Multicultural Marketing Roundtable

Man sitting at table by window in a cafe

Formatted text from magazine story reading: It's 2012, and diversity has become, more than ever, an obvious and accepted reality in American life. An African American is president of the United States and a civil-rights icon is honored with a memorial in the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Asian American athletes adorn magazine covers and dominate highlight reels. Meanwhile, a Latina serves on the Supreme Court, and Latinos as a whole constitute the fastest-growing ethnic group in the nation.And then there’s the spending power. The Selig Center projects that African American buying power in the United States will rise from $957 billion in 2010 to $1.2 trillion in 2015. Asian Americans are expected to wield $696.5 billion in buying power by 2015. Meanwhile, the purchasing power of America’s 10.4 million Latino households already exceeds $1 trillion.

So why, in light of these massive strides and shifts in U.S. demographics, do so many American brands and businesses still seem to struggle with getting tailored, appropriate and effective messages about their products and services to such ethnically diverse consumers? What’s right with multicultural marketing these days? What’s wrong? And how does direct marketing get better?

In an effort to foster open discussion about these and other pertinent questions, Deliver convened a panel of distinguished multicultural marketing specialists, the sort of independent minds you consult when you’re ready to get serious about connecting with diverse consumers. Though most panelists agreed that marketing to diverse targets (especially African Americans and Latinos) has steadily improved, they also agreed that U.S. companies still have much progress to make.

As successful multicultural marketers such as McDonald’s and the U.S Marines understand, multicultural marketing is not some advertising backwater, but a veritable ocean of potential opportunities. Yet as our panelists explain in the proceeding roundtable, multicultural marketing is not a smash-and-grab plundering of ethnic wealth. When done right, marketing to diverse consumers is ultimately a supportive investment in the communities that you do business in. For more insights on how to earn the trust, faith and dollars of this combined $2 trillion market, read the Q&A below.

Q: Give us a widescreen view of multicultural marketing. Have things improved from, say, a decade ago?

Pepper MillerMiller: I don’t know if it’s gotten better, but it has evolved to include other segments. Back in the day, multicultural marketing, that meant African American. Now it’s expanded to include other groups. Some even refer to “cross-cultural marketing” because marketers are looking at how to connect one message with more than one segment.

Russell L. BynumBynum: It has improved in front of the camera, where you see more African American models and more African Americans in commercials. So you see the face. However, you don’t find those African Americans behind the camera, behind the concepts, and that’s where you get a lot of mistakes.

Q: What are the most common mistakes companies make when attempting to market to diverse audiences?

Maria Lopez-KnowlesLopez-Knowles: Mistake number one: Assuming that if I target the Spanish-language-dominant, first-generation Hispanic with Spanish-language television advertising, then I’ve covered the Hispanic market and done my job. Mistake number two: Assuming that I’m reaching the English-language-dominant, second-generation Hispanic with my general-market advertising. You may be reaching them, but are you making an effective connection? Are you touching them? Mistake number three: Neglecting to create unique marketing efforts to target the bilingual/bicultural English-language-dominant Hispanic. This group needs to be reached in a culturally, linguistically and intellectually relevant fashion. Speaking to them in the same manner they speak to each other validates them and drives effective brand connections.

Russell L. BynumBynum: I think the biggest mistake is not getting involved. The best companies create and participate in some events, such as sponsorships that make a difference in the community, or they may be a major player in something that the community specifically identifies as part of their culture. The companies that do multicultural marketing well do a form of integrated marketing where they’re not just placing ads, doing billboards or starting a Facebook account.

Pepper MillerMiller: I think they’re making many of the same mistakes in that the African American and Latino segments continue to be undervalued and underrepresented. With African Americans, it’s just seeing us as a monolith, and not recognizing that we’re not just different from the mainstream — but also different from each other. I think it might be the same with Latinos. Many marketers are still identifying Latinos as only Mexicans. They don’t understand that Puerto Ricans are different from Cubans, who are different from Mexicans, who are different from Dominicans.

