Generational differences matter, but psychographics is where it's at

PR pros should be looking at psychographics, or at a minimum, identifying where people we want to reach are spending their time.

"Millennials killed…" might as well be a clickbait phrase at this point, but for some reason, we’re still out there reading articles with that lede. While there’s certainly something valuable to analyzing marketplace data that involves that generation – or any generation, really – we can do better than that.

Things used to be fairly simple. Marketers of all sorts would select a publication, television show, or other outlet based on the demographic breakdown of readers, viewers, listeners, and pitch a story or buy an advertisement to reach that specific demographic. Then the internet came along and started to transform how that worked.

While there are certainly specific apps, websites, magazines, and other spaces that predominantly reach one demographic group or another, it isn’t quite so cut and dry. Snapchat might be just as easy to use to reach thirty-something moms as it is to be seen by college students. Teen Vogue found itself, all of a sudden, to be a relevant source for political news in 2016. What does it all mean?

It means we should be looking at psychographics, or at a minimum, identifying where people we want to reach are spending their time, and recognize that forty-somethings with disposable income that live in the suburbs might have the same travel interests as twenty-something city dwellers. As public relations and other marketing techniques continue to get closer and closer (if they’re not truly well overlapped right now), PR pros should be determining how to tap into the data made available to us through digital means when we make our program recommendations.

Does this mean that the tried and true demographic data that we have grown to love is irrelevant? Most certainly not. It just means that we should be continually adapting how we think about pitching a story, developing social media content, or making a promotional buy, and not going with the reasoning of "that’s the way we’ve always done it."

The reason? The simplest way I’ve seen this explained is summarized in this piece from 2016. The author states that "…demographics struggle to account for certain factors that affect shoppers’ behavior – that is, the consumer’s personality."

Think about it. If you knew that you were pitching a story to a publication and most of the readers were never inclined to make a purchase-type decision, wouldn’t you think twice about the energy you put into that effort? Maybe you’d consider it more of an "awareness" placement versus one you were hoping to drive significant web traffic, retail visits, or other engagements. This is where those study results that share which influencers are most trusted, or which outlets inspire action, are most important to our work.

This follows that same thinking that placements that reach the largest audiences aren’t always the best decision. It’s about reaching the right audiences. In today’s marketplace, those audiences shouldn’t simply be divvied by age, location, or economic status. Let’s spend a bit more time understanding who is interested in what we’re offering, and make decisions on how to reach them, even if it goes against the grain of what we’ve done in the past.

Tom Biro resides in Seattle and develops marketing and communications strategies at Rusty George Creative in Tacoma, WA. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached on Twitter @tombiro or via email at


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