Generalizations are the heart of marketing decision-making. When we look at an audience–customers, prospects, constituents–we make decisions on the whole based on our assumptions about the individuals within the group.
But are we basing those generalizations on our vision of the ideal member of the tribe, the average member or the outlier who got our attention?
It's easy, for example, to defend high-priced famous colleges if you focus on the ideal situation. The ideal student, getting instruction from the ideal professor and making ideal progress. No one can argue with this.
On the other hand, when we see the outlier (the person who is manipulating the system, or the one who is being harmed by it) it's easy to generalize in precisely the other direction, deciding that the entire system isn't worth saving.
And finally, it's tempting to rely on the average, to boil down populations of people into simple numbers. The problem with this, of course, is that if one foot is in a bucket of ice water and the other is being scalded, on average, you should be comfortable.
Before we start making decisions about markets, tribes and policy, we need to get clear about which signals we're using and what we're trying to focus on or improve.