Clifton SimmonsSimmons: You can’t talk to all of us the same way. Where we are in life defines our wants and needs. For example, Family A (a mom in her 30s, a dad in his 30s, two kids) and Single Man/Woman A (in his or her 20s) can live in the same neighborhood, but they may not have the same needs or interests. Too often marketers just cast a wide net and go for the sweet spot — young teens and adults with disposable income. Let’s say we took a poll in that same neighborhood and asked everyone, “Who speaks for Black America?” I guarantee you’d get different answers. But if you restructure that question and ask males, ages 18 to 25, “Who is the most influential African American?” you may start to get more consistent answers. You have to define the segment of the multicultural audience you wish to reach and use the elements that connect best with that group.

Q: Do you suspect that some mainstream marketers are not engaging for fear of rousing racial sensitivities?

Pepper MillerMiller: Well, yes. Multicultural marketing does require more time, and it’s more challenging. There’s a lot of dynamics, a lot of politics. First of all, if it doesn’t come from senior management, many lower-level marketers don’t care. So if there’s no senior management buy-in, you get this non-chalant attitude toward targeted advertising. But when you do have senior management buy-in, you’re more likely to invest in research, because doing research with these segments gives you a lot of ammunition. If you’re not talking to them, how do you know them? With a lot of these guys, it’s a case of “my next door neighbor is black” or “my kid’s tutor is Indian,” so they feel that they’re in there.

Two photos, one with an Asian man in the produce section of a store; the other a young black woman in dress clothes looking down at something in her hands


Q: How do companies avoid any appearance of insensitivity or presumptuousness that comes with this shallow understanding?

Quincy CherryCherry: The messaging has to come from a strategic place that’s driven from the insights, not just putting a black or Hispanic family there and writing a headline that says, “Come buy my stuff.” It’s to capture that moment and experience that maybe your average mass marketer has not thought about. For instance, when I do direct mail, it’s about bringing out a message that something happened in your life many years ago — or it could have been yesterday — and I’m bringing it back and sort of sharing with you and everybody else. Those things make people feel comfortable.

Q: What about creative in multi­cultural marketing? We’ve all seen the racially ambiguous model who’s intended to pass for every person of color …

Pepper MillerMiller: It’s not wrong to do that, per se. Ideally, that’s how everybody says we should live. But we continue to find that if you’re African American or Latino or Asian — if a brand has an effective campaign with a targeted, all-ethnic cast — ethnically diverse consumers are more likely to pay attention to the ad. In focus groups, they say they don’t — but trust me, they do.

Quincy CherryCherry: It starts with having an idea that is honest — especially with direct mail. A lot of times you’re using stock photography and images that are very staid. You have to stay away from those images. Imagine a photographer came into your house for a family dinner. The photographer would be there almost like a photojournalist, capturing that moment. Multicultural audiences are really attuned to authenticity, and when we see it done wrong, we’ll say that’s clearly not us and throw it away.

Q: Given this, how effective then is direct mail at reaching ethnically diverse consumers?

Russell L. BynumBynum: I look to direct mail to get a feel for what your brand is all about. The other mediums are in the air, and I can cut them off at any time. With direct mail, at least they have to look at it.

Maria Lopez-KnowlesLopez-Knowles: I think direct mail is effective in reaching Hispanic consumers as long as it’s hyper-targeted. By that, I mean that merely selecting a Spanish surname from a database and using that as the opportunity to deliver a Spanish-language-only piece of direct mail to a perceived Spanish-language household is a mistake. To work effectively, direct mail marketers need to have a deep understanding of target composition. What language do they prefer? Are they U.S. born? Are they an influencer? What does their multigenerational household look like? Knowledge of these variables and the ability to leverage them to create a tailored marketing piece will drive results. That’s hyper-targeted direct mail.

