Psychographics can be best described as a science that studies how people react to the world around them according to their values and lifestyles.

As a form of social group analysis it can be used to help anticipate the impact of designs as they are being created, thereby creating more effective communication strategies, tools, environments, etc. As a tool in Communication Psychology, psychographicas helps us better understand and have optimized impact on whomever we are communicating to -- understanding what they might respond to positively or negatively; where their psychological, emotional and even spiritual switches might be found and how best to speak directly to those 'switches' if desired.  Of all the tools available to use  in refining communication efforts, psychographics, which we are discussing here, and psychodynamics, which we discuss elsewhere, are reasonably regarded as among the most powerful. 

The science as we know it today was developed in the 1960s by Arnold Mitchell at Stanford Research Institute in California. Originating from his work in social statistics as a mathematician at Princeton University, it emerged as original breakthroughs in his unique doctoral work in Psychology. 

'Psychographic profiling' categorizes people into unique 'typologies' (profiles) based primarily upon their apparent values and lifestyles. The more standard age/gender/income demographic definitions, although important and included in the research, collectively play a significantly lesser role in the psychographics formula. As the world changes, all typologies will experience changes in their nature, and the way we communicate to them will also have to change. But Mitchell was uniquely insightful as to the fundamentals of what makes typologies distinct from each other. If we dig deeper into these typologies and compare it with what we have learned about individual and group behavior in other animals, we are offered new insights into how similar or different we are from some of the other creatures and societies we share the earth with. 

Mitchell's primary typologies break the largest cross-section of North American adults into eight primary profiles: 

PRIMARY TYPOLOGIES -- and parts of their distinguishing natures
Survivors -- mostly older, poor, removed from cultural mainstream
Sustainers -- mostly young, struggling, angry, distrustful 
Belongers -- traditional, home is domain, rather fit in than stand out
Emulators -- ambitious, competitive, upwardly mobile, material pursuit
Experientials -- want direct experience, inner growth, art and home
I-Am-Mes -- young, exhibitionist, impulsive, narcissistic, inventive
Achievers -- leaders, status focus, materialistic, trusting
Societally Conscious -- responsibility, conservation, desire to heal
The key is to understand that each of these groups or primary typologies -- according to values and lifestyle influences -- develops its own unique 'language'; of shapes, symbols, semiotics, images, self-images, colors and even words. A color which turns one group on (positive impact) may turn another group off (negative impact), be uninteresting (neutral and negative) to some and be almost invisible (without impact -- neutral or negative) to other groups.  The same goes for words, shapes, symbols, textures and more.

Note: sometimes you may want to attract certain groups but repel (or even become invisible) to other groups. You can do this all with the same graphical components.  For example: you might want to design the entrance to a building to attract certain groups and repel others.  

The work is more than a social science.  It help define and understand what each group might be attracted to or repelled by and, most importantly: why.  

In putting together an advertisement which must have impact on a large combination of typologies, you might find certain colors are positive for some groups but negative to others and neutral to others. So as you examine your components as tools -- words, colors, shapes, symbols, textures, sizes , etc. -- you ensure you have at least one or more 'positive' components for each group. You add focus to the components which will have the most overall positive impact. Then you eliminate (as much as possible) any of the negatives or, at least, offer neutral elements in their place. Thankfully, this is achievable more often than not. Detail and hard work pay off. In even less than perfect circumstances, the outcome of this approach will usually still leave you well ahead of whatever finished product would be in second place. 

As fast as things change, whether you go back 5 years, 20 years, 50 years, 200 years or more, the constancies of Mitchell's first typologies have proven themselves as relative constants.  Logistically they are reasonably easy to follow. The proportion of the population in any of the typologies will vary radically from generation to generation and century to century. But the characteristics and formulas are reasonably constant. 

Take any era: 
1) chose the typology (priorities and needs), and 
2) just add circumstance: technology (what), economy (how much), sociology (how distributed) and ... presto ... 
3) psychology (response)! 

In fact, it is the humanity factor of Mitchell's primary typologies which offer us the deepest insights into all groups. We must acknowledge that there is always the fear that certain trends will influence some researchers to go beyond adjusting outward aspects of these typologies and steer themselves too far away from the core aspects of the typology and lose sight of the 'primal' characteristics and nature. It is these fundamental characteristics that we should be most concerned with keeping pure, because all other aspects are sure to be in flux. 

