Understanding the “who” behind your customers is essential to your success. If you aren’t sure what your customers’ characteristics are, it becomes increasingly difficult to segment and target them through the services you provide. This is where demographic survey questions help fill in the blanks and show you the type of people buying from your business. 

The dilemma is knowing what questions you should ask in a demographic survey. There are several factors to consider when creating questions, such as inclusivity, your industry, and when and where to include an online demographic survey

Fortunately, creating a demographic survey doesn’t need to be complex. By breaking down the essentials of demographics, you can craft a survey that aids you with marketing, improves your products and services, and increases your overall customer satisfaction. 

What are demographic survey questions?

graphic on demographic segmentation
Demographics are used in various studies to understand a population’s different characteristics. Image source: QuestionPro.

Demographic survey questions offer insight into the characteristics of your audience. For instance, you can gather information on your audience’s age, ethnicity, gender, or location. 

Asking these questions enables you to better understand the identity of your brand’s current customers. You can spot patterns, trends, or buying behaviors — which, in turn, helps you make more informed and influential business decisions. Nearly 70% of small business owners say having customer-backed data helps them keep their current patrons. 

What are the benefits of asking demographic questions?

The valuable insights you gain from knowing precisely who your customers are can aid you in two ways. 

Developing a buyer persona

A buyer persona is a fictionalized representation of your ideal customer. Developing a buyer persona helps you understand the characteristics of your customers and further aids you in understanding their wants and needs. 

Suppose your demographic questionnaire shows that most of your buyers are college-aged individuals. You can characterize their probable buying behaviors based on typical college student circumstances. They likely have a smaller budget and lead a different lifestyle than married couples with children. 

You can use these distinct representation factors to create and market products and services that are more likely to appeal to college students, thus increasing sales and customer satisfaction.  

Building trust and credibility 

Survey demographic questions show customers that you want to get to know them. Why does this matter? Because 75% of consumers perform research on brands before interacting with them. They look for factors like brand authenticity and credibility. Setting time aside to ask customers who they are shows that your brand has a deep interest in its buyers and is motivated to improve its services and products further. 

Furthermore, demographic surveys should consist of clear statements about how respondents’ information will be used and who will have access to it. When you provide clarity and business transparency, you build trust with your consumers. 

What are inclusive demographic questions, and why should you ask them?

Inclusivity is a fundamental aspect of success in today’s workplace. Being an inclusive business demonstrates your empathy and respect toward a diverse set of employees and customers alike. It shows that you value the thoughts and opinions of all types of people and remain aware of shifting cultural and societal identity norms. 

Demographic questionnaires offer you the perfect opportunity to reflect your company’s inclusivity. Common inclusive demographic survey questions include asking about one’s gender identity, preferred pronouns, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity. 

But how do you ask inclusive questions? Firstly, always leave a fill-in option for participants to write their own response about how they identify, rather than having only a few multiple-choice answers. It’s also good to include an option for survey-takers to skip a question they don’t feel comfortable answering. 

Lastly, keep updated with the latest terminology regarding gender, sexual orientation, and race. This requires some research but ensures you avoid any language that might be considered dated or insensitive. Fortunately, many universities and community-related websites offer a glossary of recent inclusivity-oriented terms that you can periodically check for guidance. 

Demographic survey questions that every small business owner should ask first (with examples)

There are a few questions you should always include in a demographic survey, no matter what kind of small business you run. These questions provide standard data that are useful in creating your buyer persona, among other business goals. 

1. Gender

Gender has always been one of the most prominent subjects in demographic surveys, although how the question is asked and the options to answer have changed considerably in recent years. Where gender may once have been strictly associated with an individual’s biological sex, nowadays, it’s defined as a social construct

A person may have been born one sex but identify as another gender, and it’s essential to be aware of that when crafting your demographic questionnaire. To remain completely inclusive, be sure to have a few options in the gender question, as demonstrated below.

Question example: What gender do you identify with?

A. Male

B. Female

C. Other: ______

D. Prefer not to say

2. Age

Asking about age is beneficial for your marketing campaigns and understanding how your audience will react to your products and services. Different age groups have varying amounts of life experiences that inevitably influence their thoughts, behaviors, and interactions with the world around them. Knowing the typical age range of your customers will help you better understand their ways of thinking and how to engage with them appropriately. 

At the same time, some people are not keen to share their exact age. To avoid making any respondent uncomfortable, you can supply an age range in your answers.

Question example: What is your age group?

A. Under 18

B. 18 to 24

C. 25 to 34

D. 35 to 44

E. 45 to 54

F. 55 and over 

G. Prefer not to say  

3. Ethnicity

Understanding your customers’ ethnic backgrounds can reveal information about their culture, traditions, and diverse worldviews. Subsequently, you can better comprehend the “why” behind how a customer answers questions in your survey. As with age, people’s historical roots and shared culture often influence their perception of the world. Asking this question is especially useful in a country like the U.S., which is home to many cultures.

Ethnicity is another question that benefits from having multiple answer options.

Question example: What is your ethnicity?

A. Caucasian

B. African-American

C. Hispanic

D. Asian

E. Native American

F. Two or more

G. Other: _____

H. Prefer not to say 

4. Location

Inquiring about customers’ locations is a highly beneficial question for your survey, as the answers will allow you to see where your target market is located. You may already have a general idea, or you could be surprised at where your business is thriving and come up with new opportunities to expand your operations. 

Since asking a customer’s location is such a broad question, you have a few different choices for approaching the question. For instance, you can go very broad and ask which continent your audience is located in, or if your business is more local, ask which city they’re from in your state. The best way to ask this question is with a drop-down field encompassing many options. 

