Knowing Your Audience Means Knowing Their Mindset

Aug 28, 2018

For students entering their freshman year of college this year, Wikipedia has always been an online resource, and the Prius has always been on the road. But those same freshmen don’t remember Enron or the “You’ve Got Mail” alert.

What College Kids Don’t Know

Those are just a few of the entries on the Mindset List: Class of 2022, the annual rundown of shocking, funny and quirky realities for today’s 18 year olds. The list’s origins are as archaic as some of its entries – it started as an email forwarded among professors at Beloit College to remind them to “watch their references” with incoming students. It’s since grown into a broader look at shifts in societal trends and pop culture.

Marketing teams spend countless hours looking at those shifts and trying to get into the heads of their audience and potential customers. A big part of that is recognizing our own biases and looking past the mindsets that come with age. Lots of brands have turned to the Mindset List to help understand customers, including Neiman Marcus and MTV.

Here are a few more highlights from this year’s list:

  • Outer space has never been without human habitation.
  • They have grown up afraid that a shooting could happen at their school, too.
  • A visit to a bank has been a rare event.
  • Robert Downey Jr. has always been the sober Iron Man.
  • Thumbprints have always provided log in security—and are harder to lose—than a password.
  • Films have always been distributed on the Internet.

List Interpretations

Some entries are more fact-based than others, and the list is not without its critics who say it relies on the same kind of generalizations that plague so many attempts to stereotype an entire generation (particularly millennials).

But the creators have always said it’s meant to be more conversation starter than market research, and there’s no doubt each year’s list has some powerful reality checks on the mindset of college-age individuals. Just as importantly, it also reveals a lot about the biases of the list’s creators and older generations.

Long story short: No target audience or client demographic is static. Understanding customers requires a steady stream of research and feedback into their mindset while keeping your own biases and assumptions in check.

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Alex Irwin.


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