Demographic segmentation is a powerful tool businesses use to target the right customer segments and grow their revenue more quickly. Part of the reason it’s so widely used is, relatively speaking, the data is simple to get and it can inform broad business decisions.
Demographic survey questions allow you to get crystal clear on who your customer segments are (and who they aren’t). This can be especially useful when demographic factors have a huge impact on your marketing.
For example, certain clothing brands to accessories will appeal to a younger generation while others will appeal to an older generation. If you use the wrong models or targeting in your advertising then you may leave a lot of money on the table.
The right demographic survey questions can help you avoid these simple but important mistakes. In this guide, you’ll get a deep dive into what demographic surveys are, the questions to ask, the importance of each question, and the best times to use them.
What is a demographic survey?
Put simply, a demographic survey is a tool for market research that’s delivered as a questionnaire. It produces a narrow band of information that can be used to inform wider business decisions.
There are many types of questions you can ask but, generally speaking, you’ll be able to get clear on the gender, income, age groups, education, etc. of your customers.
Pure demographic surveys are rare. Usually, demographic questions are just part of a larger market research survey. They tend to be simple questions that the respondent doesn’t have to spend much time answering.
The real power in demographic questions comes when you’re able to use the insights to create cohorts. For example, the people in the 18 – 25 age bracket are more open to new brands. Those in the 44 – 55 age group spend more on brands they’ve been using for a while.
Whenever possible, tailor your questions to your audience. This may not be possible if you’re starting from scratch, but if you have even a little bit of data beforehand, use it to ask better questions. For example, if you know your audience is full of young people under 25, you may shy away from asking about kids or their marital status.
The importance of demographic data
One of the most useful things about demographic data is that you can make broad generalizations and assumptions about your customer or audience base.
For example, if you uncover that your audience is full of millennials, you can incorporate pop culture references they’ll connect with from their childhood. Things like the Backstreet Boys, Brittney Spears, and Destiny’s Child.
That’s just one way to go about it.
Demographic information can also help you figure out the best places to reach your audience. If they’re all high-income earners then you can target them accordingly on advertising platforms or find them on social media.
Another thing to consider is the kind of questions you’re using to collect demographic information. Are they short answer questions, multiple-choice, yes/no, or something else? Let’s take a look at the questions and why they matter.
Common demographic survey questions
1. Age questions
When talking about demographics, age (along with gender) is what most people think about. In broad strokes, it’ll tell you if they’re the right fit for your target market.
Age, as mentioned before, can inform HOW you market to your audience. Older people may not know who Tekashi 69 is. I barely know who Tekashi 69 is and I’m far from the older generation. Whatever the case, you can take advantage of two types of age-related questions.
Broad – Use these when you have no idea about the age demographics of your audience.
Example demographic survey question:
What is your age range?
- Under 18
- 18 – 24
- 25 – 34
- 35 – 44
- 45 – 54
- 55 – 64
- 65 or older
Narrow – Use these when you have the broad age range narrowed down to a few cohorts and want to have a clearer idea of the distribution.
How old are you now?
- 35 – 37
- 38 – 40
- 41 – 43
- 44 – 46
- 47 – 49
- 50 – 52
- 53 – 55
Best time to use
Take advantage of age-related information to determine the ideal product mix for your company and how to approach marketing. It’s also useful when doing cross tabulation.
2. Gender questions
Gender is not always useful for your marketing, product, or sales strategy. For example, gender isn’t too important for UsefulPDF because anyone can use it. For an eCommerce brand selling accessories, that may be a different story.
These days, it may be a good idea to use open-ended questions when asking about gender. People may be one gender outwardly but identify as something else.
What is your gender?
Once you have an idea of the genders that are your customer base considers applicable, you can narrow down the choices in subsequent surveys using close-ended questions.
What is your gender:
- Prefer not to answer
The other option shouldn’t be applicable here but if your audience identifies strongly with a gender identity that doesn’t fit neatly into a bucket then add an ‘other’ option.
Best time to use
This question is only useful when gender is absolutely essential to your business. The most common industry where this matters is the fashion and beauty industry. It’s also applicable to the fitness space.
With that being said, there are many instances where gender matters or can start to matter. If all your marketing has been targeted at women but you see men as customers, a demographic survey may help you get a better idea of how many men interact with your brand inform future initiatives and products.
3. Ethnicity questions
Ethnicity is a sensitive piece of data that shouldn’t be used in a bubble because of the human tendency to make generalizations. Only use it in conjunction with other data.
An example could be if someone answers that they’re Hispanic (Latin American). Since most of that area are professed Catholics, it would be easy to generalize that they’re answering a certain way because of it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t take into consideration things like age, location, and education.
Example of the demographic question:
What ethnicity do you identify as?
- African American
- African (black)
- African (northern)
- Hispanic (Latino)
- Middle eastern
- Prefer not to say
As you can see from the question answers, it can be difficult to place ethnicities into clear buckets. Asia has many ethnic groups which follow geographic lines and Africans are also incredibly varied. In the United States, 1 in 7 marriages is considered mixed race as of 2008. This question may be less useful than you may think.
Best time to use
In a broad sense, you can get an idea of the cultural background of customers. You can also use it to make different marketing messages that will better resonate with large swaths of your audience.
4. Location questions
We live in a global village so why does geographic information matter? It can help you find opportunities to expand (especially if you need to maintain a physical presence). If you’re an internet-based brand then it can still be helpful for localization opportunities. Like age, there are two types of location/geographic questions.
