Tuesday, May 8, 2012

That car dealer is a real lady.

         When sociologists use the term "social structure", it has a very specific meaning. It means the social organization that underlies your relationship with others.

          Helen Lawson's study, "Attacking Nicely: Women Selling Cars", describes how socialization into a new setting changes behaviors and even feelings.

          Lawson did in-depth interviews with 35 car saleswomen and 15 car salesmen in the Chicago area.

         She found that most of the women had traditional "women's" careers before selling cars: teaching, retail, secretarial, and waitressing.

         In the car dealership setting, there are long hours and a lot of downtime. But whenever the women wanted to talk about problems on the job, the men harassed them. They were rejected. If they went drinking with the men, they got bad reputations. Intimidated at first, women changed to succeed.

         Some women continued in the role of "innocent". They made sure they didn't pose a threat to the men. They "dummied up".

        Some went on to become "ladies". They took on exaggerated feminine characteristics. They used what Lawson called "the maternal approach", taking customers under their wing --- they became non-threatening to male customers and co-workers.

        Other women became "tough guys" --- using the male model of car salespeople. They said they had to block their feelings and be comfortable with profanity and innuendoes. They harassed other salespeople.

        The rest became "reformers". They believed that women were better salespeople than men, and were motivated to change the way the work was structured.  They stopped mothering, nurturing, and being tough. They worked to build trust in potential customers.

        It's fascinating to see how our social groups can change us. One way or another, we're going to find a way to fit in.

        Keep that in mind when you're determined to market to a certain group or segment of the marketplace.

        It's not only demographics or psychographics we have to be concerned with, but their social context as well.

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