'Months' help, but multicultural marketing is a year-round need

February is Black History Month and many companies are recognizing it with focused, black marketing communications campaigns to both celebrate respectfully and capitalize on the occasion.

February is Black History Month and many companies are recognizing it with focused, black marketing communications campaigns to both celebrate respectfully and capitalize on the occasion. In September, the same attention will be shown to Hispanic consumers during Hispanic Heritage Month. During May and November, Asians and Native Americans, respectively, will be recognized and celebrated during their heritage months.

But what happens after those months are over? Are those ethnic groups still recognized by marketers? If they're smart, they are. I am not suggesting that companies shouldn't take advantage of these historic celebrations. They should. However, they should not relegate their efforts to one month; their efforts should be carefully planned, spanning over the entire year, with pulse periods that make sense for their business.

Three companies that tend to do this well in the black space are McDonald's, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola. They each have focused, sustainable, relevant year-long plans that undoubtedly give them an increase in market share within their respective industries.

There are a host of other culturally relevant celebrations that take place throughout the year that impact multicultural consumers. Communicators and marketers need to be aware of them and weave them into their overall plans. More importantly, companies and organizations need to constantly refresh their relationships with these growing ethnic consumers while showing how the quality and relevance of their brands impact and intersect with their lives.

There are many connection points where segmented marketing efforts make sense. During your annual planning, explore areas where you can bundle your general-market and segmented campaigns together to maximize your dollars.

For example, if you are planning a holiday campaign, you might be able to extend your general-marketing creative elements by adding versions with multicultural representation. These versions can then be used in either the general market or in appropriate target-specific mediums. It could be tying into summer festivals and occasions. Two that come to mind, which attract several thousand followers, are Calle Ocho in Miami and Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. Tying into them with big activations including sponsorships, ads, special promotions, sweepstakes, and celebrities will allow you to move beyond the “Month” and connect in meaningful ways through important events.

So the takeaway would be to really do the “Months” well, but don't let them be the ending point. Let them be just the beginning of what you commit to do throughout the year. Your communications exposure and results will bear witness that it's worth the effort, and it might just help with your bottom line.

Lori George Billingsley is director of community and multicultural communications for Coca-Cola North America. She can be reached at lbillingsley@na.ko.com.

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