How can multicultural outreach blend heritage and mainstream influences?

Multicultural outreach can be as simple as a hashtag or as complex as a product launch.

Shannelle Armstrong, Director of PR, Sears Holdings Corp.

Armando Azarloza, President, The Axis Agency

John Echeveste, Partner, VPE Public Relations

Claudia Gioia, MD and Latino practice leader, Burson-Marsteller

Christina Steed, VP, Flowers Communications Group

Shannelle Armstrong, director of PR, Sears Holdings Corp.:
Multicultural outreach can be as simple as a hashtag or as complex as a product launch. No matter what the outreach strategy, below are five smart concepts that will tap into opportunities while allowing you to maintain brand credibility and demonstrate cultural sensitivity.

Alignment. Focusing on product attributes and aligning them with the multicultural target's insight will drive much greater awareness. If a customer is looking to purchase a great red lipstick, aligning with Black History Month won't create a greater desire to buy the product. However, aligning her individual beauty with the many shades of red lipsticks the brand carries will work better because the brand acknowledged her and provided a relevant message.

Transparency. Do not be afraid of real feedback. Removing negative posts or not responding to consumers' questions may lead to a larger negative backlash. Do not ignore multicultural customers. Their feedback provides a real-time point of view and engagement level.

Authenticity. Engaging a multicultural audience during cultural celebratory times such as Hispanic Heritage Month or Chinese New Year does not demonstrate a connection with them. Stay authentic. Maintain an ongoing conversation through social and traditional media. Multicultural audiences know when someone is talking "at" them as opposed to "engaging" them in real dialogue and sharing information.

Creativity. You will hit cultural land mines. Let creativity drive the process. Placing more emphasis on ethnic hair products during February just sounds wrong. However, bringing in creative teams from various ethnic haircare lines to discuss beauty, wellness, and style will engage your audience creatively without the stereotyping and patronizing messages.

Credibility. Gain an understanding of where and how the audience is reading, sharing, and receiving information. Don't enter the conversation with irrelevant details.

Armando Azarloza, president, The Axis Agency:
For a brand to appeal to any given audience in today's ultra-saturated marketplace, it must first identify and hone in on unique and powerful insights and triggers. These ultimately will form the foundation of a compelling campaign that will foster consumer desire, loyalty, and relevance. It will also set the brand apart from competitors.

When targeting multicultural audiences and those that are far along the acculturation process and have embraced mainstream America's culture and marketplace, marketers often debate the merits of designing a customized multicultural campaign versus a one-size-fits-all mainstream approach.

Countless research studies have shown that embracing modern American culture does not strip multicultural audiences of their heritage or render them susceptible only to mainstream marketing influences. It doesn't make me less of an American if I'm a Cuban-American. In fact, it adds to America's richness and identity. We also find that, in most instances, pride in our heritage becomes stronger the further along some- one is in the assimilation process.

Targeting multicultural audiences with dedicated campaigns around cultural expression multiplies the entry points and opportunities for brands to establish meaningful connections that ultimately lead to sales.

A thorough, deep understanding of multicultural audiences and their American journey is the key. If expertly managed, effective multicultural outreach capitalizes upon the cultural insights that are an inextricable part of the audience's DNA and heritage, while still acknowledging and celebrating their place in mainstream America.  When both of these worlds come together, the whole be- comes much more than the sum of its parts, which is really good news for marketers.

John Echeveste, partner, VPE Public Relations:
When it comes to effectively marketing to Hispanics, it's important to remember that they share the same dreams, values, and aspirations of all Americans. We may crave our own ethnic dishes and telenovelas, but not at the exclusion of a burger or a hot English-language sitcom.

How, then, to effectively market to a group that values its heritage while embracing mainstream society? The answer lies in recognizing that "speaking our language" is more than about the language itself. Effectively speaking the language of Hispanics means using cultural cues and passion points that have relevance to the market and tactically executing in a way that makes the most sense depending on factors including the target's age, level of acculturation, lifestyle, and media consumption preferences. I've always contended Hispanics tend to exist in a parallel universe that is relatively unknown to the larger society. Smart marketers are those who have learned to bring the two worlds together.

In our work for McDonald's, we've created Latin-themed events in Miami with well-known Hispanic celebrities to introduce new menu items. At Disneyland, we saw a spike in attendance when we hosted a traditional Three Kings Day weekend celebration. For Nestlé, we regularly engage with Hispanic food editors and bloggers through a targeted recipe campaign. These executions often run side by side with general-market initiatives, but are adapted to the language that makes the most sense to Hispanics.

With more than 50 million people and $1 trillion in purchasing power, Hispanics are not the market of the future - they are the market of now. Smart marketers are those who speak "our language" in helping us achieve our dreams and become fully participating members of American society.

Claudia Gioia, MD and Latino practice leader, Burson-Marsteller:
Some of the most challenging communication programs to develop are those designed to reach specific multicultural audiences. These campaigns should be based on an approach that involves "listening" to socio-cultural values, norms, codes, and behaviors. This process helps communicators identify the important characteristics that constitute distinctive sub-cultural markets. This also allows the campaign to have its own goals and metrics. However, it is not sufficient to only measure things such as the consumers' time lived in the US, their preferred language, or their media of choice.

Marketers should consider and include behavioral, environmental, and attitudinal measurement tools to assess acculturation as multidimensional and dynamic because individuals can choose to acculturate at different rates and at different times in their lives. They can also choose to be bicultural, maintaining both their ethnic identity and ties with their native country, while also adopting many traits of popular US consumer culture. 

Individuals could be more inclined toward their ethnic origin in one aspect of their life, but not necessarily in the areas that drive their purchasing intent or behavioral pattern.

There are three key strategic imperatives for successful multicultural campaign planning: Listen. Test. Tailor. Listen to the nuances of the audience. Test messages and tailor campaigns around an understanding that an effective multicultural marketing effort needs to be properly funded for maximum impact and not just a "translated version" of an existing consumer program.

Christina Steed, VP, Flowers Communications Group:
Multicultural consumers often deal with a personal balance of the values that define their culture and everyday life experiences. A basic, but overlooked, starting point for developing campaigns is research to gain understanding of key consumer insights about each segment.

Among the younger acculturated Hispanic consumers, many consider themselves to be 100% Latino and 100% American. For African Americans, relationships are vital for the "realness" and relevancy factors, and the primary values of family, faith, altruism, and accomplishment often drive their brand decisions.

The American Dream as originally conceived is vanishing. These cultures are carving out their own niches in society and redefining what that dream is. The mainstream is also becoming more influenced by ethnic culture and smart campaigns are leading with those ethnic insights to inform their programs.

African-American, Latino, Asian, and other multicultural consumers often look to maintain their authentic connection and voice from where they came from that goes beyond moments in time such as Black History, Asian American, and Hispanic Heritage Months. Today, there are so many niches and sub-segments within each ethnic group that they don't feel the need to choose between their own heritage and the mainstream.

Many current campaigns take a broad stroke and are directed at the general market. So, when a brand actually takes the time to develop a relationship with these consumers, they are able to capture the attention and loyalty of a group that is traditionally brand loyal and relies heavily on personal networks for recommendations. As such, authenticity and relevance in the messaging is critical.

The Takeaway

  • Thoroughly research and obtain key insights about each target demographic so that credibility, authenticity, and relevance can be achieved.
  • Individuals exist at different spectrums of the acculturation process and some have embraced mainstream American culture more than others. As such, one-size-fits-all tactics are usually not appropriate.
  • Be mindful of factors such as lifestyle, media consumption, level of acculturation, and age.

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