Do not take culture for granted

Some marketers mistakenly feel that they can easily reach the African American Consumer Market (AACM) simply because they speak English.

Some marketers mistakenly feel that they can easily reach the African American Consumer Market (AACM) simply because they speak English.

This couldn't be further from the truth. In order to successfully reach this audience, marketers need to realize that they can't just put out a broad message, assuming it will reach all minority groups.

With a population of 38.7 million in 2005, African Americans are now the second-largest minority group in the US. However, evidence has shown that marketing efforts are not a direct reflection of our society. Instead of tailoring a marketing effort to appeal to the AACM, marketers are missing the target by placing this valuable group among the general market.

According to Target Market News' The Buying Power of Black America report, black households had a collectively earned income of $679 billion in 2005. Some companies often underestimate the purchasing power of African Americans, which rose from about $200 billion in 1994 to $761 billion in 2005.With this in mind, marketers must tailor their specific message to effectively reach the AACM.

African Americans are very connected to their cultural heritage and take deep pride in their roots. As such, marketers must not generalize or play into the stereotype of the African American. They will be more successful in transmitting the message if the AACM is able to relate to it on a personal level. When targeting African Americans, be respectful and acknowledge the cultural differences.

By embracing these differences, marketers can recognize the AACM's needs as its own market, not a general market, which will ultimately generate more results.

Another approach for marketers is to support African-American cause-related programs that help their community. This shows a connection between a corporation and/or product to the AACM, which will use its high spending power to support that same cause.

Another important fact for marketers to keep in mind: African Americans are heavy consumers of broadcast media and are also brand-loyal. Sending a message through the African-American media gives it credibility and will provide results.

Combining these facts will ultimately produce a successful marketing campaign. African Americans are aware that ads target the general market, and they are more likely to notice their presence within the media. This is why it is important to be respectful of the audience and make the message something they can relate to.

Growing up in Philadelphia, I recall companies like Coke and McDonald's, which would target the AACM with the right message. I remember these brands to this day and will continue to remain loyal to them and their products.

Other companies (and Lagrant clients) that have kept their PR campaigns on target are Nissan North America, Southern California Edison, American Airlines, and Harley-Davidson.

Marketers need to wake up and realize that in order to get results, they need to reach out to African Americans with a specifically tailored message. If companies are going to play in the African-American arena, they must become sensitive to its nuances and stop taking the culture for granted.

Kim Hunter is president and CEO of Lagrant Communications.

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