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The Old Way of Analyzing Demographics Is Dead

By Derek Franks  •  June 18, 2018

Kill your darlings, such as the standard way of describing your target customers

The Old Way of Analyzing Demographics Is Dead

Posted by: Derek Franks on June 18, 2018

If you’re still using age range and income as primary ways to identify your target customers, it’s time to catch up to the real world.


These details don’t tell you all you need to know. Not even close.

Why do we need to sound the death bell for traditional demographic analysis? 

A couple of reasons. First, we have more access to better data about people-- who they are, what they do, their buying behaviors, emotions and motivations. Technology advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning help us use social listening and consumer research platforms to conduct better audience segmentation and customer research.

Secondly, people talk. They share who they are and about experiences they have. And that information is invaluable to market researchers, advertisers, marketers and analysts everywhere.

Now, we can take the information provided by people who express themselves online and turn it into real actionable insight. This provides a whole new level of demographic details that we can implement, add to strategies, analysis and even product improvements.

We need to leave behind making assumptions based on how we think people will behave based on basic information.

Let’s take a look at the many opportunities available to us to get to know our audiences and customers and do demographics better. First, a little housekeeping. Let’s kill the old demographics for good.

The Old Ways of Analyzing Demographics is Dead TITLE

How We Used to Do Demographics


We say “used to” because these dated methods need to be shown the door.

Back in the day, an audience segment might look like this:

Women aged 35-44, who are moms with a household income of $120K and who work full time.


So, how did we get there?

When advertisers began analyzing and documenting audience segments in the contemporary fashion, they used tax registrars, census data and city directories to develop segments of people based on education and income. By the time we used segmentation tools in the 1920s, it was incorporating data based on those types of demographics.

Later, Nielsen ratings system for television viewing provided us data about audiences for media and ads. We used this standard of audience analytics as the model because there wasn’t any other way to know the information.

The result was grouping target customers into various segments based on life stages such as affluence, household income, age, and whether or not there were children at home.

Ways that marketers would map out demos resembled charts like the PRIZM method, where types of people at different stages of life were organized in a chart.

It looked something like this:

Prizm Demographics Chart

This is an antiquated view of how consumers live their lives. Boxing people into such specific segments and only grouping our target audiences in them without respect to other factors is what will fail us today. There are other variables that make people more or less likely to be your customer and not including them is a major flaw in the older methods of analyzing demographics.

Today, we have access to so much more information about people.


The digital landscape and the innovation of technology and intelligence have opened the door to deeper and better details about the people who could be our customers, audiences, fans or competitor’s customers. Additionally, people communicate key details about their lives that we need to apply to our audience segmentation.


That means we need to adapt. We need to move away from the old way and implement demographic data in the way that can help us better understand our targets.

Attributes of the way demographics should be done 

Here is how the most effective demographic data are defined today:

They’re Dynamic- demographics today need to be fluid and flexible because people who might buy or interact with you will change based on various lifestyles, financial situations, opinions, values and buying behaviors. The great thing about it is that people express their thoughts and feelings about their experiences (and products) online. Therefore, you’re positioned to constantly monitor and listen to them and be there when they need you. Don’t marry yourself to buyer profiles. You have to evolve your demographic data as you are researching and analyzing them.

They’re Representative- we don’t need to flip through a directory or tax records to get details about audiences, and we don’t have to rely on small samples from focus groups either. The amount of data created by people online allows us to use technology to analyze these audiences, and their demo information, in greater numbers so they’re representative of the true population.

They’re Real- by utilizing technology from tools like social listening and monitoring and website analytics, we can analyze details about actual people that are volunteered by those people without solicitation or influence, either paid or in other means. This gives us a much more precise reading of these audiences.

They Include Psychographics- we’ll cover this more later, but these persona profiles need to include information about how people feel and act. Psychographics are a huge part of the equation. A middle-aged mom who works full time might have different feelings and behaviors than another middle-aged mom who works full time. This may impact how they engage with you or if they buy from you. You need to dig deeper to understand who your target actually is.

