Mental Images, Mental Mistakes

Shut your eyes and picture the typical “All-American” family. Go ahead, I’ll wait. OK – have that picture in your mind? What does it show? Mom, Dad, and a couple of kids? My guess is that if you’re Caucasian so is your picture, and I’ll bet the typical family is also quite heterosexual.

Here’s the problem with your mental image. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, only one in four American families matches that description. That was almost a decade ago and I think we’re all aware of the changes that have been happening with respect to familial, and societal, composition.

If you’re in marketing, that mental picture has some fairly important implications. It might impact how you make creative for your campaigns, how you plan your media, and how those decisions provide relevance and meaning to consumers. For an example, the folks at HP brought together 13 Chicago families of different races, ethnicities, ages, genders and sexual orientations. They were split up and another group of people was asked to reassemble the families.

Guess how many people could put the families back together? Exactly none. In general, they tried to find groupings of the same race, different gender, and heterosexual. Oops. But this has implications even for those of you out there who aren’t in marketing. It speaks to the broader issue of preconceived notions and how we can’t just form opinions without adequate evidence. Some folks are seemingly determined never to let the facts get in the way of a good story, whether they’re reporting something to their boss or just ranting among their friends. It’s really a bad idea.

How often do a new employee or a business prospect walk into the room and you make a snap judgment before they’ve even uttered a word? We all do it, unfortunately. In fact, it’s sort of a “truism” that hiring decisions are made quickly. Well, according to a research study, some of the interviewers did make snap decisions about candidates. Roughly 5% of decisions were made within the first minute of the interview, and nearly 30% within five minutes. I think that has to do with the preconceived notions in the interviewers’ minds about who they saw in the job as well as who they saw in front of them.

Rip up those mental pictures as best you can. Do the research, seek the facts. and THEN form the pictures. Ready, fire, aim rarely works, don’t you think?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

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