Question example: Where do you live?

Select your city/town/state (drop-down field)

Below this field, it’s a good idea to include an “other” or “prefer not to say” option for those who’d rather not reveal where they live. 

Types of demographic information that may be industry-specific

Aside from standard demographic survey questions, it’s also helpful to think about how your industry influences your survey. Getting additional details can help you with your small business’s goals and objectives. Below are some industry-specific questions to get you inspired.

1. Marital status

Marital status can tell you about a respondent’s current and future desires and needs. Married participants will often have different priorities than single participants. Plus, married individuals have another person to factor into their buying decisions, whereas a single person often makes decisions independently. 

Knowing this helps if you’re considering expanding particular products to involve married couples, such as food or retail where you want to make couple-oriented products or services. 

Some companies like to expand this question by asking whether a survey-taker has previously been married and is divorced, separated, or widowed. However, simply knowing whether a respondent is currently married or unmarried usually provides you with the essential information you need to know. 

Question example: What is your marital status?

A. Married

B. Single

C. Other: _____

D. Prefer not to say 

2. Number of dependents

Like with marital status, asking about children provides insight into a survey participant’s wants and needs. Posing this question can also tell you about a person’s likely spending habits. Those with children may be more mindful of their budget, while those without may have fewer financial restrictions. This gets you thinking about the cost of your products or services and how it aligns with your customers’ budgets. 

If you’re already in a child-focused industry, you can consider asking about the age of the dependents. You’ll know if your products or services are hitting the right age range of your customers’ children. 

Question example: How many dependents do you have?

A. None

B. 1

C. 2 to 3

D. 4 or more

E. Prefer not to say 

3. Level of education 

Knowing your audience’s level of education tells you many things. In a general sense, you can better understand your audience’s likely income level and lifestyle behaviors. Alternatively, if you’re in an academic-related industry, you want to ensure that you’re meeting the academic level of your customers. 

Someone with a Ph.D. will be looking for different aspects of a product or service than an individual with only a high school diploma. Plus, people with higher education may not need as much explanation of some concepts. They’ll typically be looking for something more in-depth. 

Question example: What is your highest level of education achieved? 

A. Some high school

B. High school diploma or equivalent 

C. Associate’s degree 

D. Bachelor’s degree 

E. Master’s degree 

F. Doctorate 

G. Other: _____

H. Prefer not to say 

Deciding what you need to know

Before writing out your demographic survey, it’s good to think about the scope of your study. What is it that you need to know? Is knowing multiple factors about a person’s identity central to your business goals? Sometimes, asking certain questions can prove to be more harmful than helpful. 

Two great examples are asking about political affiliation or religious association. In some cases, these questions are necessary. For instance, perhaps you work in a community-oriented industry where understanding a person’s political preference could influence their vote on important topics like healthcare, education, or child care. 

The same goes for religion — someone’s religious morals or ways of thinking can largely influence their decision-making. In these cases, asking these two questions can be beneficial for understanding how participants believe their local community should operate. 

However, knowing political affiliation or religious association isn’t necessary for other fields, such as the food industry. In the case of demographic surveys, it’s best to go with only the essential questions relevant to your business. Otherwise, you risk making people uncomfortable with your survey, meaning they may avoid taking it altogether. 

Don’t ask too many questions at once

example of email list management with demographic information
Demographic surveys are beneficial when segmenting email lists in your marketing campaigns, such as when you welcome new types of customers.

Be sure not to ask too many questions so you don’t overwhelm your audience. Aim for around ten questions, requiring only a few minutes to answer fully. Don’t forget that you can send out more surveys in the future, including ones that get more detailed as time goes on or as your company’s goals evolve.

Choose your format 

Now that you know what and what not to ask in a demographic survey, you’ll have to choose what format your survey is presented in. Online surveys are a popular choice for many small businesses because they’re fast, affordable, accurate, and easy to use. Best of all, it’s much quicker to interpret your survey data this way, as the results are measured in real-time as respondents submit their answers. 

Moreover, you can easily send online surveys through your list of email subscribers. Even better, segment your email lists by type of survey taker. This means dividing whom you send your emails to by groups of people. 

Initially, you can send out a demographic survey by groups, such as new or regular customers. Once you’ve received their demographic data, you can choose to send out more specific email campaigns based on demographic factors like age, location, or gender. The more distinctive your segmented list is, the more likely the campaign will be relevant and interesting to your email subscribers. 

Demographic information leads to smarter marketing

Lastly, demographic survey results are key to strategizing your new ad campaigns. When you’re unsure of your demographics, it’s challenging to know when, where, and how to market your brand. For instance, knowing the age group of your buyers helps you see where you should invest in your marketing campaigns. 

If your audience is mainly composed of younger individuals, such as Gen Zers or millennials, you’ll find far more success posting about your products and services on social media. However, less than 10% of people aged 55 to 75 trust social advertisements, meaning online advertising will not be effective for them. 

Demographic survey questions and your business

Demographic surveys are an optimal way to gain information about your customers. Asking the right questions helps you discover ways to improve your products and services and increase customer satisfaction. You show customers that your brand is just as invested in them as they are in you. 

To get started creating a demographic survey, gather your team and decide on your survey goals. What are you looking to uncover? Following that, consider what questions would best help you get the answers you need. A successful demographic survey has relevant, efficient, and inclusive questions. Nail those three concepts, and you’ll be on the path to bettering your small business for both you and your loyal customers.