We’re big fans of learning directly from our customers at Hindsight. Since launching the company, we’ve had hundreds of conversations with marketers at startups all the way up to fortune 500 companies. These conversations have been an amazing way to learn firsthand about the problems that marketers face day in and day out.
One topic that always come up is the debate between demographic and behavioral information. Which one is more important? Which one is more actionable? Which would I prefer to have as a marketer?
This topic came up so frequently that we decided it’s time to solve the debate once and for all. Our summer intern Rachel made this happen by polling 94 marketers from companies like Fossil, MGM Resorts, and Havas Group to find out which data set they’d rather have access to. She got responses from marketers that are actually executing campaigns all the way up to CMOs.
Before we get to the results, some quick definitions.
Demographic Data: This includes age, gender, income, location, etc. This is relatively static information.
Behavioral Data: Here we have pre and post website visit online journey, important sites, topics/articles consumed, etc. This data set tends to change more frequently.
And the results….
84% of marketers prefer behavioral data over demographic data.
We were definitely surprised by these results. Although we’re big believers of Behavioral Data at Hindsight (after all, Hindsight is designed around uncovering new behavioral insights), we weren’t expecting the results to align with us so heavily.
We decided to dive a bit deeper here to really understand why a marketer would be more in favor of demo vs behavioral data.
Why Some Marketers Prefer Demographic Data
The most common reason that marketers chose Demographic over Behavioral data is that they viewed the results as more specific and accurate than behavioral data. This is the sentiment that Jacob Wyble from Caesars Entertainment Group shares:
Online behavior can sometimes be misleading if they’re looking up material on behalf of someone else or a lot of times people look up info for one-time use. Demographic data tells hard facts about that person, and the best way to know you’re targeting the ideal audience overall.
Jacob Wyble, Advertising and Media Buyer, Ceases Entertainment Group
Jacob definitely brings up a good point on behavioral potentially being misleading. After all, being given very high level information such as “your customers like fashion” doesn’t give much for a marketer to work with. At the same time, there definitely is value in understanding the demographics of your customer so we certainly understand Jacob’s preference.
Why Most Marketers Prefer Behavioral Data
So why do 84% of marketers prefer behavioral even if it’s potentially less accurate than demographic data? The range of answers here is a bit wider but centers around the belief that behavioral data is more targetable and actionable than demographic information.
Multiple respondents mentioned that creating personal relationships with their customers is a primary goal of their marketing. By knowing what customers are consuming during their time online (i.e. behavioral data) they’re able to generate content and push products that reflect their customers’ interests.
Maria Garrido, Chief Insights and Analytics Officer at Havas Group, shares this perspective on behavioral data.
Because demographic information can be gathered elsewhere. What I am most interested in understanding the consumers decision journey across the digital universe and finding opportunities to target them from Awareness to purchase phases in the digital space..
Maria Garrido, Chief Insights and Analytics Officer, Havas Group
Understanding the customer’s browsing journey empowers marketers to target potential customers throughout their browsing journey. Even more, by knowing all the steps of the browsing journey, marketers can make content and targeting strategies (both the creative itself and the sites to serve on) that match the stage of the journey. Chris Nixon from Batteries Plus Bulbs agrees with this:
More precise targeting can be accomplished with behavior data, and many times you can discern Demographic Data from the behavior.
Chris Nixon, Paid Search Analyst, Batteries Plus Bulbs
One final reason the Behavioral Data seemed to be preferrer by the marketers we surveyed is that demographic segmentation is a broad-brush technique. It combines people of the same age, race, or geographical location while ignoring the variability of interests and behaviors within a demographic group. Think about this: two women who both visited the same lifestyle blog have a lot more in common than two arbitrarily-picked women who fall into the 19-24 age category. Howard Ladd, Director of Insights at the XO Group (owner’s of theknot.com, thenest.com, and thebump.com) brings up this exact point:
Online behavior is more rich than demographic data alone. This info would reveal researching/purchasing habits and interests!!! Demo data alone can’t provide that level of intel
Howard Ladd, Director of Insights, XO Group
Are there any other reasons why marketers might not like behavioral data? For one, Behavioral Data can changes very frequently. As new articles and information gets published, the browsing behaviors that drive someone to your site may vary widely even if the demographic of your customer hasn’t changed. Capitalizing on frequently changing Behavioral insights requires a great marketing team that’s powered by great technology.
So what’s the conclusion? Both types of information have their merits but based on our survey, it seems like behavioral data is where today’s marketers are focusing their attention.