They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but pictures don't always give you an accurate representation of someone's age, gender, or ethnicity. And these are just a few demographic examples that you'll want to know about your customers.
However, obtaining information like this can be tricky. It involves asking questions about your customers' personal lives and how they became the people they are today. Let's face it: Not every customer is lining up to share their life story, so you need a way to extract this information quickly, painlessly, and in bulk.
In this post, we'll discuss what a demographic is and why it's important to capture demographic data at your company. Plus, we've included some demographic examples and questions you should use in your next customer survey.
What is a demographic?
In addition to the definition displayed in the image above, demographics help us break down a large group of people — like a customer base — into specific segments. They can help you answer questions such as:
- How many customers are Gen Z vs. Millennials?
- Do the majority of our customers live on the east coast?
- What's the average household income for our customers?
You can use this information to make informed decisions about your marketing, sales, and customer service strategies. And the more you know about your customers, the easier it is to optimize the customer experience accordingly.
Next, let's take a look at some demographic examples.
Common demographic examples include age, gender, income, education, and religion. You can easily collect demographic information like this using a survey. Businesses typically insert demographic questions in a separate section, usually at the top of the page, to help distinguish this information from the primary survey topic.
The below image highlights the demographic examples mentioned above.
Regardless of the type of survey you're running — whether it's a customer satisfaction survey or Net Promoter Score questionnaire — you'll want to gather demographic data from your target audience.
Here are some of the benefits of including demographic questions in your surveys.
Benefits of Demographic Questions in Surveys
Demographic questions help your business develop accurate buyer personas. Buyer personas influence your marketing campaigns, sales tactics, and how you provide customer service.
They help you visualize your customers based on their background and lifestyle characteristics. And the more accurate your personas are, the better you'll understand your customers' needs and values.
When it comes to customer service, agents use buyer personas to assist with customer interactions. Frontline reps may not know each individual customer, but with buyer personas, they'll have a basic understanding of the type of people they're interacting with. This helps them create positive customer experiences because they're familiar with the user's short- and long-term goals.
Now that we understand the importance of demographic survey questions, let's dive into a few examples you can use with your feedback collection tools. First, we'll start with the most standard questions you should include in any customer survey.
Standard Demographic Questions
- Marital Status
One of the most fundamental questions you should ask is about gender. However, even though this is a standard demographic question, how you approach it is extremely important.
Gender is a complicated and sensitive topic and how you phrase this question can impact your participants in different ways. While this information is valuable, it shouldn't come at the expense of your customers' comfort.
When phrasing this question, be sure to use the word, "gender" in place of the word, "sex." Gender is based more in perspective, giving the participant more flexibility when answering.
Additionally, you should always include a "prefer not to say" option. This will ensure participants don't feel forced to concede sensitive information.
Example: "What gender do you identify as?"A. Male
C. ________ (Short Answer Space)
D. Prefer not to say
Age is a standard demographic question that should be included in every survey. You'll want to know how old the participant is and whether they fit your target audience or not.
The best way to ask this question is with a multiple-choice format that uses age ranges for each answer. Some customers may not feel comfortable revealing their exact age, so this structure allows them to participate while still protecting their personal information.
Example: "What is your age?"A. 0 - 15 years old
B. 15 - 30 years old
C. 30 - 45 years old
E. Prefer not to say
Ethnicity questions paint a clearer picture of your survey participants. They reveal cultural backgrounds made up of a variety of different practices and traditions that influence your customers.
By having this information available, you'll have a better understanding of why some customers may answer questions differently than others.
Example: "Please specify your ethnicity."A. Caucasian
C. Latino or Hispanic
E. Native American
F. Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
G. Two or More
I. Prefer not to say
Another standard question you should ask is about the location of the participant. You want to know where your customers are from because they may live in places you wouldn't expect.
For example, you may find that your business has a strong international audience and there's an opportunity to market in different countries. Or, you might learn that your customers are travelers who are using your product or service on the go.
Example: "Where is your home located?"A. North America/Central America
B. South America
G. Caribbean Islands
H. Pacific Islands
I. Other: ______
J. Prefer not to say
Education is a core demographic question because it provides insight into the type of work a participant may be doing.
If your respondents all say they have a Ph.D., you know that their jobs involve critical thinking. Therefore, you can make a logical pitch -- rather than an emotional one -- to these leads about why your business is right for them.
When asking education questions, be sure to include options for trades and apprenticeships. Some of your customers may have chosen a different career path and the answers on your survey should reflect that.