Now, let’s go through the steps to properly analyze and document your target audiences in the modern way.

Step 1: Understand your audience

To be candid, there’s no preset formula for analyzing consumer demographics. It takes flexibility of the researcher and changing his or her mindset to what we’re really looking for.

As people now sound off on who they are, their buying habits, passions and feelings, it’s not as much a guessing game anymore.

The life stage demographics, what could be called “status” demographics, don’t tell us nearly enough of what we need to know.

Instead of life stages, we need to analyze lifestyles: what people are actually doing, their interests, their beliefs and their values.

The key thing to remember is this: to know your audience, first analyze what they say. You can learn so much more about people by listening to them. That’s true in any aspect of life. And it’s just as true here. The best marketers are the best listeners.

There is so much value for researchers, from marketing to advertising to consumer research, in listening to the online conversation to understand and identify key trends related to brands, products, industries, competitors, product improvements, and so on.

What’s the persona profile of people who discuss Airbnb over the last 12 months?

AIRBNB social persona

But that doesn’t tell us the whole story.

We could also ask, what are the top interests of people who are Airbnb’s audiences:

AIRBNB post interests

We could even find out what the most expressed emotions were around their brand:

AIRBNB top emotions

Now we’re starting to paint a more clear picture of who these people are.

We can dig deeper. What if we want to know the most discussed destinations for Airbnb’s audiences?

AIRBNB most discussed destinations chart

So, why are we talking about emotions and feelings and all the things people are talking about here? It’s because demographics alone don’t help us understand our audiences.

Let’s take a look at a larger piece of the puzzle to help us get to know the target audiences better.


Step 2: Add emotions and behaviors

Psychographics-- emotions, passions, behaviors and feelings-- are strong indicators of how people will engage you or buy from you.

When looking at your target demographics, you need to document how people feel as well.

The standard analysis of psychographics incorporates these details:

  • Activity, interest, opinion
  • Attitudes
  • Behavior
  • Values

While marketers and advertisers have long utilized psychographics within their buyer persona development, having real-time access to these insights in great detail is relatively new. And only with the emerging intelligence capabilities can we now get full, in-depth analytics on the people we want to know about and apply them to the typical demographical data.

Take millennials for example. Someone in the age range or gender target might be useful for targeting the right audiences. But if we also incorporate the kinds of activities, interests or opinions into the analysis, we can get a more accurate read on these consumers.

If United Airlines decided it might be interested in targeting millennials with a new advertising campaign for example, they may first want to conduct some research.

It might be important to consider that those in that age range have a negative view of United:

United Airlines sentiment analysis millennials

Linguistics analysis shows that their most expressed terms about United deal with negative feelings regarding topics such as “incident”, “overhead bin”, “issue”, “investigation” and “animals.”

These are all factors that we need to incorporate into our personas. Simply looking at age ranges, generations or gender won’t help here. United would need to make sure they know this audience's sentiment toward their brand before they did anything. Thus, going about our research and strategies by using the old standard demographics would be a mistake.

We made it super easy to research by age-range in our tool. Read more about that here.

One place where the lifestyles of people playing a huge role in consumer behavior is the idea of social movements.

Movements make it evident that people’s values and passions are a major influencing factor for people. These social movements are now one of the most powerful driving forces behind people’s motivations.

Thus, we must include values and passions into our demographic analysis.

Brands can galvanize their base around specific movements if they have better demographics data around these people and what motivates them to act.

In Airbnb’s case, they have made a concerted effort to make an impact in the immigration and refugees conversation. Their service has offered refugees who are escaping danger and others who are stranded thanks to decisions made by politicians in America. Meanwhile the brand has run several polarizing ads during high viewership events like the Super Bowl.

