Now, before anyone gets up on a soapbox with an opinion about whether or not stereotyping is “politically correct,” let’s just take a step back. Of course there are bad stereotypes—ones that cultivate hate, encourage inequality, and perpetuate racism. This article is not about those. That type of stereotyping is ignorant, misinformed, and detrimental to society as a whole, in addition to being harmful to your business.
The stereotyping we’re dissecting today relates to trends and analytics. The bottom line is: negative and harmful stereotyping stems from ignorance, assumptions, fear, and misunderstanding, while a healthy stereotype comes from research data and an analytical point of view.
A large part of marketing revolves around segmenting and focusing on selected consumer groups. The “stereotype” that older people are less likely to utilize technology is a helpful bit of information (supported by research) that may influence your marketing strategy, especially if your target audience is over the age of sixty (of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but you can see where I’m going with this…) This demographic is also more interested in things like adult diapers, medical services, and reverse mortgages. They may not even understand things like streaming services, apps, or YouTube. These may sound like generalizations, but these particular stereotypes, when supported by data, are useful to your marketing strategy.
When You Stereotype Others
Stereotypes, traditionally, have been used to divide people. They create an “us and them” mindset. However, I argue that stereotypes can be used for good if they come from an attempt to unite people and find commonality. For example, a recent study showed that teachers were more effective with students who shared common demographics like sex and race. Educators can use that information to find the best academic fit when they are seeking employment.
Another positive way to utilize stereotypes is to find ways to relate to others. In business particularly, creating rapport with investors, customers, co-workers, or vendors is an important element to success. Finding common ground—whether that’s background, hometown, religion, etc.—may help you connect with others. We infer things based off of what we know about others. So, you might ask a person from Chicago if they’re a White Sox or Cubs fan. The assumption that he or she is, perhaps, a fan of a particular sports team based off their hometown isn’t offensive in any way and it may spark a conversation about rival teams.
A common stereotype, that I find beneficial, is considering the implications of whether someone is “right brained” or “left brained.” In particular is someone more creative or intuitive (right brain) or rational and analytical (left brain). Factors like fact, logic, emotion, and passion can vary depending on the audience and situation. These two types generally excel at very different tasks and have specific ways in which they work best.
When Others Stereotype You
You can argue all you want, but looks matter. Studies have shown that it takes just 30 seconds for someone to form an opinion about another person upon first meeting them. We’ve all heard it before, but how we choose to present ourselves makes a difference. And like it or not, people will make assumptions and stereotype you based off what you wear and how you look. It may work for or against you, but the key is knowing that it will happen and working to present yourself in the way you’d like to be perceived.
When it comes to business, I suggest knowing your goals, understanding your consumer’s needs, and keeping your audience’s perceptions in mind. Perceptions are imperative. This includes perceptions of you, your product/service, your brand, your marketing, etc. Whether you’re selling a product, developing a relationship, or impressing an audience, you need to consider how your and your message come across, what assumptions people will make, and the impression you want them to walk away with. You can’t control what people think, but you have the power to influence their inferences.
Have you ever been a victim or beneficiary of stereotyping? What stereotypes have been applied to you? Were they offensive? Have you ever judged a book by its cover and been wrong?
I’d especially love to hear how stereotypes have helped you develop more effective messaging. Contact me today, and let me know your thoughts.
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