Example: "What is the highest degree or level of education you have completed?"A. Some High School
B. High School
C. Bachelor's Degree
D. Master's Degree
E. Ph.D. or higher
F. Trade School
G. Prefer not to say
6. Marital Status
Marital status lets you know who your participants are interacting with during their everyday lives. If they're married, their buying decisions may be influenced by different factors compared to someone who isn't.
Example: "Are you married?"A. Yes
C. Prefer not to say
These are the demographic questions that should be included in almost every survey you create. Now that we know they're on your list, let's move on to some other questions you can add.
Keep in mind: Your customers value their time and may not finish the form if you overload them with questions. When deciding which additional demographic questions to include, be strategic and only incorporate your need-to-haves.
OK, let's go.
Demographic Survey Questions
- Household Income
- Family and Dependents
- Living Status
- Voting Status
- Place of Birth
- Political Affiliation
1. Household Income
Household income refers to the total amount of money made by people living in the same home. This sum includes the participant's income, their spouse's, and any other people living in their house.
Collecting this information helps you understand the amount of buying power your customers control. As with any sensitive information, be sure to use range answers and include an option to skip the question.
Example: "What is your annual household income?"A. Less than $25,000
B. $25,000 - $50,000
C. $50,000 - $100,000
D. $100,000 - $200,000
E. More than $200,000
F. Prefer not to say
It's useful to know the participant's employment status as this contributes to their buying power. However, just like with household income, be sure to give the participant an option to omit the question if needed.
For example, if the survey is for a job application, the applicant may not want it on record that they currently have a job. They could get in trouble with their current employer and potentially face repercussions.
Example: "What is your current employment status?"A. Employed Full-Time
B. Employed Part-Time
C. Seeking opportunities
E. Prefer not to say
3. Family and Dependents
If your participants are adults, it may make sense to ask them if they have children. Kids play a major role in buying decisions and influence your customer's personal values.
This means that customers with children are going to have different needs than people who don't. It's important to identify these differences so that you can create campaigns that appeal to both audiences.
Example: "How many children do you have?"A. None
D. More than 4
E. Prefer not to say
4. Living Status
Living status tells you whether or not a customer owns a home, rents or leases a property, or currently has some other type of living arrangement.
It's helpful to understand a customer's living status because it gives you an idea of how stable their current location is and how their needs may differ compared to other consumers.
Example: "Which of the following describes your living status?"A. Homeowner
E. Prefer not to say
5. Voting Status
Voting status identifies whether or not the participant is registered to vote within a given region. This is useful because it shows how active the person is with local or national politics.
Since this topic is very polarizing, you'll want to know how much your customers value your political system.
Example: "Are you registered to vote in ____?"A. Yes
C. Prefer not to say
Businesses care about language for two major reasons. First, speaking the same language as your customers builds a much stronger relationship with them.
Second, knowing the languages that they speak also reveals some important cultural details about the person. Just because two people are from the same place, doesn't mean they speak the same language.
And, that difference in language can lend to significant differences in customer needs, values, and goals.
Example: "Which languages are you capable of speaking fluently? (Check all that apply)"A. English
H. Prefer not to say
7. Place of Birth
Knowing where and when a person was born can reveal significant details about their life.
For example, if they were born in one country then moved around the world, there may have been a family, professional, political, or social factor that influenced their move.
Experiencing this type of major life event will affect their wants and needs as a customer.
Example: "Where were you born?"A. North America
B. Central America
C. South America
H. Pacific Islander
I. Caribbean Islands
K. Prefer not to say
Another cultural influence that's prevalent in many people's lives is religion. Religion significantly impacts your customers' moral values and determining which one they subscribe to will help you understand their personal beliefs.
Keep in mind that some people aren't religious, so there should be an option to reflect this perspective.
Example: "If applicable, please specify your religion."A. Catholicism/Christianity
F. Other: ______
G. Not applicable
H. Prefer not to say
9. Political Affiliation
There are a few ways to approach this question, but how you do so should depend on the information you're looking to obtain.
If you're interested in learning the political party that a person is affiliated with, then you should ask that question directly.
However, if you're looking for their beliefs on political issues, you can ask in a more generic way, like in the example below.
Example: "How would you describe your political view?"A. Very Liberal
B. Slightly Liberal
C. Slightly Conservative
D. Very Conservative
E. Prefer not to say
The Power of Demographics
Demographics can go a long way in helping you understand who your customers are and how best to approach them with your products and services. The next time you reach out to your customers with a survey, don't forget to include some of these demographic examples, too.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in August 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.