They’ve made a stance as a brand and it has paid off. There is a ton of conversation from Airbnb’s audiences about the issues of helping immigrants. Here is the demographic overview of people discussing the brand and the immigration movement, just in February of 2018 (during the time one of their ads was running on tv):

Airbnb immigration conversations Feb. 2018

With 44,000 mentions in one month, you can see that this was a big conversation starter for Airbnb's audiences. Now, you could dig in further to look at things like sentiment, interest, linguistics and more. This is extra information to add to your persona profiles.


Causes that people care about are an important element to incorporate in your audience personas. Identifying what drives people’s feelings and motivations and what they are passionate about will be an important factor in getting to know your audiences better.


Step 3: Understand influencers

We don’t just need data on our customers. We need to know: why are they the way they are?

Documenting audience personas includes figuring out what influences your audiences and customers. You need to ask: who is influencing your audiences, what channels do they use, what do they read and watch, who inspires them, what are their interests, passions, hobbies, etc.

The things your audiences care about and the people they follow are a reflection of who they are.

You don't just want income and age information about the customer, you want insights about who the customer aspires to be, who they see themselves as, and who they look to for leadership and inspiration. These are all as important, if not more important, than how old they are and how much money they make.

So, what can we find out?

We can do audience research on the target customer to figure out these details about them:

  • Their top interests
  • What brands they are most interested in
  • What personalities they are most interested
  • What topics do they discuss most
  • What influencers or publications do they follow

For example, we found that the Airbnb audience is highly interested in business-related matters.

  • Their most discussed topics in linguistics analysis was business or business-travel.
  • Their most read publications were Techcrunch, Venturebeat, HubSpot and Addicted2Success.
  • Some of their top interests were technology and computing, email, investing, cell phones and other related topics.
  • Some of their top discussed brands were Amazon, Apple, Lyft, Spotify and IBM.
  • And their most discussed personalities are Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.

You see from this description that you really start to paint the perfect picture of who the Airbnb audiences are. This tells us much more about them than your typical demographics.

The more we start to incorporate these details into our audience analysis, the more accurate the analysis will be. Soon enough, as we wield these powerful, more precise insights, the old demographics will- at long last- go the way of the typewriter and the 8-track.


People Express themselves… because they can

So, you really want to know who your target audiences are?

The internet has opened the door to opportunities for people everywhere to share how they feel and what they do, which is an expression of who they are.

This means that audience research is more accurate because we now know not just who the people in the target audience segment are, but what they might do.

Social listening tools like Infegy Atlas can monitor the billions of online conversations, from social media content, blogs, microblogs, forums, review sites, news articles and comment sections to find often missed data about the right people relevant to your business.

Do you want to know what your customers want? They’ll tell you. You just have to be there to listen.



By using social listening and intelligence, we can research the entire web that is filled with user-created online conversations to gain a better understanding of who our audiences are.

With that, we can build better personas utilizing more in-depth demographical data, allowing us to paint a more clear picture of our audiences.

Let’s rewrite the demographic persona statement from the very beginning of this article.

As a refresher, here it is:

Women aged 35-44, who are moms with a household income of $120K and who work full time.

Implementing all the data available to us thanks to social intelligence, we can rebuild our personas for the exact same brand to look something like this:

  • Women ages 35-44, who:
  • Have a college degree,
  • Make between $80-100K
  • Have an average of $23-30K of disposable income
  • Who frequently discuss travel, business, shopping and cooking shows
  • Have the top interests of baking, finances, style and fashion and television
  • Follow Rachel Ray and read blogs like Food52 and Must Have Mom
  • Are passionate about the environment, and removing exposure to plastics and products containing BPA
  • In the last 6 months, have expressed trust in their favorite bank which has been in the news for vowing to go paper free

Accept it. The old way to do demographics is dead. Now we we need more in-depth information about our target segments, and we need to constantly track and monitor the communities to make sure our demos are accurate. Technology and evolving consumer behavior have provided us with that opportunity.

To see how you can up your demographic game, get a free, personalized demo of our social listening and intelligence platform here.



Topics: social listening data, demographics, buyer personas, customer personas, target audiences

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