March 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the official declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The first case of coronavirus was reported in the U.S. in January 2020. Two months later, the infection rate was accelerating, prompting former President Trump to declare novel coronavirus a national emergency, unlocking billions of dollars in federal funding to mitigate the spread. What ensued was unprecedented. Worldwide quarantines shuttered businesses, churches, and schools, bringing life as we knew it to a screeching halt. Sports arenas were silent. Streets were vacant, and grocery store shelves bare.
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.
U.S. consumers adjusted their expectations last year as COVID-19, social injustice, and contentious presidential and senatorial races sent the country into a tailspin. Given the unprecedented disruption, the findings of our sixth annual ThinkNow Pulse™ Report, a national survey examining consumer sentiment across key demographics in the U.S., are especially relevant as marketers scramble to get a pulse on the post-pandemic consumer. Fielded in December 2020, Americans report worsened personal finances and a perception of a weakening economy, and the outlook for 2021 didn’t fare much better.
2020 has been one of the most polarizing years in recent history. A global pandemic decimated the economy. The murders of Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd sparked a worldwide outcry for social justice. And the presidential election and ensuing calls for recounts and litigation gripped the nation while the world watched. All of these events culminated in a complex display of cultural dynamics that influence contemporary consumer attitudes and behavior. In our 2020 ThinkNow Year-End Report, we examine the effects of these influences through a multicultural lens to provide actionable insights on key consumer trends to watch heading into 2021.
In what seems like a lifetime ago, we began the year full of ambition and resolve because 2020 represented more than a flip of the calendar. In pun worthy comparison, 2020 or “20/20” was supposed to be the year of great vision and clarity. We energized our sales teams with it and redirected our strategic plans. But now, just a month away from year-end, we realize that the clarity we sought didn’t elude us. We clashed with it violently in the streets and on the front lines. The past few months have been some of the most polarizing in recent history. A global pandemic decimated the economy, and the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd sparked a worldwide outcry for social justice.
For many of us, our ideals and attitudes about who we are as individuals are shaped by our heritage and cultural experiences. As consumers, our affinity for certain brands pass through these filters resulting in purchase behaviors that tie back to our beliefs and how we see ourselves. Among multicultural audiences, this presents a unique challenge for marketers. There is no one size fits all solution to gaining buy-in from this diverse group. U.S. Hispanics hail from over 20 countries of origin, and Asian Americans, 40 countries. Understanding the importance of identity to multicultural audiences is essential to mitigating cultural bias in your marketing campaign strategy and delivering culturally relevant advertising.
Multicultural audiences are significantly driving mainstream identity and influencing emerging trends. According to UM’s Annual Cultural Dimension study, two out of five general population consumers indicate being influenced by Latino, Black, and Asian segments when it comes to passion points like music, fashion, hair care, food, sports, and more. As consumer behavior shifts in response to cultural identity and increased exposure to cultural norms via the internet and social media, brands work overtime to cultivate relationships steeped in the remix culture, which is primarily defined by a mindset, not the consumer. This paradigm shift is changing the fabric of what we know today as American culture.
America is often described as a “melting pot” of different nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures. Much to the dismay of Teddy Roosevelt (who in a 1916 speech noted “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism”), Americans have perfected naming each ethnic group within our borders distinctly, and those names have evolved. For example, we dove into the names by which Hispanics prefer to identify. Responses ranged from “Latino/Latina” to country of origin, to the hotly debated yet emerging term “Latinx.” We see a similar pattern among Black Americans, who do not identify with labels such as “African American” despite its use in the U.S. Census, media, and other databases.
From grocery stores to airline flights, America’s debate over wearing face masks is playing out on small and large screens globally. What was once seen as a medical imperative has become politicized. Some see mask mandates as an infringement on their constitutional rights, and others, a patriotic duty. According to our research, however, most Americans have this collective request, “wear a damn mask.” ThinkNow conducted a nationwide online survey among American adults ages 18 to 64 to get their perspective on COVID-19 and wearing face coverings.
It’s common for many of us to feel as if we have no biases. To make that assumption, however, would be woefully incorrect and naive. The hard truth is that we are human, and our cultural biases make their way into every aspect of our lives, including our work. If you’re doing market research, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. We like to think of ourselves as some of the least biased people in business. We are more aware of consumer behaviors and the psychological implications of marketing messages. Nonetheless, unconscious bias often creeps into our research design. It’s not all doom and gloom, though.