Segments and Stereotypes

Mark Ritson, writing in Marketing Week, noted a problem that is often skimmed over in marketing. Stereotypes are often painfully close to the way marketers construct segments. This doesn’t need to be the case. A segment well informed by in-depth analysis is different from a stereotype. We find a set of people that bear common reactions to product offerings. If we do some research to back it up, it isn’t using stereotypes to try and sell English soccer programming to English ex-pats in North America if the data gives a reason to believe that they will be relatively receptive. (Of course, not all will be receptive but no approach is perfect).

The main problem comes when no research is done and things are just assumed from cultural cliches. Clearly such approaches have been used (and can still be used) for “gendered” products. But the assumptions made about age cohorts can also seem sweeping and often not backed by evidence. Mark Ritson vents about the launch of a new millennial focused airline despite research suggesting that in many ways millennials are pretty similar to the rest of us. That said it is pretty easy to market to them if you just rely on stereotypes.

“You can see where this is all going. The airline is going to be very “digital” and staffed by young, hip and very casually dressed  young people who occasionally remember to bring you your beverage while worrying about global warming and posting pictures of their pets on Instagram” (Ritson, 2017). Suffice it say that the author isn’t impressed by this approach to marketing.

“My point is not just that focusing on millennials is a stupid, stupid approach to segmentation, but also that it is a totally unacceptable and offensive stereotype in an era when such things are meant to be behind us” (Ritson, 2017).

He has a point. Next time you see a segment described in marketing check if there is data behind the choices rather than tired old cliches.

Read: Mark Ritson (2017) “Only crap marketers mistake stereotypes for segments”, Marketing Week, July 26th, 2017, https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/07/26/mark-ritson-stereotypes-segmentation/. (BTW Mark Ritson has a colorful turn of phrase that some may find crude).