Offensive or Accurate?

Offensive or Accurate? 3 Steps for Getting Multicultural Marketing Right

Originally found on Forbes.

Here’s an interesting bit of predictive data for marketers: By 2020, more than half of children in the U.S. are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group. Here in Texas, where I live and work, we’ve been a “majority-minority” state for years, meaning that more than half of our state’s population is of a race other than white. The percentage of non-Hispanic white children born in Texas has been dropping since 2000, when 43% of children fell into that category. By 2010, it was 34%. That tracks with what’s happening nationally, where the US Census Bureau projects that by 2060, just 36% of all children will be single-race non-Hispanic white, compared with 52% today.

All of this raises important questions for startups, agencies or marketers looking to serve a multicultural population. Given the demographic shifts, who’s your audience? What products and services do they want to buy? What’s the best way to reach them? What’s the best message to communicate? If these questions sound familiar, it’s because they’re the same ones marketers have always asked. What’s changed is the cultural context. And while it’s data that’s raising these questions, it’s also data that’s providing the answers.

In a multicultural environment where change is constant, data is critical for marketers to understand who they’re talking to. To make the most of the data that’s available, you have to understand three things: what the data reveals about customers, where to capture relevant data and how to apply tools to extract the most meaning from it.

What data can reveal about multicultural audiences

I heard an interesting podcast the other day from Texas Standard, a daily news show, about how people who are attempting to market to multicultural millennials often manage to get it all wrong. From the racial stereotypes in ads for fast food or snack foods, to tokenism, featuring one person of color in a sea of white people, many efforts have seemed tone-deaf at best and offensive at worst.

Even as an entrepreneur, it’s a complicated problem that doesn’t have a simple solution, to be sure. But I do believe that data can be a big part of the solution. The Texas Standard story quoted Alejandro Ruelas, founder of the ad agency LatinWorks, as saying “It’s doing your homework, it’s dedicating enough time to understanding what it is you’re solving for and just knowing that it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer.”

The right data can save you from oversimplifying, or falling prey to the one-size-fits-all thinking that Ruelas cautions against. Data can help you clarify who you’re talking to – delineating, for example, cultural differences between multiple audiences, aligning brand preferences with these different audiences and identifying what each audience responds to. Being able to make these distinctions and clarifications is critical to avoiding missteps — especially when the population landscape is changing so fast. Keeping up with the data is essential to keeping up with change.

Where to capture relevant data

It’s commonplace today to capture customer data from a variety of sources; the key is to be sure to make cultural attributes a part of what’s captured. That’s the advice of marketing intelligence innovator Cesar Melgoza, who points to loyalty programs as one example of an extremely valuable tool for collecting data for understanding cultural nuances and buying habits. He cites one example of a grocery store that was able to pinpoint the Hispanic audience subcategory that a particular promotional campaign was affecting – and to tweak subsequent promotional efforts accordingly.

Mobile is another source of data about multicultural audiences. Tracey Rose, who is with the healthcare-focused multicultural ad agency Prime Access, points out that Hispanic and African American audiences tend to be highly engaged digital consumers with high rates of smartphone adoption. And while she’s talking specifically about mobile as a means of connecting with these audiences, this affinity for mobile communications presents an opportunity for collecting data from these groups as well. When collected appropriately, with the right permissions, mobile data has the potential to tell you an enormous amount about where and how these audiences engage with your brand.

How to apply tools to extract the most meaning from data

Data analytics is increasingly becoming an important component in multicultural marketing. The media buying company GroupM last year announced a new division dedicated to measuring and analyzing the performance of marketing initiatives aimed at multicultural audiences, for example.

Analytical tools used with big data also make it possible for marketers to extract meaningful insights about multicultural audiences from data in order to plan marketing and media buying activities. The advertising company MaxPoint advocates using these tools to create a more-informed audience profile for more-targeted decisions about media buying, as well as making them part of initiatives to monitor and test marketing campaigns (ideally in real time, with the goal of making rapid changes anytime the audience response calls for it).

No matter how big or small your company is, with all the sources of customer data available today, it’s possible to avoid the mistakes that have plagued so many multicultural marketing efforts. With a commitment to uncovering culturally relevant information from data, using it to shape strategies and campaigns, and applying analytics to test its validity at every turn, marketers can connect with multicultural audiences more confidently and authentically than ever before.

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