This is the 4th in a series of posts by Anne Brumbaugh, PhD. on the topic of multicultural marketing. Anne’s practice located in Charleston, SC serves businesses of all sizes, in any industry. Her insightful knowledge is invaluable.
What Multicultural Marketing?
By now you know why it’s imperative that you consider doing some multicultural marketing, have thought a bit about how you might approach doing so, and might even know whom you might target first. But what do you actually do to “do” multicultural marketing? Just throwing a few brown-skinned people in your ads, translating your website into Spanish, and saying you’re committed to serving minorities are not enough. Irrespective of your specific target market, here are some general guidelines for increasing your probability of success with any diverse customer base.
What #1: Avoid Stereotyping and Ghetto-ing
Obviously, intentionally depicting minority groups in an unfavorable light is not only bad marketing, but also, well, just plain bad. However, well-intentioned marketers might unintentionally do so. I recently reviewed a piece targeting college students. The firm obviously attempted to be inclusive across a range of ethnoracial groups. In the collage, there were pictures of white-only groups of students studying, rowing crew, and graduating. Additionally, there was a picture of a young Asian woman playing the cello, one of several black males playing basketball, and one of group of blacks partying. Seriously? Each individual picture was fine and the emphasis on whites appropriate statistically speaking. Taken together, however, the collage unequivocally emphasized stereotypes of Asians as over-achieving string musicians, blacks as athletes and not-so-serious students, and whites as privileged elite. That no single picture showed a diverse mix of students is what I call “ghetto-ing” – segregating each group into its own photo space. Firms need to acknowledge prevailing stereotypes and think critically about how to offset them with positive, counter-stereotypical images of ethnoracial minorities. Even if contrived, a single picture of a diverse group sends a far stronger signal of inclusion than a photo collection of different groups depicted separately.
What #2: Cultivate Grass Roots
Unless your firm has a long-standing relationship with a minority group it would like to target, it needs to invest in grass roots activities to earn the right to be able to target that group in order to be truly successful. Members of minority groups know when they are being pandered to, and a firm that has a poor or non-existent track record with the group will have a much more difficult time than a firm that has invested in philanthropies, community activities, and local organizations affiliated with the group. Firms need to demonstrate that they are deserving of the minority group’s consumer spending in order for its targeting efforts to be welcomed.
What #3: Acquire Competencies
In addition to having a diverse employee base (see How #3), your firm needs to cultivate relationships with vendors and partners experienced in doing marketing research, social media, advertising, distribution channel management, and product development with members of your intended target market. The survey questions you ask of one group may be irrelevant for another. How members of one group incorporate a social medium into their daily lives and identities may be different from how another group does it. While two groups appear to both shop at the same distribution outlet, what each buys there may be very different. Thus, it is not enough to be aware of potential differences, but to partner with folks who can explore and utilize them effectively.
What #4: Spend
Most marketing phenomena operate on an S-shaped response curve. This means that for a low level of spending, you get no (zero, zip, zilch) results. You might as well not spend a penny. Then at some point (“critical mass”), increased levels of spending actually move the needle and you see a response among consumers (brand awareness for ad spend, unit sales for promotion spend, engagement for social media spend). For a while, greater spend yields proportionally greater outcomes up to a second point, at which effectiveness again drops off (“point of diminishing returns”). Too often firms fail to spend enough on targeting efforts to move the needle at all – the budget for a specific subsegment is simply too low to have any effect. Managers skeptical of the effort in the first place are validated when the targeting effort fails, and managers who had the impossible task of targeting the subsegment with insufficient resources see their units disbanded. It is crucial to research the response function for a specific segment, identify its sweet spot on the curve, and fund the effort fully to that spot.
What #5: Be Accountable
If What #4 is heeded, then it is absolutely appropriate to require accountability from the unit tasked with targeting a minority group. In a form of reverse discrimination, some firms are reticent to hold units responsible for marketing to minority segments to the same standards as held for mainstream audiences. This undermines the credibility of the units and hurts overall targeting effectiveness. Resources should be allocated and expectations for ROI set a priori as are done for any business function. Only then can mid-course corrections in strategy and implementation be made, improving the function of both the unit and firm.
Anne M. Brumbaugh is the founder and owner of Anne Brumbaugh Marketing, a marketing consultancy in Charleston, SC, specializing in marketing research, marketplace diversity, and marketing analysis and planning. Dr. Brumbaugh holds an MBA with a specialization in marketing and a PhD in business and consumer behavior, and teaches marketing courses on contract in top-ranked MBA programs.