You have two options when selecting the audience to receive your advertising messages: You can engage in mass advertising that reaches everybody in your market area, or you can target your advertising to reach specific segments of your market area. Marketers use demographics in target advertising. Demographics or demographic profiles describe certain characteristics of unique market segments that are targeted to receive your advertising messages.

Understanding Your Market

Mass advertising is financially out-of-reach for many businesses regardless of size. This is why marketers have found demographics quite useful in understanding and categorizing market segments according to socioeconomic characteristics, which are observable and measurable. Socioeconomic characteristics are commonly accepted as predictive markers for buying behavior. Typical examples of demographic variables are age, gender, ethnicity, education, occupation, income level, marital status, religion and family size. These characteristics are often called the external reality because they describe the "who" of your market segment — what's observable about their economic and social status relative to others. Demographics allow considerable flexibility to input the characteristics that are most relevant to your target market. The only qualifiers are that they be observable and measurable.

Demographics in Advertising

Demographics govern advertising message content and media vehicle selection. For example, the message, the imagery, the music and the latest buzzwords that are used in laptop computer advertising that targets teenagers would likely be inappropriate in advertising for the same laptop computer that targets retirees. Moreover, you will have better success reaching teenagers on teen-oriented programs than on the Sunday morning talk shows. Your challenge as an advertiser is to match your advertising message with the demographics of your target market using the most effective vehicles to reach that market.

Demographics Limitations

Demographics tell you about the external realities of your target market — who is buying and likely prospects for your product or service. Demographics do not explain why consumers select certain products or services while rejecting others. Marketers needed a better grasp of the "internal" qualitative elements of human behavior that shape buying decisions. The resolution to these qualitative concerns is found in psychographics. Psychographic analysis explores attitudes, opinions and personality traits that shape shopping behavior. When you combine demographics with psychographics, you get a quantitative and qualitative picture of your target market. This composite picture helps you to develop more persuasive advertising messages and select more efficient media vehicles to reach your target market.

Developing Targeted Advertising Strategies

Thanks to target advertising, you can create messages and use media tailored to shoppers with demographic and psychographic characteristics that are typical of your current and likely customers. You can build a demographic profile of your target market from public databases and from low-cost surveys. Marketers frequently use focus groups to develop psychographic profiles by asking probing questions of respondents that share similar demographic traits. Focus groups can prove to be costly. Nevertheless, investing in focus groups to develop a psychographic profile that complements the demographic profile of your target market could be invaluable in developing a targeted advertising strategy for your business.