Getting personal

Multicultural audiences are inherently distrustful of mass-marketing messages.

Multicultural audiences are inherently distrustful of mass-marketing messages.

When a potential client comes to Joseph Anthony, CEO of New York-based Vital Marketing, with plans of targeting multicultural consumers, one of the first things he does is provide them with two pieces of information: why these consumers won't initially trust them, and how to go about changing that.

"These consumers haven't forgotten how they were ignored by marketers for years," Anthony explains to his clients. "Because of that, they have a certain level of distrust for people suddenly interested in reaching out to them and asking for their money." Anthony tells them the only way to successfully market to any multicultural consumer group is to establish a presence in the community and meet face-to-face with them at the ground level. "Marketers need to add depth to the awareness of their product by explaining to consumers why they need it," Anthony says.

When it came time to create an African American-focused initiative for Allstate, Anthony knew the campaign would only resonate if he put Allstate's agents in direct contact with its targets. His solution is the Social and Civic (SAC) organization program, an effort that over the next year will align Allstate with groups such as the NAACP and 100 Black Men of America by sponsoring their regional events.

One of the first things marketers must realize, says Anthony, is that multicultural consumers tend to be very fragmented geographically and culturally. As a result, marketers must focus on a more personal approach. Multicultural consumers tend to be more distrustful of marketers than the general market.

"This makes it difficult to target an entire group with a 30-second spot," he says. "Relationships must be built with these consumers on a one-to-one level."

Grassroots initiatives

An effective alternative, in Anthony's opinion, is grassroots and experiential marketing initiatives. Experiential marketing helps accomplish what should be the two primary goals for all marketers: It puts a company's product and representatives in front of consumers, and it generates buzz within the community.

"Because of the lack of trust for marketers, purchase habits and ideas about brands [need to be] developed on a peer-to-peer level within these communities," Anthony says.

Starting in January, Vital will look to help Allstate initiate the SAC program.

"The ideal thing is that this program puts Allstate's local reps in direct contact with an affluent African American consumer group," Anthony says.

There are 16 events planned for the first quarter of 2006, the first to take place in Atlanta, where Allstate will sponsor an event held by Kappa Alpha, a national fraternal organization.

Anthony says marketers also need to couple large national campaigns with smaller, targeted, local-level efforts.

"Huge corporations have all types of national campaigns that target everybody, but it's hard to tell if these national campaigns really move the needle or generate purchases," Anthony says. "But it's these local-based events that put people on the ground - where transactions take place."

At small events, Allstate reps will make 15-minute presentations on topics such as life insurance and wealth management. They'll provide branding materials, premiums and brochures at the larger events.

It's no longer a secret that major brands covet multicultural consumers' dollars more and more - especially to the consumers themselves. And as these consumers become more sophisticated, marketers realize that their marketing tactics must do the same.

As the population of African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics grows - it's projected that by 2050 they will make up just less than half of the US population - so does their spending power, estimated to be a combined $2.6 billion by 2010. Industry pros say this means there are no more excuses for not knowing the Hispanic community is made up of a number of different cultures, and that a large number of Asians prefer in-language media, or that meeting with these consumers in their element is likely to have a larger impact than a national print campaign.

Armando Azarloza, president of the Axis Agency, a division of Weber Shandwick, says the first step of multicultural campaigns should be research.

"Researching the Hispanic marketplace should focus on determining the acculturation level of the target audience, the awareness of the product, and its level of use in the community," he says. "From there, you have an idea of what attributes you want to associate with the brand."

For the past year-and-a-half, Axis has been working with Nintendo on a campaign for its games and consoles aimed at 13- to 17-year-olds. Azarloza, who says Nintendo had "never really engaged" the Hispanic market, claims its research found this demographic to be English-dominant. Azarloza says coming to Nintendo with the idea of an English-language campaign wasn't what the video-game company was expecting.

"Most companies targeting this market for the first time would anticipate doing an in-language campaign," says Azarloza. "We could have taken the safe road and presented them with one, but our research showed that's not what they read or watched. We ran print ads in English-language publications aimed at young Hispanics, including OYE [Open Your Eyes] and Urban Latino."

One size does not fit all

Azarloza says too many marketers make the mistake of taking the "one size fits all" approach to multicultural marketing, and risk wasting time and money by not doing the research that will help them to understand the market.

Nintendo also established a presence in Hispanic communities by sponsoring the Fusion Tour, a music festival featuring Hispanic alternative bands.

In assessing the success of the campaign, Azarloza says sales of Nintendo consoles and games have grown within the demographic. The campaign itself has gotten a lot of coverage from English and Spanish-language media outlets including Maxim, La Opinion, Univision, Telemundo, and CNN.

Azarloza says plans for 2006 are still in the early stages, but he feels consumers will see more games "that have a Hispanic feel or theme to them, which itself is a sign of recognition by Nintendo that Hispanics represent a vital portion of the game-buying community."

On the flip side of Nintendo is a campaign Wal-Mart launched targeting Asian Americans. Jimmy Lee of Imada Wong, the agency handling the effort, says 70% of all Asian Americans prefer Asian-language media.

Wal-Mart's senior communications manager Linda Blakely says the campaign, launched last spring, is its first-ever Asian-language ad campaign.

"Communicating in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese shows we have a deep commitment to all segments of our customer base," she says.

Wal-Mart is using six TV commercials, four radio spots, and eight print ads for the effort. Knowing that family plays a major role in Asian culture, they show families shopping together.

On-site intelligence

When Lagrant Communications kicked off a promotional effort for Absolut's peach-flavored vodka, account head Christina Branson says on-site research at clubs helped shape the direction of the African American-focused effort.

"We first wanted to find out about brand awareness and if there was any interest in flavored vodkas," Branson says. "There was strong brand awareness and an interest in the product." But Absolut as a brand had a few hurdles to overcome with this audience.

She adds that the main challenge was getting consumers to switch from "what they considered luxury brands" such as Grey Goose or Belvedere to Absolut. "People said they wanted to be seen drinking something that was connected to celebrities or referenced in songs," Branson says. "When we asked why they drank a specific brand, they said, 'Because this is hot right now.' Absolut was seen as a standard brand, so we wanted to create a connection between it and celebrities."

It did so by sponsoring a party thrown by Jay-Z at his 40/40 night club in Manhattan, and hosting tasting events in LA and Atlanta attended by actors and musicians. Aligning itself with stars and events also helped Absolut overcome its second hurdle, getting media coverage to raise brand awareness.

"The press just wasn't really receptive to running stories on a peach-flavored vodka until there was a celeb tie-in," Branson says. "Most African-American media outlets don't cover spirits and tobacco."

In total, Branson estimates the effort generated some 25 million media impressions and was reported in magazines, online, and on the radio.

"Response from consumers was also good," she adds. "Men said they would definitely buy a bottle for the house, but not necessarily at the club."

On a more general level, Branson reports that Lagrant's research showed that celebrity tie-ins and brand ambassadors make consumers see certain products as "stylish, [and that] determines what they see as quality."

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