Clifton SimmonsSimmons: Some of the most promising stats I’ve seen say that only 30.5 percent of African Americans are exposed to direct mail, but more than 75 percent read what they receive. So if three out of four are willing to take the time to read what you have to say, why aren’t more marketers taking advantage of it?

Quincy CherryCherry: Direct mail is beyond the answer. You want the audience to invite you into their homes so you can have a conversation. Direct mail will get you there, Day One.

Shot of legs of people walking down street - a woman in a skirt, a guy wearing jeans and sneakers, and a third person in business clothes


Q: What are the best ways of integrating mail with other channels to capture diverse consumers?

Maria Lopez-KnowlesLopez-Knowles: One of the most effective ways is to ensure that the total consumer experience is absolutely synchronized. Multichannel planning ensures that each media vehicle used has an objective and works synergistically to build a greater, more relevant consumer experience.

Ken DrozDroz: Coordination and consistency of the campaign and messaging, for starters. The big priority is to establish an identity, and that’s harder to do with different messages, themes and campaigns that may end up in different media. Keep logos, theme lines and imagery as consistent, or singular, as possible. Plus, ideally, you’ll synergize the efforts from each platform. I’m big on storytelling, so sometimes you have one character in one medium interacting in another platform with additional characters, or storylines.

Clifton SimmonsSimmons: When you work with multiple channels like digital and direct, each piece needs to be able to work independently. But all together, they tell the big story. The DM can be used to direct the audience to mobile and online sites. Mail pieces can also be interactive.

Q: What advice would you give on improving the quality of direct mail targeted at diverse consumers?

Maria Lopez-KnowlesLopez-Knowles: I’d say ensure that multiple lists can be secured, that your list is well-scrubbed, that you have a compelling offer based on your knowledge of the target, and that your creative and messaging are communicated and written in a way that effectively connects with the target and/or multiple members of the target’s household.

Ken DrozDroz: I would put every emphasis and effort on the creative. Make not only your message creative, but more important, make the piece itself stand out from all the others who so often do by-the-numbers advertising. Clutter is clutter, no matter what industry you’re in. You want the person to always say, “Wow!” when they see your piece, or message, or product.

Q: Blacks and Hispanics are often discussed when talking multicultural marketing. But what about Asian Americans? Do marketers underserve them?

Quincy CherryCherry: The reality is that for the most part, marketers focus largely on acculturated Asian Americans and lump them into the general consumer market, as their perception is that they behave very much like the general consumer market. It’s unfortunate that companies don’t take as serious a look on the impact of Asian sub-culture on the mainstream.

Two photos, one with a young black man with dreadlocks in business clothes; the other of two black men in scrubs


Q: What are proper ways to reach out to Asian American consumers?

Quincy CherryCherry: In some instances at UniWorld, we communicate by looking at the Asian American market through racial or ethnic lenses, in which case we look at levels of acculturation versus a more holistic approach that considers not only the racial or ethnic foundation of a group of consumers, but also what other factors unite that group of consumers as informed by overall culture. Hence, appropriately messaged high-end marketing activities, including direct mail, work well with Asian American consumers.

Q: What does the future hold for multicultural marketing?

Ken DrozDroz: Good question. There is the need to not — and pardon the term here — ghetto-ize, or stereotype, the multicultural audience. There is a huge upscale segment out there that likes nice things, and will spend money on them. That transcends race.

Clifton SimmonsSimmons: Marketers are going to have to adapt to where the audience exists. Look at who are the real influencers for the multicultural market. Look at social media and even bloggers who have emerged to become a voice in the multicultural market. There’s a place for direct marketing in all of this. Some smart thinking can make it work.

Maria Lopez-KnowlesLopez-Knowles: I think the future is about more personalized relationships that drive advocacy. It’s about influence and the effect that the greater network has on results. It’s about providing the influencers with the tools to tap in to their networks in order to drive activism. And that’s true across language, generations, cultural backgrounds, media, or what have you.

Subway station with a train going by



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