Marketing Books Using Demographics, Psychographics, and Consumer Behavior

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Marketers can’t predict the future any more so than anyone else. However, there are two aspects of trying to anticipate the future that I’ve found to be near-truisms—at least when marketing books to consumers (which is really the only time I endeavor to predict the future).

  1. The more you know beforehand about the consumer, the easier it is to anticipate what he or she is more—or even most—likely to do next.
  2. The closer in time the hoped-for “next action” is to be decided, the easier it is to actually predict what that action will be. (As a corollary, it becomes easier once the actions begin.)

Obvious. But, like a lot of solid marketing, it’s easier said than done.

Three components play into this and, in my opinion, are must-haves for book marketers wishing to run effective, efficient campaigns.

Learn more about cutting edge marketing techniques from Peter McCarthy at the upcoming Digital Book World Marketing + Publishing Services Conference & Expo.



This is the old-school marketer’s bread and butter. This is “Mad Men.” How old is your consumer? What sex? How many kids? Urban, suburban, rural? Census stuff. Let’s say I’m marketing a book on how to retire comfortably even if you feel behind on your savings. Well, there are several audiences I can pretty quickly rule out if I’m using demographics. For example, current retirees. Or teenagers.

Great places for demographics — any group that studies populations and trends: the Census Bureau (literally); marketing organizations; and any ad platform that allows intelligence gathering via geo-targeting or age-limiting — Google Trends (for the geographic data), Quantcast, and so on…plenty of enterprise stuff, too in the Nielsen vein.

Demographics have severe limitations, though. In this hypothetical case, what of the 25-year-old child of a 55-year-old parent who knows that retirement is an issue for his or her parent? He or she may well be researching how to help, which may involve either buying or suggesting my book. I don’t know. That may be common, perhaps not. But I don’t know based on demographics alone. I need to research further.

I have an example I like to use when illustrating the limits of demographic targeting.

I watch golf on TV and, as such, am inundated with ads for drugs that fix a “going problem” and erectile dysfunction medicines. Not to overshare, but I am 41 and while I have my own set of problems, I don’t have any of the health variety which would seem from the ad saturation to plague the vast majority of the demographic they’re targeting. I have also seen many a Buick ad. I’m not in the market for Buick nor is anyone else I know. (Do they even make Buicks anymore?)

I estimate that over the past 10 years, these advertisers have spent thousands of dollars “reaching” just me. Perhaps their margins and lifetime customer value allow for this kind of waste. Book marketers rarely have that luxury.



A favorite of mine, I define psychographics as beliefs, attitudes, and preferences. Often these are buried within us—and we’re all consumers. For psychographics, think political leanings, attitudes toward global warming, religious affiliations or non-affiliations, enthusiasms, “clique identification” (skater, punk, neo-hippie), love of a parent…or not. Sometimes these correspond with demographics to a certain extent (red states tend to have a greater share of conservative population, obviously). But again, that’s too limited. There are liberals in red states. Lots of them, often. And they may well be more fervent than liberals in blue states. Possible—need to check behavior to get at that. Facebook is a great place to get at psychographics. So are listening tools applied to social network chatter (big ones, like Radian Six, mid-sized, like Simply Measured, or smaller, like Trackur). Ditto for macro studies done by organizations like Pew. Any time consumers raise their hands and say, “I believe this” or something along those lines, you’ve got it.

In the case of my retirement for elder slackers book, demographics combined with psychographics could really inform my test messaging. I could take two tacks when targeting those, say, 50–60; scare ’em or make them feel like this book is the answer. Probably a bit of both. So, three test segments: fear, hope, blend/aspiration.

Not bad…now we just need to take both of and stir in some behavioral analysis.


Consumer Behavior

Consumer behavior is unpredictable in a vacuum. But with knowledge of the above, one can be prepared to spot behavior (once someone is behaving, they are real, close, and increasingly predictable). The key is to be ready and then react very quickly and wisely to what you see them doing. How?

I’ll go with a Google search, which is behavioral in nature. The searcher – a potential consumer or influencer – is doing something. Right now. If I’ve done my homework about my retirement book, taken into account some demographics and psychographic information and prepared that series of A/B/C versions of, say, AdWord units, I can give predicting the future my best shot. I can message to that 25-year-old searching on “retirement planning mutual fund limits for ages 55 and up”, “parents unprepared?” or the like. I can message to the 55-year-old searching on “retirement guides” something along the lines of “Feel Behind? Read This.” (Obviously with further calls to action included in the ad unit…). Now the future is close. Actually it is happening – on Google, on your own site, on Facebook (clicks, likes, shares), Twitter, Amazon…and (gulp) offline, too. And I can then observe most and measure the impact, tossing out those ads (or content or verbiage or whatever) that don’t work, and keeping those that do.

Demographics, psychographics, and behavior; you can’t always get them all, but when you do, there may be gold in those hills. If not, you’ve at the very least done major risk mitigation.

In a recent conversation with the very sharp Murray Izenwasser of Biztegra, we got on this subject and he mentioned the word “intent.” I liked it a lot. Most organizations are not able to do predictive analytics, which at the moment is/are the province of big data-mining organizations able to track everything and aiming at simple products. (Witness Google predicting Opening Weekend Box Office. And a couple quants at HP did the same thing using just did Twitter data. Their paper is called “Predicting the Future with Social Media Data.”) Certain online retailers do a bit of this but certainly not as much as they could and, actually, they do it rather bluntly (e.g. poorly). In our industry, it is about identifying likely intent well enough. It’s about knowing me, the potential consumer (who isn’t going to buy a Buick!).

As always, set goals, identify the right tools, use them to research (with these three elements in mind to inform intent), test, measure, respond. In this world, planning is an on ongoing process.

Learn more about cutting edge marketing techniques from Peter McCarthy at the upcoming Digital Book World Marketing + Publishing Services Conference & Expo.