these that we may expect the fullest (and healthiest) creativity.”[5]


Conclusion: My Journey in Discovering Psychographics

Having studied psychology with interests inhuman behavior, and the social sciences, this concept was new to me. After some researching, I stumbled upon the relationship between VALS and Maslow’s needs, a familiar topic, helped me draw clearer conclusions. Everyone is unique and cannot be labeled, however certain traits can be categorized, and that is what psychographic profiling does. My foray into the world of psychographics has not only broadened my perspective on psychology and human behavior but also highlighted the practical applications of these insights in marketing and beyond. While this knowledge has the potential to inform not just marketing strategies but also public health campaigns, educational initiatives, and social programs, it can also illustrate the versatility and profound impact of psychographics across various domains.

The motive here is to understand what drives particular groups of people and why the same things don’t work for other people. 


References

  1. Mitchell, A. (1978). VALS: Values, Attitudes, and Lifestyles Outlines the development of the VALS framework, a key tool in psychographic segmentation.[Wikipedia]
  2. Fernández-Tobías, I.; Braunhofer, M.; Elahi, M.; Ricci, F.; Cantador, I. Alleviating the new user problem in collaborative filtering by exploiting personality information. User Model. User Adapt. Interact. 2016, 26, 221–255. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [Green Version]
  3. Karumur, R.P.; Nguyen, T.T.; Konstan, J.A. Exploring the value of personality in predicting rating behaviors: A study of category preferences on movie lens. In Proceedings of the 10th ACM Conference on Recommender Systems, Boston, MA, USA, 15–19 September 2016; pp. 139–142. [Google Scholar]
  4. Sandy, C.J.; Gosling, S.D.; Durant, J. Predicting consumer behavior and media preferences: The comparative validity of personality traits and demographic variables. Psychol. Market. 2013, 30, 937–949. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  5. Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396. This seminal paper introduces Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a foundational theory in psychology that has influenced consumer behavior studies.[Originally Published in Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.]

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