business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

The one-time lead singer of a prominent 1980s heavy metal band shares my birthday, a fact that you probably never needed or cared to know. But if you were looking at raw data, you’d see that he and I are both aging Baby Boomers, with similar ethnic backgrounds and the same Zodiac sign.

And, frankly, you’d know nothing because I can’t imagine there’s anything in our lives that bears much similarity. Sure, it’s likely we both watched "Lassie" and "Gunsmoke" as kids, listened to countless Beatles songs, and experienced other key elements of the Boomer generation, but that tells you very little about us as people, consumers and anything else.

The insignificance of generalizations came up for me last week, while I was moderating a panel at the annual Category Management Association (CMA) conference. I asked one panelist, Kerrie Lopez of, how the large crowd of retailers, manufacturers and technology providers could collectively improve in the near future. She gave a two-part answer.

First, she said, we need to clean up data, especially around product attributes. Her point was that any company engaged in e-commerce (and that’s pretty much everyone these days) needs product dimensions - volume and size - to be correct every time, but the system still lags.

But more importantly, she said, we all need to get over generalizations about everyone. Lopez explained that she is a Millennial and she’s tired of the clichés about her age cohort - you know, the lazy, entitled, give-me-a-trophy generation. She has a really good point.

Lopez quickly detailed how much difference there is in the lives and work ethics of her circle of friends and even between her and her husband. None of that should surprise anyone because we know we’re all unique, but Lopez had the microphone and a point. Far too many businesses and business people are generalizing when it comes to the Millennial generation and in turn aren’t getting it.

Not surprisingly, a second panelist - a Gen Xer - followed up the point with the same observation of his birth cohort.

Retail, as we discuss here at MNB nearly constantly, is currently in a storm of turmoil. Competition, consumer demands and technology, among other forces, are changing the very essence of shopping behavior. More than ever, it seems, businesses need to both understand how to serve customers and recognize all the assorted trigger points that might or might not work.

But none of that can happen if we make or rely on generalizations. It’s why the CMA meeting was so interesting, as participants from various trades shared notes and ideas on how to better use data to align with those changing customer needs. More than ever, successful marketing will rely on precision and understanding the unique triggers for each shopper. Generalizations just won’t cut it.

The last word on generalizations goes to Michael Caine’s character in Austin Powers’ Goldmember, who remarked that he hated two kinds of people: “Those who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch.”

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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