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Message Not Sticking? Time to Get Psycho.

When you’re putting together an integrated communications plan, one of the very first things you need to do is to define your ideal customers. This is important in every aspect of communications and is absolutely critical for good public relations.  But even if you seem to have a clear vision of your customers’ demographics, you may be missing the point. Why? Because your customers are more than mere demographics. In fact, we all tend to be walking contradictions.

Demographic data encompasses where a person lives, how they shop, and how big their home is. But it doesn’t reveal that person’s attitudes and motivations. That’s where psychographics come in to play. When your voice seems to be reaching the right people, but is still falling on deaf ears, consider whether or not the psychographics (or motivational factors) of your audience have been addressed.

Here are some key psychographic areas that can cause even the most promising PR to fail.

  1. Reality versus perception: People don’t view themselves as they are; they view themselves as they WANT to be. This is an important factor when putting together creative materials. For example, adult consumers generally relate to models who appear to be 10 years younger than they are. So when creating marketing materials for the silent generation, for instance, the model in the photo better look more like Diane Sawyer and less like Betty White. (Or, as this post’s image illustrates, you’re never too young and sexy to need a tractor. So I may have exaggerated my point there.)
  2. Intellect versus emotion: What appeals to people on an intellectual level doesn’t necessarily appeal to them on an emotional level. This has been the biggest challenge to overcome for an estate planning law firm client of mine who has decided to focus part of its business on providing simple online wills. On an intellectual level, we all know that having a last will is an excellent idea for adults of any age or status. But, deep down inside, we simply don’t think we’re going to die. So we put it off, year after year.  In fact, less than half of all Americans actually have a will. The intellectual buy-in is there, but the emotional motivation to “get it now” is missing and must be tapped very specifically.
  3. Negative versus positive: This is a tricky one. Many PR people will tell you that negativity or “playing on people’s fears” doesn’t work. But is that really true or do we just WISH it were true? Everyone hates telemarketers, but they still call at dinner time because quite simply: It works. They make money. Consider the demographic reasons for the tone that you want to use: Different genders and generations have higher/lower thresholds for negative tone. Then, on a deeper level, consider the pain points that you are addressing. If you choose to play on fear, you’d better be sure you offer a real solution that promotes a positive outcome. Otherwise, the PR ramifications will catch up to your bottom line eventually.

I’m sure there are dozens of other examples of keeping psychographics in mind when communicating with customers. If you’ve got any to share, please do so in the comments below.

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2 Responses

  1. Smarter Will says:

    Great points about psychographics. At Smarter Will (http://www.smarterwill.com/) we definitely have experienced some learning bumps as we test new messages and their effectiveness to create urgency among our audience. A recent win, was the bump we sale in clients following the New Year, showing timing is very important as well.

  2. LuAnn Glowacz says:

    The great folks at Smarter Will are the client I referred to above. Thanks for your input, Jessica! I’ve gone through much sweat and tears on their behalf trying to make sense of some of the most confusing psychographics (based on some of the most simple demographics) I’ve ever had the honor of sorting out. It’s so fascinating: Smarter Will is reaching out to generations that no estate planning law firm, really, has reached out to before and they’re getting great feedback, media coverage and industry recognition for doing so. But at the end of the day, convincing young folks (and even reporters covering them) to get a will is like convincing them to get a root canal. (Response: “Oh, of course. I really need to do it. I’m an idiot for not having one. I’ll get RIGHT on it.”) It’s just human nature to not want to address lovely things like death and incapacitation. For this reason, we deeply consider motivation with this client’s customers every single day (and many nights, too).

    I wonder (questions for everyone reading): what other industries/products face similar challenges? Can you relate to these challenges in your own industry?

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