Broad: Use this when you’re able to take advantage of any market because you’re not limited by geography.
Where do you live?
- South America
- North America
Note: I’m aware that Antarctica is missing because well, you know.
Narrow. These are useful when you don’t provide services everywhere and are looking for expansion opportunities within a specific region.
Where do you live?
- Washington state
Note: Instead of a multiple-choice question, a dropdown menu may be ideal because there are many options available (suburbs, counties, cities, etc.)
Best time to use
As mentioned previously, it’s a great option when you’re looking for opportunities to expand. Or, if you’re expanding already, to make sure your efforts are paying off. Of course, it shouldn’t be used in a bubble.
5. Marital status questions
This is one of the few things that can allow you to make solid assumptions or get on the right track for making solid assumptions. For example, a lot of married people have kids. With that information, you can ask about the age ranges of their kids and opens up more opportunities for you. It can also be a gift buying opportunity for their partners.
Demographic survey question example
What is your marital status?
- Single and never married
- Divorced from spouse
- Living apart
Best time to use
Marriages are unique so it’s important to be careful about what you assume. The assumption about children is just that – an assumption. Focus on this question when the marital status has direct implications on your business.
6. Employment questions
While not an exact science, you can use questions related to employment to understand spending power. Even if the respondent isn’t comfortable telling you exactly how much they earn, they will usually tell you how employed they are. After asking this, use conditional logic to show relevant questions.
Example survey question
Which of the following employment status’ best describes your situation?
- Full time employment
- Self employed
- Part time employment
- Under employed (wage is below industry average)
- Full time freelancing
- Unemployed (looking for work)
- Unemployed (not looking for work)
- Inability to work
When to use
This is a great question when paired with other clarifying questions or if you’re targeting a certain type of user E.G. an entrepreneur or freelancer.
Other demographic survey questions.
7. Family size questions
This can be a question that only appears after someone mentions they’re married, separated, divorced, etc. You can use it alone but there’s a large assumption there which you may want to avoid. This, coupled with a question about ages can help you narrow down your business strategy.
How many children do you have?
- 6 or more
Note: You can ask respondents to exclude adult children (if applicable).
8. Previous home location(s)
Although a roundabout way of getting this information, it may let you know where you can focus efforts in the future. If they’re similar to the people in their previous locations and they like your products then there may be more opportunities for you there.
It’s not a science because environmental factors may play a role in why they’re buying your products at their current location. This should also be time-bound because a residence from 15 years ago is likely irrelevant.
Which places have you lived in the last 4 years?
Note: Leave it as an open-ended question because of the possible variations available.
9. Languages spoken at home
Languages spoken at home may not be the language they use when out and about. Language can reveal a lot about the cultural heritage of a person.
People can have very similar demographic profiles but speak different languages at home. This will give you an insight into their psychographic profile and allow you to make decisions accordingly.
What languages do you speak at home (select all that apply)?
Note: There are thousands of languages but half the world speaks just 23 of them. Use a drop-down to provide more choices.
There can be assumptions when thinking about someone’s education level. Generally speaking, a high school graduate will have a lower income and different professional experience than a college graduate. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.
You may also be able to sell more complex products if your audience has more formal education.
What is the highest level of education you have completed?
- High school
- Some high school
- Bachelor’s degree
- Master’s degree
- PhD or higher
- Associates degree
- Trade school
- Prefer not to say
- Other _____
Few people will tell you their exact personal income. They may not even share their household income numbers with you. They may, in some cases, give you an idea of the income level of their entire household. Improve response rates by focusing on income ranges instead of exact income figures.
This data is useful for obvious reasons, chief of which is your pricing strategy.
What is the annual income range of your household?
- Under $25,000
- $25,000 – $50,000
- $50,001 – $100,000
- $100,001 – $250,000
- $250,001 – $500,000
- $500,001 – $1,000,000
- Above $1 million
Note: These ranges are arbitrary and used for example purposes. You may want to create narrower ranges to get better insights.
Demographic survey questions to avoid
Not all demographic questions are productive. There are many types of questions that people will ignore outright or cause them to abandon the survey. Here are a few of those types of questions to avoid.
Even if you have a good reason to collect this information, avoid it. It’s overly personal and will be ignored most times. Stick to questions about the age range. A narrow age range question may work well here.
Many surveys are anonymous and that’s for good reason. Many participants won’t take part in them otherwise. If you ask personally identifiable questions, that severely limits the information they’ll give out via the rest of the survey. Weigh this against the pros and cons before proceeding.
It’s rare for someone to give you their address via a survey and for good reason. What justification do you have for this information? This is the kind of information that’s shared when there’s a clear transaction that needs to be done but bot not for collecting market research information. Instead, focus on the zip code or other information that gives you insights into where they live.
Demographic data is a powerful and proven way to create better products and marketing initiatives. For it to work, your demographic survey questions need to be relevant and useful. The questions in this guide will make sure you’re asking the right questions at the right time.
Focus on the ones that will give you immediate insights and ignore the rest. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments and don’t forget to share.
Demographic information is a powerful way to segment customers and develop better marketing campaigns. Before you can do that, you have to ask demographic survey questions that hit the mark.
This guide has gone through 11 high-impact questions you can start using today to enhance the demographic information you collect and grow your business.