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Making Use of My Social Science Degree

using your college degree
10.26.15
Samantha Walters

My name is Samantha Walters and I am what you would consider a “millennial executive” over here at Colocation America. Every Monday (get it, get it, Samantha on Mondays – the S.O.M column) I will write a little something on whatever is on my mind from business practices to current events and everything else in between.

This week’s topic is brought to you by your degree.

Take a moment and remember when you turned 18 and were ready to go off to college.

For some of you lucky individuals, this meant a time for you to explore that subject you had a true passion for. You entered college (or for my UK friends “university”) with a degree in mind and you stuck with it.

For others it meant a lot of discovering all the things you didn’t like and listening to the endless sentences that started with “this is what you should do…” I am sure you heard from your parents, grandparents, 4th cousins, all about picking a degree that would “make you money,” a degree that “set you on the right path,” and a degree that was “NOT in the social sciences.” All of this great advice probably led you down a path in business or engineering and for that I say, congrats for being practical.

Now, for the rest of us who got a degree in social sciences – I feel ya! I will start by saying I was one of those individuals that went into college knowing what I wanted to study – Sociology. However, this did not save me from the countless family dinners I spent listening to people tell me how pointless a degree in sociology was. Ok, ok, ok, maybe not countless dinners but enough for me to wonder if I was picking the right major. Everyone wanted to know how I would make money with a degree that had no direct correlation to a specific job.

using your college degree

What your parents think you do with your degree. Photo credit: Flickr

Thankfully, by the end of my sophomore year (2nd year for my UK friends), I had my answer – marketing.

I guess time for a little backstory: by the end of my sophomore year, I was asked to be a Social Media Consultant for a nonprofit. At the time, I had very little knowledge of marketing but what I did have was an understanding of social media (more about this check out another S.O.M article). I understood that each social media outlet was used differently: Facebook is where people talk personally, Twitter is where people try to shout loudest, and LinkedIn is for the “professionals.” Still, this would not help me be successful.

And then, something clicked – marketing is sociology (in a way).

Did I lose you? Think about it.

Dictionary.com defines sociology as “the science or study of the origin, development, organization, and functioning of human society; the science of the fundamental laws of social relations, institutions, etc.” Now this is a nice way of putting, I like to think of sociology as the study of people (not the study of a person which I would consider psychology). More specifically (so my past professors won’t kill me), sociology is the study of human relationships and the institutions that they shape and that shape them.

So how does this relate to marketing?

In a sense, marketing is the action used to promote a service or product to a group of people. The first thing any good marketer does is identify the target audience: a group of people that would want, rather a group of people who need, your service and/or product. For some businesses, this is an easy task.

For the sake of argument, let’s do a quick example.

Think of a baby’s diapers (why that came to my mind, I have no idea). Who needs baby diapers? Well, a baby of course. But, last time I checked, babies cannot purchase their own. So when marketing baby’s diapers, the marketer must think of the purchaser rather than the user. Usually, when one thinks of who is buying baby’s diapers, we think of the parents who have babies. Great, so one target audience for baby diapers are parents who have babies.

Now here is where the sociology comes in: what makes “parents who have babies” unique? Are their some things parents with babies do differently than, say, couples with no kids? Of course there is. Sociology looks at a group of people, based on a number of similar factors like race and economic status, and discovers connections between these individuals, their lives, and their actions. In order to target this audience, we must dwindle it down a bit; get a bit more niche with it.

Continuing with our example, a person marketing to parents with babies, may break down the group based on location. Say this legendary marketer wants to target parents with babies in Westchester, NY. A quick look at the US Census of 2014 tells us that there are nearly 1 million people in the Westchester County: 74% are white, 25% of people over 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and the median household include is $82K. What does this all mean? Well, for one thing the county is white, well educated, and make good money.

Without a doubt, this would affect the way you market the baby diapers. Chances are the price of the diapers is not the main factor in why these parents would choose this product. Perhaps they want the most leak-free diapers on the market or maybe they want the designer ones (yes it’s a thing, check it out). Whatever it is, you are trying to appeal to this particular audience so it changes your marketing strategy.

But what we can take it one step further – what influences these individuals? What outside, societal forces are telling the group to act a certain way?

A quick Google search on “Westchester baby activities,” came up with the website Mommy Poppins which has a whole section on Westchester. Immediately my thoughts are, “how can I get on this site and market the &*^@ out of these diapers?” Why you may ask? Well, chances are my target audience (parents with babies in Westchester) may be looking at this site and influenced by what they say. Imagine if I could get this website to run a story on how awesome my diapers are. Talk about selling some diapers!

To sum it up, it’s not enough to understand who your target audience is but you need to know where they get their information and what influences their decisions. There are many ways of doing this and it’s all about making sure your messaging speaks to the right audience.

To the point:

Surprising enough, all of this I learned from my sociology classes. Yes, my professors may be sitting in their chairs wondering if this is all I learned and they will be happy to know it isn’t. I mean, I can go into Marx’s theories of exploitation or Durkheim’s division of labor but that is a conversation for another day.

One thing is for certain, my parents are happy to know that my “useless social science” degree enabled me to succeed today. Next time my Dad wear’s his University of Arizona hat during golf and makes the same Dad Joke “would you like to touch my $100,000 hat?” I can respond and say that the $100K is worth a heck of a lot more now thanks to what I learned and how I applied it.

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