Some time ago I was sitting on a Delta airlines flight with what seemed like a major personal problem. I had forgotten to bring my usual magazines along for the ride and didn’t pick up a newspaper on my way to board the flight because I was running late. Suddenly, for the first time in months, I was forced to turn to the only reading material within my reach: the Delta Sky In-flight magazine.
Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised. One story that I bookmarked to come back to was all about traveling in Athens. What captured my interest, though, had nothing to do with the destination they were writing about. The feature is called “1 City/5 Ways” and each month they profile a new city and how you might travel. What made this feature unique was how they organized it. Instead of talking about regions or spotlighting great attractions, then restaurants, then hotels, they profiled five types of travelers:
1. The First Timer
2. The History Buff
3. The Night Owl
4. The Island Hopper
5. The Design Aficionado
Then Athens was described in terms of what each type of person might like to do. The Design Aficionado might head to Semiramis Hotel to check out the architecture, while the Night Owl would spend the evening in the Gazi neighborhood. Within the framework of planning the ideal day, the article offered a perfect way for any traveler to imagine herself with a day in Athens and all the things she might do.
If you think about it, we usually see stereotypes as a bad thing. They are a shortcut, based on biases, to help us describe the world and people in ways that may not be flattering. There can also be a positive side, though.
Here’s an example of a small business owner that uses stereotyping in a good way to make a connection with her customers.
Amy Zydel owns a small business called Undercover Printer that specializes in printing materials for small businesses. Most of her customers fit a single profile, which she happily shares: they are procrastinators. As a result, she has a lot of rush orders and has built her business by embracing this stereotype and becoming the “procrastinator’s choice.” The underlying message? If you need to get something printed and waited a bit too long to start, Amy and Undercover Printer can help you save your butt.
It is important to remember that there is a negative and very dangerous side to stereotyping as it can reinforce biases and cause discrimination. Instead of thinking about it in terms of ethnicity or gender, though, consider how certain types of customer stereotypes might be ideal ways to group your customers into specific profiles that could help you better understand them and give them exactly what they want.
Rohit Bhargava leads Digital Strategy at Ogilvy, one of the world’s largest marketing agencies, and is the author of the best selling marketing book Personality Not Included, a guide on using personality to create a more human small business. His new book called Likeonomics: How To Be More Believable In The Affinity Economy will be published by Wiley in early 2012.