If you’re in the communications business, how much do you know about your audiences? More to the point, how much do you know about what they know?

Every group has its own frame of reference. One of my favourite reminders of that comes with the annual Mindset List from Beloit College in Wisconsin. They’ve been compiling it for 21 years, and releasing the results in time for back-to-school week.

The list was originally designed as a fun aid to professors. It let them know about some of things that have been just normal part of life for their incoming classes.

The class of 2022 was born in 2000. So they’re the first university students born in the 21st century. Among the 60 items on the new Mindset List re. these 18-year-olds:

  • They have always been able to refer to Wikipedia.
  • They’ve grown up with stories about where their parents were on 9/11.
  • There has always been a TV show called Survivor.
  • They have rarely had to visit a bank.
  • Robert Downey Jr. has always been the sober actor who plays Iron Man.
  • Thumbprints have always provided log-in security.
  • Oprah has always been a magazine.
  • Movies have always been available online.

“Students come to college with particular assumptions based on the horizons of their lived experience,” says Tom McBride, co-editor of the list and a Beloit professor emeritus of English.

He says, “All teachers need to monitor their references, while students need to appreciate that without a sound education they will never get beyond the cave of their own limited personal experiences.”

When we’re trying to reach any audiences, it’s important to try to see through their eyes.

In its Mindset List, Beloit College is looking at one element: age. That’s a “when” variable. Of course, many other factors shape our perspective, like “who” (we are), “where” (we come from or live), “what” (we’ve done or aspire to) and “why” (we believe what we believe). These and more all influence how we think.

Attitudes are complex. That’s why we need to be mindful of mindsets.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.

Sept. 5, 2018



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