A Question of Psychographics

Netflix recently released “The Great Hack“, a documentary film about the Cambridge Analytica scandal associated with the UK Leave.EU and Trump Presidential campaigns. The film, in part, raises questions of psychographics and their power in a world of big data and social media.

Psychographics ?

Psychographics can be thought of as the sibling of demographics. While the latter models a population in terms of the characteristics like age, gender, ethnicity and so forth, the former seeks to describe the behavioural traits.

There is nothing especially new about the discipline. The Diffusion of Ideas model that categorises people into early adopters, laggards, and so forth is an attempt to describe people in terms of their adoption of new ideas and technologies.Psychographics - Wikipedia Diffusion of Ideas

Used well, it becomes a powerful tool for product managers, marketing teams, and website designers thinking about customer journeys and so forth. Used badly, as the film describes, it may become a tool for political manipulation and gain.

The positive side of psychographics

Combining demographics and psychographics enables a company to shape a product and measure its appeal, and to tailor messaging and the customer journey to maximise market position. Knowing the size of a particular demographic group and broadly where they are enables a message to be delivered. But its psychographics that will help to shape how that message is received.

The ISP sector, for example, has traditionally been very poor at this. Only around 15% of the population are technically savvy people who are attracted to acronyms and features, while around 40% of broadband customers have no idea how fast their connection is in terms of Mbps.

But still many ISPs present only two characteristics – speed and price – and when one characteristic is meaningless to a large proportion of the market, it should be no surprise that customers buy based on the only other characteristic – price. Up-selling and value adding therefore become hard and margins are eroded.

Shifting the message for at least some package tiers from features to benefits, describing the speed in terms of what it can achieve, is far more likely to reach the 40%.  But it may also patronise the 15% so knowing where they are and targeting the message becomes important.

Shoot the messenger, not the tool

Carefully crafted products that speak to early adopters in language that appeals to them, with different messaging carefully targeting early majority will have far more impact but the tools to do this are very similar to those used by Cambridge Analytica.

Its not the tools that are bad but the intent of the messenger.

GDPR has legally narrowed the scope for bad behaviour and the Cambridge Analytica scandal has highlighted the worst kinds of manipulation.

I am comfortable saying that I use similar techniques to work out where it makes sense to invest in broadband, to determine where the massive levels of investment can be effectively focused so that those who value full fibre broadband can benefit and investors cash isn’t wasted in areas that may be slower to adopt.

So please embrace the tools but this how you use them.