Psychographic Targeting Unhinged! The Zen Of “Whole Customer” Persona Modeling

As an industry we have finally arrived in the holistic-user-targeting future! Psychographic variable research is now the gold standard by which to hold marketers accountable. Now and forever, best-in-class execution means paid and organic campaigns that deliver seriously sliced and tagged traffic by empirical attributes holistically across social and search. Haven’t heard of psychographics? Well, you will.

Psychographic variables are any attributes connecting users’ personalities, values, attitudes, interests and lifestyles. Some intellectuals also refer to them as IAO (interests, activities and opinions) variables. Psychographic variables complement and contrast classic demographic variables (like gender and age), behavioral attributes (like loyalty and usage habits), and firmographic variables (such as industry, seniority and functional area). Psychographics are deeper and should not be confused with classic demographics.  For example, the age of a user is not just defined by years. Perspective is also gleaned by psychographic attributes like mindsets and cultural criteria.

The multi-channel psychographic process requires intuition, guile and determination. We’ve been talking about similar values focused on Facebook since late 2007. With Google and proprietary retargeting schemes, the concept of whole-customer psychographictargeting has gone mainstream, baby!

Search, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Reddit, Twitter, StumbleUpon, display networks, boutique demand-side platforms (DSPs) and other emergent channels’ targeting (combined and mashed into multi-channel retargeting layers) form powerful grids of attributes to define customers. Understanding nodes of the whole customer means that marketers have fascinating strategic and tactical tools at hand.

This article focuses on extrapolating the methods of psychographic targeting we’ve been pounding in Facebook for years, and takes it multi-channel. We’ll start with classic search (as a foundation) and then go on a winding trip through Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn as examples of cross-channel psychographic mapping. Also, we’ll study various retargeting methodologies, to layer attributes, in another blog post.

Since 2007, the dawn of Facebook Ads, we’ve worked with some of the coolest companies in the world marketing their products, from iconic multinational brands to seriously motivated startups. In 2007 we took what we know from search and classic display targeting and applied our best thinking to the newness of Facebook Ads. Over the years, our FB targeting methodology has had a radical impact on how we think about search. Understanding how to group slices of human complexity in a matrix of actionable psychographic targeting has been a delightfully challenging task, which has taken me over 15 years.

Why Only Google, Facebook, YouTube & LinkedIn?

We’re focusing on Google, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn in this post because those channels hold the largest user samplings and most evolved targeting.  Certainly Twitter’s nascent ads platform will join the fray in coming months, but it’s not quite there yet. There are other smaller yet potent channels like StumbleUpon, Reddit and numerous others. Not to worry. The thinking here transcends the channels we’re examining and will apply to emergent channels in years to come.

Danger! Monolithic Case Study Included
On its face, research for the case study included in this post took more than 100 hours and includes thousands of tasty bits for marketers. Get out your clipboard because we’ve also included a number of powerful plug-and-play Facebook preset targeting text lists for easy import into the web UI or Power Editor. Facebook offers its own presets, comprising black-box segments, by way of the broad targeting feature; however, AIMCLEAR‘s granular targeting groups nearly always out-perform FB’s.

Read on for a door-to-door psychographic modeling trip, starting in the physical retail world, and resulting in an across-the-board search and social targeting matrix. This post is a how-to primer for building your own customer personas from scratch with cross-channel mapping examples.

Intuition & Guile

Here’s a word of borrowed wisdom to start. Zen “emphasizes the personal expression of experiential wisdom in the attainment of enlightenment.” Such is also the nature of persona modeling. Get past standard theoretical knowledge and put yourself in the shoes, mind, actions and daily routine of a customer’s life and living habits, from mild to wild. Your creativity and intuition mean everything to this process. Follow your gut down pathways that only you would think of.
An online persona is a matrix of targeting attributes that define a grid of characteristics sufficient to model whole customers.

Let’s face it. Previous generations of persona modeling, as pertains to marketing, featured mostly bullsh*t theories synthesized by intellectuals to express an idealistic targeting universe. Sure, we knew back then to express our customer as a single female junior in college at the University of Minnesota majoring in finance and fanatical about Austrian youth hostels. Sure we could express an understanding of her as such. Saying it was easy. However, there was no practical way to target in multiple online channels. Now we can. We sure can.

Search & Venerable Roots
Search marketing, targeting users by the meaning of their searches (query intent), was and still is revolutionary and certainly a huge piece of the puzzle. However, display targeting up until this era was relatively primitive and unable to truly target whole customers. Now, with the advent of über-focused socialized contextual targeting tools, search and display retargeting and massive search and social media penetration globally, personas are the stuff of everyday marketing processes, not intellectual self-indulgence.

Interests & Queries As “Inventory”

As humans move through their lives, they present various behaviors. People read websites, magazines and books, like sports teams, have titled jobs, follow thought leaders, work for employers, crave different flavors of food and are moved by various fine arts. They search Google, like pages in Facebook, belong to associations, live in geographic parts of the world and are of a certain age, sexuality and gender.

Humans have incredibly diverse sets of interests, personal predilections, vices, experiences, family history, pride and prejudices, and are laced with profound needs and wants. We’re all motivated by something and afraid of other things. Sometimes we’re motivated by what we’re afraid of. Other times we’re afraid of what motivates us. People are stimulated by humor, speak languages, study at colleges on advanced degrees, cheat on tests, smoke weed and get married. They’re perverted, introverted and/or subversive, follow milk-toast political leaders and choose religions (or not).

Such characteristics can be systematically targeted in search and social and defined as a cross-channel portfolio of attributes, which can be thought of as targeting inventory. For instance, knowing that a cluster of people (say 31,567 FB users) has an affinity for a specific scuba diving magazine can be thought of as a snippet of targeting inventory. On the search side of things, cataloging 133,567 monthly searches for a certain shopping-motivated keyword can be thought of as inventory as well. As we add targeting inventory surrounding customer definitions, the individual data points grow to define a persona.

