The shift in American attitudes toward social justice and inclusivity following George Floyd's death and subsequent protests has prompted some companies to consider creating targeted messaging for multicultural consumers. Consumers are paying more attention than ever to how companies navigate social and racial justice issues and reward brands that align with their values. Getting it right, though, can be a daunting task, even for experienced brand managers. The fear of offending consumers is often enough to prevent marketers from even attempting to create multicultural messaging. If done correctly, however, the benefits of targeted multicultural messaging outweigh the risks.
With the U.S. consumer market shifting towards multiculturalism, inaction is unsustainable. Brands must engage but need to know how. Here are five requirements for effective multicultural communication:
Culturally diverse consumers are no longer satisfied with token representation or performative inclusion in marketing. Multicultural marketing needs to be conceived in culture by culturally diverse creatives. Asking a group of creatives and executives with no personal experience of racism or discrimination to create culturally relevant marketing is likely to yield clichés at best and offensive messaging at worst. It is likely that multicultural consumers are already considering or using your brand. Finding out how and why requires listening, learning and a willingness to let go of preconceived ideas.
Authenticity applies to whether the consumer agrees with the messaging and whether it’s appropriate to your brand. The same message delivered by two brands can land very differently. Brands that already have reputations for inclusiveness like Nike can push the envelope. Less historically diverse brands can and must invite multicultural Americans to the conversation but do so in a way that also resonates with the brand. Starbucks has had some uncomfortable missteps on its road to inclusivity, but its closure of 8,000 stores for racial bias training was a step in the right direction. That, plus more diverse hiring at the management level, is helping move the brand towards greater inclusiveness.
Committing to multicultural marketing requires consistency in messaging and communication platforms. It’s no longer acceptable to place multicultural marketing on a separate, less-visible track while spending the bulk of marketing resources on legacy messaging. Gone are the days for hiring a BIPOC executive and giving them a fancy title but no budget or real power. Having a consistent, empowered, and diverse team of internal executives that can shepherd campaigns over time is the single most effective thing a company can do to ensure they stay relevant to evolving consumer demographics.
Additionally, lack of consistency in messaging is not only ineffective but can also hurt your brand. We’ve tested Spanish language ads for the same product across campaigns, but the Spanish language translation for the product was different every time. Suppose your product is called ACME’s Roadrunner Destroyer. In that case, it can’t be translated to the ACME Fast Bird Eliminator, Running Bird Slayer or Feathered Nuisance Reducer when making in-language content. The right translation needs to be identified at the start and maintained across platforms and time.
The 2020 election has shown us how diverse U.S. Hispanics can be in their political opinions. For example, many were surprised to learn that Venezuelans are especially sensitive to messaging that mentions socialism and that many Latinos living along the southern border support a tough stance on immigration. That diversity extends to the consumer market as well. The 20 Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America share a history of Spanish Colonization. Still, the circumstances in each country, from geography, the presence and size of indigenous populations prior to colonization and political history, vary widely and create diverse opinions. Asian Americans are even less cohesive than Hispanics. While 85% of Asian Americans can trace their ancestry to six countries, they don’t share a common language, and the top three, China, India and the Philippines, share very little in common.
Therefore, before launching a campaign to target “Asians” or “Hispanics,” it’s important to understand who your target consumers are within the broader groups and tailor messaging to them. When targeting is done well your consumers will feel seen and understood by your brand.
Here’s the good news. If your brand is new to multicultural marketing, it’s easier to move the needle on awareness and usage than if you’re an established player. A market leader with years of multicultural marketing under their belt will need to spend the bulk of their budget on keeping market share, whereas newer entrants can focus exclusively on growth.
Before starting a new multicultural marketing campaign, it’s essential to create a benchmark to measure against. This can be done with internal data such as website or social media metrics. There are distinct differences in how multicultural consumers engage with social media platforms. So, it’s important to know which groups are most likely to engage on certain platforms and establish base traffic and performance metrics before launching new campaigns.
Internal data, however, is limited to the reach of your current marketing mix. It doesn’t capture activity happening outside your platforms. A well-designed Awareness, Attitudes & Usage (AA&U) study can establish a reliable benchmark of how multicultural consumers currently perceive your brand. When combined with a Realtime Tracking Study, it can give you data to determine what is and isn’t resonating.
Waiting on the multicultural marketing sidelines is the wrong play. As cultural diversity continues to expand, it will create new opportunities for savvy companies to respond to them. Doing nothing only makes room for competitors to fill the void. Listening to internal and external BIPOC will reduce the chances of “getting it wrong.” But, the only way to succeed in connecting with your multicultural audiences is to start, be open to new information, and course-correct along the way.