The United States is a more culturally diverse nation than it’s ever been before. Together, cultural minorities comprise nearly half of our overall population: 56 million Americans are Hispanic, 34 million are black, 20 million are of Asian descent, and 45 million have roots either in the Middle East or Eastern Europe. The numbers are growing daily.
For businesses, these figures are tremendously important. If your communications strategy is culturally homogenous, you run the risk of alienating a large share of your audience. But it’s challenging to run a campaign that resonates with people from different cultural backgrounds.
There’s no silver bullet solution — multicultural marketing requires research, creativity, awareness, and hard work. Given the numbers, however, the return can be well worth the effort. Follow these guidelines to help maximize the reach of a campaign across diverse demographics.
1. Understand acculturation
As American multiculturalism increases, so too does acculturation. Unlike assimilation — the process of adapting to a new culture by embracing its every element as your own — those who acculturate relinquish little of their original cultural identity.
The implications of acculturation on marketing are significant. Consider life insurance, for example. In many East Asian communities, it’s taboo to discuss death. Therefore, if you’re marketing life insurance to companies that hire large numbers of Asian-Americans, avoid questions such as, “Who will provide for your family when you die?” Instead, find a focal point for your communications that resonates with this demographic.
2. Know your audience
In-depth research is a critical part of multicultural marketing. Figure out everything you can about the target demographic — from income and education to media and spending habits — to understand how best to reach them.
In terms of media consumption, different cultures are loyal to different programming. For example, the Asian-American community in San Francisco predominantly watches KTSF (a TV channel that offers content geared toward Asian viewers). To successfully engage a community, you need a voice, message, and campaign that reflect the demographic’s nuances, and you need to know where they’ll see and hear your messaging. If a business you’re working with wants to talk to Asian-American TV viewers in San Francisco, it’s essential that you craft a message that ensures they make a connection via KTSF.
3. Create messages that are culturally relevant and sensitive
Respect the people who make up the target audience; craft a campaign that reflects their values and beliefs. Base your campaign on stereotypes and assumptions, and you’ll be dooming yourself to failure.
The 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign did a fantastic job of targeting multicultural communities through relevant, sensitive messaging. Obama’s team of marketers figured out how to speak in meaningful ways to people from all different backgrounds. The result speaks for itself.
4. Some things are universal
Though one culture might seem completely distinct from another, remember that everyone wants the same thing: value and quality they can afford. Keep this in perspective. Whether you’re boosting the marketing of a small, family-owned business in a predominantly Hispanic city or aiding a regional organization that counts Russian-Americans among its key clients, establish marketing methods that keep them top of mind with their key demographic. It will ensure that your communications have maximum impact, regardless of your budget.
The U.S. is, was, and always will be a nation of immigrants. As a country, our multiculturalism is one of our greatest assets; it fuels innovation and growth. And in business, when you treat multiculturalism as an opportunity, it can open up new worlds.
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