The other day I got an email from an organization that stated:

This Emerging Majority – Latinos, African-Americans, American Indians, Asian-American/Pacific Islanders, and unmarried women – has the potential to reshape our country.

Am I missing something? How is this a majority? Five very diverse groups are lumped together as if we should assume that all of them think, and perhaps vote, alike. And I’m not making any sort of political or partisan statement here, but it sure struck me as odd.

Do all unmarried women think like Latinos? In fact do all unmarried women think like all other unmarried women? Or do all Asian-Americans think and vote alike?

To me, that sort of lumping together is dangerous, and not fair. It’s just like saying that all 49-year old white guys in Lancaster, PA think alike. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.

How do you view your customers? Do you just assume that they all think alike?

I’ve patronized stores where the owner starts talking about some sort of political issue with me as if I must agree with him, because he or she thinks they have a handle on “who” their customer is. And yet I often leave very uncomfortable. It makes me a bit uncomfortable when a business owner assumes I will agree with them when they say, “Did you see what that whack job [insert name of politician] said yesterday about [insert hot button topic]?”

I’m more than comfortable talking about matters of faith or politics with folks both on and offline, but don’t just assume I agree with you. I’m not saying we can’t address controversial topics or hot-button issues, but just think through it before you speak. Is your business setting the place for that? Your words might actually turn some people off and drive them away. In fact, I find that that sort of behavior is most common among business owners and employees who are there to talk, not to listen.

And it’s not just the hot topics. Perhaps it’s just assuming that all of your customers want to receive a certain level of service, or will like or dislike the same product features.

The beauty of this thing we call Social Media is that it is now much easier for us to deal with a large customer base in a more intimate and individualized way. Sure you can still throw out occasional status updates that assume a certain level of “sameness” (after all, if they like you on Facebook, they do have at least that one thing in common), but as you engage with them individually you will learn more about them. You’ll discover that Joe and Karen might both be from the same area, but might have very different thoughts about a lot of things, including your company.

In fact, why not use the questions feature on Facebook to add a little interactivity and engagement to your page, and find out a little bit more about what makes your customers tick? Asking questions like that is not only smart, but it will help you improve your business and the way you serve your clients.

Any marketing book will tell you that you need to come up with some sort of “typical customer persona” so you can better target your marketing. But don’t let that tie you down. Get to know your customers as individuals, not as some amorphous lump of consumer power. Yes, it takes a bit more work, but the results will be worth it.

How do you get to know your customers on a more personal level? Does Social Media help you get to know them individually?