How to Use Psychographic Segmentation to Win Early Adopters

Christine Zhu
May 13, 2019 · 5 min read
Illustration by Min Kyung

There’s a Chinese proverb that captures the wasted effort of communicating with someone who cannot or is not willing to understand. It is, in other words, like “playing music to the cow” (It turns out that cows do enjoy music but that’s besides the point). This is a still common mental trap that people fall into when planning go to market for their product. They get FOMO about reaching as many people as possible, so they cast a wide net. This results in wasted efforts and resources.

Understanding unique psychographic profiles of the audience allows product marketers to zero in on the audience profiles that actually understand and appreciate “the music”, and position the messaging accordingly. Political campaigns and digitally native vertical brands do this very well. Good product marketers know to focus efforts on winning the early adopters first when launching a new product. How does one find this audience? And as the product grows, how does one cross the chasm to target more relevant audiences? Here are three ways to use psychographic segmentation in product marketing.

1. Focus on those you have to persuade and those you have to motivate

Masterclass has a fantastic series on campaign strategy and messaging by David Axelrod and Karl Rove, the campaign strategists of President Obama and President Bush. They emphasized that campaigns usually start with a positioning poll to find two segments:

  • Those you have to persuade
  • Those you have to motivate

Those who are already loyal to the party are going to vote for your candidate anyway. The goal is to find this group and motivate them to go out and vote.

Those who are swing voters are on the fence, but you still have a chance to convince them. The goal for this group is to develop messaging to persuade them to swing to your candidate.

The rest, are those who have made up their mind that you don’t represent their values and they are never going to vote for your candidate regardless of any sound, logical arguments. So don’t even bother putting resources on this group. It’d be like “playing music to the cow”.

Similarly, for product marketers, customer research should emphasize understanding the behaviors of those you have to persuade and those you have to motivate.

2. Gather personality data by asking for it

Psychographic characteristics are much more powerful than demographics in segmenting the audience. Age and gender don’t intrinsically define a person’s motivations and values. A 70 year old could look and behave younger than another 60 year old. And with globalization (plus the Internet), geography might not always matter for certain businesses.

Psychographics help paint a clearer picture of a person’s values, personality, attitudes, and aspirations. In fact, CBInsights found that showed psychographic targeting increases click rates by 670%.

Here are a few ways to collect psychographic data.

Use these traditional methods to ask your audience questions about their lifestyle, aspirations, interests, and opinions. It often helps to start these questions with “How do you feel when…” and “Why do you do…”.

Marketing tech stacks like Google Analytics, Facebook Audience Insights, and Segment provide valuable audience behavior insights. For example, try Google Analytics, go to “Audience” and then “Interests” to see the affinity categories and in-market segments and their on-site behavior.

Yes, UGC has become a buzzword in marketing, but in this case, I mean specifically generating comments as a source of data. Ask interesting questions as part of your content strategy. People like to engage this way and their comments can give great insight into the “why” of their reactions. Even for comments that seem neutral, simple word choices can reflect their personality traits.

Into the Gloss (the beauty blog that birthed Glossier) does this really well. It intentionally creates question-based content that generates comments. A recent post asks “What would you tell your younger self about beauty?” which generated over 200 comments. You can really get a sense of the personality of the audience from these comments.

3. Create personas of the target segments

The psychographic data and user comments that are gathered can then be used to create psychographic profiles, or personas.

Here’s a fun hack to create personality profiles from user comments: the IBM Personality Insights tool.

This tool uses linguistics analysis to analyze personality traits from text based data. The demo is free to use. Here’s how:

  1. Export comments from your Facebook page or blog
  2. Clean up the data a bit (remove emoji’s and one word comments)
  3. Feed that text in the IBM tool’s body of text (seen on the left)

The algorithm will generate a summary of personality (based on the OCEAN model), consumer needs, behaviors, values, and even a starburst graph. Although this analysis represents the combined personalities of many comments which might not be accurate, it could still give a valuable sense of who your engaged audiences are like.

The OCEAN model of personality is based on a spectrum of 5 personality traits:

  • Openness: down to earth vs. imaginative, conventional vs. original, uncurious vs. curious
  • Conscientiousness: lazy vs. hardworking, disorganized vs. well organized
  • Extroversion: loner vs. joiner, quiet vs. talkative
  • Agreeableness: suspicious vs. trusting, ruthless vs. soft hearted, irritable vs. good natured
  • Neuroticism: calm vs. worried, unemotional vs. emotional

Personality driven messaging and targeting can greatly influence decision making. This process can also help inform the product’s competitive strategy — which Jeff Bezos simplified as “figuring out if you want to charge more or charge less.” A consumer who ranks high in self expression, curiosity, and uncompromising, might be more likely to value quality and brand over price and specifications.


Conserve your resources and efforts to focus on targeting the most relevant audience. Gather data and encourage engagement via comments to more deeply understand the audience’s psychographic characteristics. Create personas based on this data and position your product and messaging in a way that aligns with this persona’s values and behaviors.

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Christine Zhu

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I write about the craft of product mgmt, B2B SaaS, DTC brands, and consumer behavior. More at:

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