(Originally published in Entrepreneur.com)
Recently, I went car shopping with my wife. We were casually browsing when a salesperson approached us. After listening to his pitch, he turned to me and — in front of my wife — said, “Most of the ladies won’t care about looking under the hood, so I won’t bother giving her the marketing spiel on the performance.”
His comment surprised me. Yet this kind of stereotyping happens all the time in marketing. Just look at the gender bias in advertisements: Whether it’s a reference to sports, clothes or professions, companies try to typecast men and women in ads. But doing this can be detrimental to marketing efforts.
In fact, stereotypes can inadvertently prompt a company to ignore important customer segments — consumers who could be top buyers.
But when marketers explore other audiences, they may find an upside in places not expected. Look at Coca-Cola’s 2014 Super Bowl commercial. It depicted a wide range of people, from same-sex parents to hijab-wearing women, as red-blooded Americans. As a result, Coca-Cola may have connected with several new markets.
Stop stereotyping your customers: Instead, tap these ignored markets to reach people who may have wanted your product all along.
When you open things up to more genders, ages and cultures, you can find hungry new customers. Here are just a couple examples of underserved audiences:
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is traditionally overlooked and incorrectly marketed to. Tiffany & Co., however, recently targeted the LGBT community with its first ad featuring same-sex couples. In an effort to combat pigeonholed gender marketing, the conservative jewelry company celebrated its same-sex customers.
Leaving out the powerful sector of elderly Americans could be a costly mistake. The age group of Americans older than 65 had 47 times the net worth of households led by individuals 35 and younger, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of 2009 Census data. Elderly Americans are living longer, becoming more literate online and staying active.
Discovering and incorporating hidden audiences requires better data but it’s entirely possible, thanks to the amount of social-media information available. In fact, many startups have successfully interpreted data, such as public Twitter feeds and Facebook pages and turned it into actionable insights. Tools such as Brandwatch, Sysomos Heartbeat and Radian6 can help inform a company’s content strategies.
While social-media insights are key, you still must consider your company’s mindset.
To understand and appeal to underserved audiences, adjust your company’s perspective from the inside out. That means your own team must be as diverse as the people you seek to reach.
Diversity influences a company’s success: A 2012 McKinsey study found that companies ranking in the top 25 percent for diversity in their executive boards experienced on average 53 percent higher returns on equity.
Not sure how to incorporate a variety of viewpoints within your walls? An all-inclusive approach to hiring and promoting will introduce new perspectives, reinforcing your company’s desire to reach out to a diverse audience.
Many startups get in a rut of hiring young people in order to exude a youthful image. In my opinion, your company is more likely to be innovative and effective with both industry vets and fresh-faced graduates alike. Age biases on the marketing side can be eliminated by hiring employees of various ages.
And large companies have also experienced challenges in attaining diversity. The New York Times pointed out in 2013 that only 16 percent of Fortune 500 executives were women and only 4 percent of S&P 500 executives were female.
The stereotype about women not caring about what’s under the hood is less likely to be perpetuated in a company that considers women and men equally valuable contributors.
It’s time to ditch the lazy stereotypes — both inside and outside your company. Determine the kinds of people who will buy your product or service. Sift through the social-media data to determine where these people are and how to get your products into their previously ignored hands. You’ll engage new audiences and build a better business in the long run.