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Ditch the stereotypes

Changing behaviour on stereotypes

Rachel DavidHave you heard of Linda? She’s 31 years old, single, outspoken, and as a student participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

She is also fictional. Kahneman and Tversky famously used her to illustrate the power of stereotypes.

They asked which is most likely: Linda is a bank teller or Linda is a bank teller and a feminist?

Most people chose the second option. Never mind that there are clearly more bank tellers in the world than feminist bank tellers.

This is the hold that stereotypes have on our thinking. We all use them. They simplify how we perceive the world by reducing the thinking we have to do when we meet a new person. We put them in a box and move on. Simple. The concept of Linda being both a feminist and a bank teller makes for a more cohesive story, so logic gets bypassed.

Clearly, stereotypes can be useful in marketing. They help us target our communications based on an opinion we hold about how our audience behaves.

But they can be dangerous. Lazy stereotype thinking means that we may ascribe characteristics to our ‘personas’ that in our minds form part of a more cohesive story, just like the Linda example. It calls into question whether we really understand our audience: not all old people avoid technology and not all gamers are teenagers.

This translates to healthcare marketing too. Doctors don’t care about snappy headlines or pretty pictures; doctors just want to see data. Sound familiar? We forget that, in addition to being doctors, they are human beings. Sure, data will be important in the sell, but it’s not going to be the only thing.

Now, we are human, so we have to acknowledge that we can’t completely lose the grip of stereotypes.

But here’s a revolutionary idea – let’s bypass lazy thinking. Before embarking on a marketing campaign, let’s learn more about our audience’s behaviour, their beliefs, their motivations. Let’s do this not just once, but again and again to keep our thinking fresh and relevant. And let’s make sure this is always part of our ‘marketing mix’.

A better understanding of the individuals behind the stereotypes can be powerful. Not only will we appreciate who can benefit from treatment, but also how they will benefit and how to best engage both them and their healthcare professionals to shift thinking and behaviours.

Ultimately, true insight will help us differentiate from our competitors by showing that we know our audience better. Which, surely you will agree, will make for a more effective marketing campaign.

Dr Rachel David is a behavioural planner at Frontera London

In association with

Frontera

9th August 2017

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