The “us versus them” mentality is deeply rooted in our biology and culture. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can create barriers. How can it be better? Actively seek more diversity, segment by cultural dimensions, and be aware of segmenting on important values.
We Dutch, the foreigners. We millennials, those not yet born. We men, they women. We civil servants, the commercial guests. We politically involved, those who are not interested in what is happening in The Hague. We Ajax fans, those who prefer to watch Feyenoord’s match. We are permanent employees, they are temps.
In part 1 I already wrote about the role of marketing and how it can be done differently and better. Here I go further into the ‘us versus them’ thinking. We who are normal, those who are different. Read or listen here.
Husband and wife
Biology ensures that half of our world can give birth and the other half cannot. A cocktail of hormones, genetics and synapses contribute to a natural split. And it is also the only real division of elements that creates two groups of people. Everything that arises after that, starting with the concepts of ‘man’ and ‘woman’, is determined by culture.
Our minds are so evolved that we always think in terms of ‘us and them’. ‘We’ is the group of people you identify with at that moment, and ‘them’ is everyone else. A large part of our identity is therefore formed by the social groups to which we or others consider ourselves to belong. The country, the village where we come from, the social class and family we belong to, the football team we cheer for, the company we work for, or even what we eat. These self-created groups are a source of self-esteem and self-respect for us. It gives us security and a sense of belonging. We like that, because humans are social animals by nature. Being together in any form, from small to large, is at the core of our lives and society.
So the “us versus them” mentality stems from our evolutionary needs, but that doesn’t mean it’s always positive. Studies show that this mindset can lead to irrational group preferences that divide society instead of uniting it.
Can marketing play a role here?
Yes of course. And it is not only better for the world, but also for the organization itself. Organizations that have socially responsible behavior in their strategic DNA outperform their competitors. This is not only shown by scientific research, but also 93% of the managers of the 1000 most prominent organizations in the country where marketing has become ‘big’ are convinced of this. They are organizations that are intrinsically motivated to give something back to society. It can be in the form of donations that reduce the climate impact, but it can also be that they bring people closer together.
How can marketing help? I offer three strategic pieces of advice.
1. Ensure diversity and inclusion
Make sure your marketing team and the parties you work with are diverse and inclusive. Diversity and inclusiveness are two concepts that are closely related and not interchangeable. Diversity is about the representation or composition of a group. Inclusivity goes a layer deeper. It is about the extent to which the presence, ways of thinking and contribution of the different (groups of) people are valued and integrated into the organisation.
I’ve managed (or been a part of) enough teams that you wonder if they’ve been updated in the past five years. Who does not know a marketing team where everyone is of Dutch descent, speaks Dutch as their mother tongue and has completed the same study. It may sound nice, you immediately understand each other, but inclusive teams that embrace the ‘we’ in the broadest form perform much better in many areas. In inclusive teams, members think differently and have biologically varying backgrounds. Some studies even show that having different ethnicity is the most important factor contributing to team success.
More inclusive organizations outperform their competitors by respecting the unique needs, mindsets and opportunities that diversity can provide. As a result, diverse and inclusive workplaces gain more trust and engagement from their employees. For example, when I compiled my team, I sometimes challenged the suppliers to provide two editors: a gay Sikh and a bisexual Jew. The party that could do so would win the contract.
However, it does not stop with the composition of the marketing team. Inclusion and diversity do not stop there. Also work especially (or only) with suppliers and business partners who also strive for a diverse and inclusive company. Not only does this set the tone, but you also (indirectly) force the markets your organization works with to also put diversity and inclusiveness on the agenda.
2. Segment by cultural dimensions
Segment according to cultural dimensions, e.g. Hofstede & Hofstede’s. Segmentation is creating groups that have similarities. Many companies do this very traditionally based on corresponding characteristics such as gender, age, occupation, education and origin. However, our society is becoming increasingly rich in more diverse cultures. With Dutch people of different ethnic backgrounds, religions and beliefs. Imagine taking these beliefs as a starting point for your segmentation. For example, you look at the degree of restraint (video) or the way you manage time (video). These characteristics cut across age, culture and origin and are actually much more relevant. It is a powerful tool to strengthen business models, especially in a country and society where different cultures coexist.
This way of segmenting is helpful and distinctive enough to provide the marketing manager who focuses on a multi-diverse society (and therefore also on a ‘we’ society) a framework on which product development and associated marketing communication strategies can be built. You can see a concrete elaboration of this segmentation method in two Nike advertisements. One commercial (video) is aimed at people who are more family oriented. Another (video) is aimed at people who are less individualistic.
3. Be aware of segmenting on important values
Be aware of segmenting on values that people find important. Values are universal, know no national boundaries and are often detached from tradition and culture. Values represent collective beliefs about what people consider desirable, important, and morally right. We use values as criteria to judge the actions of other people, companies and brands. Many social categories, archetypes, are determined and maintained by our society, our culture, not to mention our traditions. Despite the fact that they are often undocumented, we hold on to them.
Imagine that your organization focuses on one or more universal values that can make the world a better place through the connecting nature they have and thus strengthen the sense of ‘we’. Examples of these values are: openness, courage, forgiveness, honesty and ambition.
Some concrete examples are: Coca Cola and happiness (happiness), Nike and persistence (Just do it), L’Oreal and self-esteem (Because you are worth it). The values they attach to their brand are universal. And it works. After all, you are a valuable partner if you fulfill the values that are important to the other person.
Marketing’s influence on our society is enormous. We can use that to make money or make the world a better place. I am convinced that the latter reinforces the former. Just do it!
About the Author: Stephan Makatita is an Interim Marketing and Communications Strategist.
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