Research Decoded #1: The Psycho Word

Co-Founder and Insights Director

Research for radio comes in all shapes and sizes, with a truckload of jargon, and its fair share of folk wisdom and myths.

In this new series, I’ll cut through the technical buzz words, to decode research concepts in common use, but not always understood.

Kicking off with Psychographics

The most powerful, but underutilised research tool for content, marketing and sales teams.


We’re all familiar with Demographic data like age, gender, ethnic group, marital status, children, income, education, location, and so on.

Basic information for describing your audience, and essential to collect in any research project. But often that’s only as far as it goes, and it’s just not enough.

Beyond Demographics

Psychographics are way more fascinating, and a critical part of identifying a viable target audience and creating your point of difference.

They cover a wide range of possible questions such as lifestyle, interests, attitudes to social issues, values, entertainment tastes, digital&social media usage, and personality type (as in conservative, early-adopter, extrovert etc).

Some of these can contain sensitive information, and care must be taken in a survey to protect a person’s anonymity and privacy.

In music radio the most common psychographic approach, is a music lifegroup or cluster question. Asking how often a person prefers hearing a music style, as defined by a short montage of typical songs.

This can also help define an ideal music mix out of the most compatible montages. More on this in a later article.

The Pay-Off

Extra questions and analysis in research can mean higher costs.

But at a time of tight format competition, Melbourne as the prime example, the more clearly you understand and define your target, the more you can differentiate your brand, even in subtle ways.

Remembering you’re not programming for other radio people, media bloggers or Radio Today readers :), but for real listeners!

 Dog Whistle Your Listeners

“Dog whistle politics” is a specific message sent to a niche segment of voters, that’s only meaningful to that group of people. Usually a negative technique to disguise bigoted messages, repugnant to the larger population.

A more positive spin in a radio context, is to have such a deep psychographic understanding of your listeners’ emotional triggers relating to their entertainment and information choices, that you can finely tune your branding and content, so it makes sense only to your target.

What’s an 18-34 or 40-54 Year Old?

They don’t exist!

Which is the great weakness in describing your listeners only in demographic  terms.

Age and gender demo descriptors such as 18-34 females or 40-54 males, are OK to place your station in a generalised space, and for feeding survey day chat-fests, but totally inadequate for building your brand. Even with other demographic data to flesh out the picture.

And What’s A Format?

Because even, for instance in 18-34s, if you brought together a focus group of just mid-point 28 year olds sharing similar income, ethnic group, education benchmarks for instance, each can still have totally different entertainment preferences.

One might be a hiphop fan, another mostly likes retro classic rock, the next one is into indie, or another prefers a mixture of all of these. Let alone the rest of their pop-culture tastes, which can all be different as well. Some may have more in common with a segment of 45 year olds than their own age-group.

Again, format labels, like demos, are only a broad-brush for convenience, and potentially more dangerous as they can box you into an outdated execution template. A rear-view mirror snapshot of audience tastes that have long since moved on.

Segmentation is a Power Tool

It’s not just different groups of music taste that need to be drilled down.

Same applies to personality show styles, talk & information programming, and music vs. talk balance. And further into  daypart and mood needs.

Add those elements to lifestyle and attitude information, and you’ll be able to identify distinctively different segments of people, along with their size and potential as targets.

That’s why you’ll often see in consumer marketing projects how segments are given descriptive, thumbnail sketch labels like Risk-Taking Fledglings, Status Strivers, Mall Maniacs and Social Butterflies, based on a comprehensive analysis of a range of research Q&A.

Source: Shay Yacobinsk shutterstock.comTalent Quest

Personality show styles and specific talent preferences, are of course critical to the success of most radio brands, so you need a detailed understanding of how they work with your target.

For example, your most viable target audience segment, such as easy-gold fans, may not want a full on, breakfast comedy circus, but prefer a warm&friendly, relaxed style of presenter first thing in the morning.

While the relaxed approach may not fit with adults even in the same age-group, who like up-tempo contemporary hits to start their day.

Creative Research

While research is often, and mistakenly, seen as dry, and all about numbers, psychographics is a creative activity.

It’s about finding innovative ways to paint vivid, emotional pictures of your listeners, with all-round benefits for strategy, content, branding, marketing and sales.

At the same time defining what’s different about them, compared to others of a similar age and socio-economic background. Because that will drive your point-of-difference, and make you stand out from the pack.

Takeout Exercise

If you weren’t allowed to describe your listeners by age, sex, income, education, occupation and suburb, how would you paint their colourful psychographic picture?

What creative and emotional language would you use to make them come alive as real people, not just numbers in a survey book.

Eriks Celmins is Managing Director of Third Wave Media, international consultant for research, strategy and content.Full Member of Australian Market& Social Research Society (AMSRS).LinkedIn

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