“Persona modeling” is the art of identifying which attributes are customer-definitive in confluence.

Psychographic Targeting Usages
We can take the targeting inventory discovered and use it to:

  • Understand which channels are important to the marketing assignment.
  • Target customers with multi-channel PPC, both search and contextual.
  • Create vertical listening programs to identify conversations for community managers to join, with a true understanding of how communities are segmented psychographically speaking. In other words, what the makeup is.
  • Advise content marketing strategy and tactics.
  • Guide the planning of promotional events, tailored by a greater understanding of what could work.
  • Vet business plans and counsel the creation of products based on how the actual marketplace presents.
  • Test and prove organic funnels, both search and social, to advise strategists, webmasters, artists and developers as they create site-based and social asset page and application experiences for users.

Master Personas, Personalities & Literal Personas

When detailing characteristics that define a persona, there are high-level attributes (master personas) common to large groups of users, as well as more intricate personalities within. There are also personas that are so tightly intertwined to the exact marketing key performance indicator (KPI) at hand that these characteristics transcend all and define a literal persona.

For instance, “traveler” is a master persona. Anyone generally interested in traveling endeavors fits the broad master persona classification. Personalities are focused subdivisions under the general umbrella of being a traveler, which add further definition. For example field electrical inspectors, tour guides, college students hitting the beach for spring break, quarterly conventioneers, youth hostel enthusiasts, canoe wilderness trekkers and professional airline pilots are examples of personalities (sub–personas), further focusing the traveler master persona.

  • Literal persona: High intent, KPI-specific keyword searches & interests
  • Master persona: High-level interests common to a larger group
  • Personalities: Focused interests within a master persona group, lending actionable marketing insights

The spectrum of marketing opportunities is rich indeed. As you will learn in this post, intent-laced search and contextual inventory can comprise exciting inventory with which to target both master personas and sub-personalities.

Paid Inventory Tools For Organic Research
We’ve been using the word inventory freely so far. Think of keywords and social segments as inventory, the same way 30-second chunks of time are inventory to television and physical display space is inventory to newspapers and magazines. These days there are numerous channels—like Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs and forums—where people search and/or participate in social context. Impressions, digital or physical, where users come in contact with advertising are inventory.

Nearly all online channels sell advertising inventory and offer targeting attributes to filter where their audiences see advertisers’ messages. Search and social site operators are forced to reveal the inventory of their sites, i.e. what users search for or what they’re interested in, via paid inventory toolsets that marketers use to choose their advertising targets. Though the tools are designed for pay, they also reveal the site’s organic makeup. Examples are:

  • Google AdWords Keyword Tool
  • Facebook Ads Create Tool
  • Paid Stumble UI
  • LinkedIn Ads UI
  • YouTube, Google & Bing Ajax Suggest Boxes

For instance, marketers usually use the Google AdWords keyword tool to determine what keywords should be used in AdWords PPC. They also use the same tool to plot SEO (organic) strategy. Likewise, savvy marketers use the Facebook Ads demographic targeting tools to figure out both FB Ads PPC and community management (organic) social targeting in Facebook. If we learn from Facebook Ads that there are 5,689 female FB users over the age of 54 interested in basket weaving, I can target them with FB Ads and figure out where they are in Facebook to go meet organically. The saying goes, “Search PPC research is to SEO what Facebook Ads research is to community management.” The same holds true in LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and many other channels. To understand the paid psychographic research universe means to understand the organic universe for that channel.

My point is that paid inventory-targeting tools provide savvy marketers with seriously important insight for organic activities. SEO practitioners look to search PPC keyword research to plan their organic search programs and funnels. Social media community managers look to Facebook and LinkedIn PPC research tools to blueprint organic outreach.

Since humans are fantastically diverse creatures, online persona-targeting attributes are often highly scalable given today’s massive online penetration. This scalability will become apparent as we move through the data discovery of various multi-channel targeting elements comprising our persona. People are deep. It does not take a very high percentage of the whole person to form a matrix of targeting attributes sufficient to define enough of the whole customer to develop a deadeye-targeting grid for marketers. It is a truly great time to be a marketer.

Persona modeling works for both B2B and B2C products because people are people, whether we’re targeting them personally or as extensions of the companies they work for. Don’t be distracted by the specific case study we’re sharing in this post. Though we’re outlining psychographic research for a product, the KPI could be a direct response sale, making new friends or likes, generating a lead towards the ultimate purchase or branding.

Uniqueness Of Channels

Another important point is that each online marketing channel has its own audience and targeting idiosyncrasies. Understanding how a master persona and sub-personalities present is an entirely different animal than being able to target them. Obviously search channels are about keyword search, geolocation and other basic psychographics. Facebook, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon and other channels each offer similar targeting options and gorgeous uniqueness how they lay users out on each channel’s social graph. Google’s Display Network, a massive sampling of users, presents more and more socialized features every month.

Usable Targeting Segments In This Post

This post offers many-a-splendid targeting segment across Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and search. Some may prove of use to you. Search is easy to think about. Just copy the keywords and they are yours to work with. If you want to use LinkedIn and YouTube segments in this post, you’ll have to recreate them in the targeting UI. Still, the information is useful. Facebook segments in this post are super easy to lift and use. Watch for text under FB segments throughout this post, presented in comma delimited strings that look like this. To import the text into the FB Ads targeting UI, there is a little + to the right of the precise interests attribute box.

Click on that box and paste in the FB segments we’ve provided as text. Sadly, you’ll need to duplicate the LinkedIn and YouTube targeting by hand to use it.

So, without further ado, let’s get started!

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