We are more similar than different

As a marketer, one of the basic tenets that I was taught to believe was that people can be categorised into groups. They can be segmented either by demographics (age, income, education, household size etc), psychographics (lifestyle behaviours, beliefs, likes), geography (neighbourhoods) and so on. By dividing your "target audiences" into various groups, you have a surer chance of "hitting" them and scoring with in specific campaigns.

Lately, however, I begin to feel otherwise. Instead of emphasising differences, why not look at how similar we are?

Think about it. Every one of us go through pretty much the same things in life. We wake up in the morning, brush our teeth, wash our face, have breakfast, change, get ready for work or school, and so on and so forth. Most of us live in some social group or other, we converse in a common language, and the things that we value and hold dear are often similar, regardless of our ethnicities, incomes, education levels, dwelling types or sexual orientation.

For the longest time, marketers have tried to divide and conquer. Working almost hand-in-hand with social scientists and psychologists, we have invented artificial constructs like "Baby Boomers", "Gen X", "Gen Y" and so on as convenient labels. We have stereotyped people according to genders - ladies like pastries and men like meat - and also came up with this huge all encompassing term called "the heartlander". We create new categories like "premium", "luxury", "standard", "deluxe" to suit different income classes. We even created new terms for the gay and lesbian market, calling their consumption habits the "pink" dollar.

Truly, though, does one think of brands that way? Are we so rigid, so mechanised, and so predictable that our tastes, whims and fancies can be captured by a market research firm? Or is there more to it?

Human beings around the world are much more similar than different. We all breathe oxygen and produce carbon dioxide. Most of us have a pair of eyes, ears, hands and legs. We perceive the weather, emotions, pain, and stress in pretty much the same way. We cry when we are upset, smile when we are happy, frown when we worry, and jump for joy when we strike TOTO (in any continent).

I believe that selling on similarities may work better than emphasising differences in certain cases. Show the universality of mankind and the commonality in our values, beliefs and ideals. A good example is charities. By tugging on the empathy and compassion of every one of us, they manage to move people across demographic and other groups to give to a cause. Maybe the commercial world and even public sector could learn a thing or two from there.