Marketers adept in multicultural marketing have mastered the use of the refrain: “They are not a homogenous group.” While well-intentioned, this phrase typically refers to Hispanic and Asian consumers and perpetuates a glaring omission: African Americans. Like Hispanics and Asians, African Americans are diverse — from skin tones to language, culture rules and mores to folkways.
Having helped Fortune 500 companies understand multicultural consumers for the past decade through market research, I have firsthand experience understanding the diversity within the African-American community after thousands of user interviews across the country.
Marketers argue that Hispanics and Asians are heterogeneous because of the multitude of countries of origin they hail from. While almost all Hispanics share a common language, their ancestry can be traced to over 22 countries of origin across Latin America. Asians, on the other hand, do not share a common language but represent 40 countries of origin. Each of these countries has distinct cultures, traditions, foods, values and beliefs that shape how they interact with products and respond to advertising messages.
With one in 10 Blacks living in the U.S. being foreign-born, the idea of African Americans being a “homogenous group” is not only antiquated but false. Within the African American population, there are many subcultures with distinct styles. The complexity runs much deeper than the range of skin tones or hair texture. Identity matters. Heritage matters. And to deny African or Caribbean immigrants that heritage by not representing it in advertising sends the message that your brand subscribes to the false narrative of homogeneity.
Let's consider just one example of the diversity within the African American community. In our recent Culture Report Brief, in which we surveyed 1,010 American adults, we found that, in most instances, African Americans are split on their preference to be described as Black vs. African American. However, delving into which term they prefer the media, companies and brands use when describing them, "African American" is preferred at 49% vs. 33%. Statistics like this show how the diversity of opinion is important to understand before landing on a term to describe a large and diverse community.
When looking at younger generations like Gen Z, considerations of intersectionality become even more important. Gen Z is the first minority-majority generation. Furthermore, the fastest-growing demographic group among this generation is mixed race. Identity among African Americans becomes even more complex as more people begin to identify as multiracial. One group having an outsized impact on U.S. popular culture are Afro-Latinos, many of whom identify with both sides of their heritage. This creates a rich opportunity for marketers to connect on a deeper level with this important group.
As you plan your next multicultural marketing campaign, make sure you have diverse talent in the room, and remember, African American consumers, like Hispanics and Asians, are not a homogenous group. By defining and messaging to Black subcultures, you not only create more relevant experiences for them, but you are less likely to overspend and underdeliver. Most importantly, you are less likely to be canceled due to a cultural faux pas.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.