The creation of new typologies -- because of the constant nature of change -- means that each new typology is (like a computer) one step ahead of being defunct as soon as it is created.  The maintenance is overwhelming for most. Those who perceive and utilize Mitchell's categorization as stereotypes rather than typologies may be correct in needing to change them every decade or half decade or year, or half year, etc. The results of their research can sometimes be very useful and exacting for the moment in time they are examining and the immediate market they assess. It can sometimes work very well, most especially for the impulse markets and short-run events. (Here I admit I am defending his primal work as it has repeatedly proven itself to be most effective in practical application than any of its 'children' -- Harold)

But changing stereotypes cannot fully account for (nor respect) the deeper components of continuity which are organic and natural to most individuals and groups and even species. Mitchell saw beyond the changing stereotypes. People hold some things sacred for many reasons that they themselves could not explain if asked.  So we must acknowledge the danger: Short term change can work to the sacrifice of long term continuity. The larger trends and cycles are the hardest to master, but worth the time because they generate the greatest rewards (think dimensionally here).

SRI, where Mitchell evolved his work on Psychographics, has extended it own research into successfully creating generations of these newer typologies, and continue to lead the field in that work. SRI has often been the exception to the rules, as was Mitchell himself. 

We believe that two major contributing factors to Mitchell's mastery (beyond his own obvious genius with social statistics and psychology) were his honest respect and love for the people he studied -- the dignity to look directly into their hearts and minds with empathy in the search for understanding -- and an intuitive sense of social dynamics which was enhanced by a unique understanding (or belief or interpretation) of how intuition works. 

With modern tools such as psychodynamics, psychodrama and psychographics in hand we discover the following: 

  • Marketing -- or any other purposeful communication effort -- becomes a practical, rather than vague art.
  • Design becomes a science -- a very creative science.
  • Production, with its subtle opportunities, becomes a craft.
  • Communication becomes the study of humanity.

    Copyright 1997   Harold Finkleman, Calgary, Canada




    1) Decide what impact you want to achieve.
    2) Identify the target markets you want to have that impact on. Who is first, second, etc. Who does your message get to now? Who do you miss? Who should be there? Who do you want? Identify and assess them within the contexts of Mitchell's typologies.
    3) Examine what it is that makes your company, products or services unique, relative to the competition, as well as relative to what could be offered, what should be offered and what might be desired by your target markets
    4) After having examined the research regarding the nature and needs of your target, assess which unique features of your company, products or services are currently most important and attractive to the target audiences and what might the future become most important and attractive. Be honest. Help yourself: become that audience by role-playing -- exercise your capacity to understand how different kinds of individuals respond differently (this is where we are powerfully assisted by insights into different typologies). Take turns in the roles of individuals of different typologies. Respond to your company, products or service as though you were one of them. Respond not only to the product or service, but to every detail of their appearance, their packaging, presentation, ease-of-use, access, support -- everything. 
    5) Package what is relevant to those audiences in their own specific languages of words, shapes, symbols, semiotics, textures, colors, tones, scale, etc. Don't be afraid to add and grow according to where your company, products or services should be going. Speak to them individually at first. Then speak to them collectively in a language which is most common to them all. And remember it is all about all the individuals in the target markets. Don't sell the choir, only reinforce the choir. Sell the uninitiated at the same time as you fortify the existing customer base. 
    A not so secret: If you package your product, service or image in such a way as to stimulate or humor the skeptics and compliment the committed, everyone else will consequently want to participate. 
    Are we simplifying it too much here? Maybe. But sometimes it is that simple. More often it is that complex -- not complicated, merely complex. 

    The opportunity never ends. Once you design effective tools, you may expand the range of impact to other groups and market profiles and/or continue building in additional elements which will further advance the impact on the specific people or groups you are targeting. An embracing texture, a more inclusive character, etc.  And you must study, read and participate in the world of your target markets in order for you to stay abreast of their world(s). 

    Psychographics can be used to fine tune the impact of existing communications materials or tools (i.e.: corporate logos, advertisements, speeches) as well as to originate effective goal specific materials from scratch. Particularly significant opportunities would be in the creation of a new entity/identity, introduction of a new product or service or the top down redesign of an existing entity/identity which is seeking to extend its market. 

    Study the market. Join the market. Understand the market. Design your product or service for the market at every level. A tool which is accurately designed for a specific target audience has the best chance of being adopted by that specific target audience. Marketing is tough enough in this busy media world. Don't make it any tougher ... . 

    If it is yours, you can sell it. 
    If it is theirs (and it will be if you design it according to their needs and psychographic imperatives), you may only need to expose it to them for them to buy it or buy into it. 

    Copyright 1997   Harold Finkleman, Calgary, Canada


    What is the difference between 
    Psychographics and Psychodynamics?

    Psychodynamics is a science that studies how people might react similarly or differently to facets of the world around them due to their common or distinct neurology and psychopathology

    Psychographics is a science that studies how people might react similarly or differently to facets of the world around them due to their  similar or different values and lifestyles

    Combined, these sciences provide powerful tools for anticipating or initiating impact on the human psyche.
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