Multicultural Americans buy nearly $2 trillion in goods and services every year. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that people of color will comprise over one-third of the country’s population by 2020. While the multicultural market represents a huge opportunity for most businesses, there are also challenges. Doing it right can mean positive additions to your bottom line and to your brand reputation. Doing it wrong can alienate consumers and in some cases even lead to boycotts of your product. So, what are some of the main things that companies should keep in mind when marketing to diverse audiences? Here are three best practices to follow:
1. Diversify your marketing talent
The best way to relate to a multicultural audience is to have a multicultural team. Until recently many companies were still using their team of mostly white males to develop cross-cultural marketing campaigns. They thought they could be effective by simply using data to understand their audience. And while research is hugely important, there are a lot of cultural nuances that data alone cannot identify.
Companies like HP are now realizing that they need to take proactive steps to hire more people of color. As their CMO, Antonio Lucio stated, ‘Three of our five agencies fell short on people of color in senior leadership roles.” To help build a pipeline of future leaders, HP has developed a pilot for racially and ethnically diverse talent in partnership with Cannes Lion dubbed #MoreLikeMe. Karen Kahn, HP’s chief communications officer who spearheaded the campaign, said “We thought, how can we turbocharge people of color’s careers in that pivotal time, after five to ten years of experience?” The aim is to identify high-potential people of color across HP’s five agencies, which will each select three candidates to take part in an educational program at Cannes Lions in June, followed by a 12-month mentoring program.
2. One size does not fit all
While putting together a diverse team can be an important step in helping companies to better understand the changing consumer landscape, it is important to also understand the sub-populations that are within each audience. Marketers often make the mistake of treating a specific group as homogenous. For example, one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population is Hispanics yet there are many cultural contrasts within that group. For example, language differences between Brazilians whose native language is Portuguese and many other Hispanics who grew up speaking Spanish. Americans of Cuban descent living in Florida tend to be more politically conservative, while the Mexican-American population living in California tends to be more liberal. Just as not every male Caucasian thinks or acts the same, not all people of different ethnicities, genders, religions, or sexual orientation are alike. The bottom line is that one size does not fit all when it comes to messaging and that can be the difference between success and failure in relating to your audience.
3. Understand how cultural beliefs affect marketing
There are many things that can affect whether a marketing effort is successful. Certainly, the language that is used can be hugely important such as using certain words and types of visuals that might appeal more to a certain group. However, there are other nuances that can be important as well. For example, colors and numbers can be very symbolic to certain cultures. Asians consider the number four to be unlucky and the color white is associated with death. On the other hand, Middle Easterners regard the color green as sacred. Marketers need to know when to avoid using certain numbers, colors or symbols in promotions or packaging as this can be crucial in building credibility with that audience segment.
So while there are definitely going to be bumps in the road as companies learn to navigate this changing landscape, there are also going to be huge opportunities to communicate with a diverse population and maybe bring us all closer together in the process. Perhaps the most important thing for marketers (and the rest of us) to remember is that we are all human beings first and foremost and that we have more in common that can unite us rather than differences that divide us.