Janet M. Kennedy, Director Market Development, Market Vue Partners

Every year since 1998 a list is widely circulated that points out the cultural frame of reference for college freshman. Compiled annually by Benoit College, the “Mindset List for the Class of 2014” attempts to give Benoit College professors insight into the world view that incoming freshmen bring with them.

Authors of the Beloit College Mindset List

Seated at left is Tom McBride, Professor of English and Gayle and William Keefer Professor of the Humanities, and at right is Ron Nief, emeritus director of public affairs at Beloit College. Each year, they work together compiling suggestions and releasing the final version of the highly anticipated Beloit College Mindset List.

For instance, to the Class of 2014 (born in 1992), “Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.” I know who all these people are. I even sat on stage and watched Tony Perkins act in “Equus” in 19…. never mind. Does it matter that the X, Y and Z generations do not know who Tony Perkins was other than that guy in “Psycho”? Of course with two stars from the “Harry Potter” film series reviving the play in 2007, maybe the difference in some cultural experience diminishes. Look at a fan base for “Harry Potter.” You can find fans of all ages crossing many cultural and socio-economic groups.

There are many in the social media game (let’s face it, social media can be fun) who have very different cultural touch points. Currently there are at least 4 demographic groups actively participating in social media. Representatives of the Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z (or Gen I for “internet”) generations are all participating in the same conversation. “New” to one audience may be a product, service or experience that has been around since 2010. “New” to others may be everything since the invention of (pick one) the fax machine, the CD, the cell phone, the laptop or the iPad. If you thought talking with member of multiple age groups in a room was difficult, try to overcome generational communication issues in 140 characters!

Decision making, whether in life or in business, is always based on a personal frame of reference. It is difficult to divorce yourself from reacting based on your own experience or influences. Anyone can make faulty decisions based on the assumption that someone who “looks like you” has the same attitudes, motivations and desires as yourself. On a business level, if you have research that shows your average customer is female, aged 40, owns a home and drives an SUV, is that all you really need to know about her to motivate her to buy? Digging deeper into your data or appending your customer file with additional information will give you surprising insights. Those insights might lead you to a more defined target customer, or it may suggest that you look at different demographic touch points altogether.

For a recent client Market Vue was able to develop a customer profile so broad that effective targeting was not generating positive ROI. It took much deeper research into customer behavior to show us new ways to target their customers. By looking at additional factors including purchasing behavior, lifestyle selections and proximity to the client location, we created a better target profile. And the client gained increased ROI and conversion rates.

(Author’s note: For those interested in more information along these lines, look for the publication of “The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messaging, What Ten Generations of Americans Think is Normal” from John Wiley and Sons in July 2011.)