Friday, November 25, 2011

Target Markets and Stereotypes: The Hidden Side Effects of Market Segmentation

By the end of this December, I will have completed my fourth course in Northwestern University’s Integrate Marketing Communications program. Throughout these four courses, one of the most prominent concepts that always seems to reappear is the idea of a “target market”. It is one most foundational principles of marketing, and hard to avoid in any marketing class. What is a target market? Most of the time, a target market is roughly defined as the group of people who are most likely to buy from you and the customers that the business has decided to aim its marketing efforts at.

Thinking in terms of target markets is essential to market segmentation and would be foolish for any marketer to do without. But at some point, we have to wonder: Are we marketing to stereotypes of simply segmenting? Or both? By identifying a target market, we accept the idea that a certain group of people behave and think differently than the rest, and that the individuals within this group carry some significant degree of homogeneity. The concept of individuality is severely diminished by this mentality. Marketing aimed at a specific ethnic group is one of the worst offenders of crossing the line between stereotyping and segmentation. By trying to appeal to a Hispanic, Asian, African-American or any other ethnic market, marketers often resort to stereotypes when trying to create a message that will be most relevant to this group. Often times, these marketing efforts simply come off as being racist and even end up offending that group.

As marketers, we are trained to identify recurring patterns within characteristics and behaviors. Unfortunately, unless we choose to foolishly ignore these trends, resorting to some degree of stereotyping may just be a necessary evil to effective marketing. 

Kevin Yuen
Undergraduate IMC Student
Twitter: @kevinyuen650


  1. nice article and great structure. I also like your labels but would like more. Your articles are interesting and deserve to be read by more people. I would encourage you to do two things:
    1. Make labels by categories. Like labels for NU alumni [Northwestern, Medill, IMC, etc.], labels for marketers [segmentation marketing IMC analysis etc] and labels specific to your article.

    2. Be sure to make your twitter tweet more engaging to encourage people to read the article. It is too "you" focused and not reader focused.

    Do those and the readers will come

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  4. Market segmentation as managerial strategy has been around for six decades, introduced as an alternative to marketing strategies of those days (1), this approach has garnered support from wide range of marketers having rich experience in different industrial sectors, if it wasn't effective it won't have been around for such a long time.

    Lastly I agree with your point of stereotyping being a necessary evil, as after all to differentiate and appeal to a certain group you have to make case for you offer based on likes dislikes, culture of that group and that may make way for stereotyping.

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    1. Smith, W. (1957), “Product differentiation and marketing segmentation as alternative marketing strategies”, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 3-8.