The face of the American consumer is changing dramatically, and the repercussions of those changes will be felt for decades. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans make up about 35 percent of the current U.S. population. By 2050, the Pew Research Center projects that non-whites will become the dominant ethnic group in the country.
With this group's sizable buying power—amounting to about $2.5 trillion today—small businesses that actively court them through multicultural marketing efforts will find a significant source of new customers, new sales, and new brand-building opportunities.
These three groups are only the tip of the iceberg, too. "Multicultural has expanded to include several groups," says Lisa Skriloff, president of New York-based Multicultural Marketing Resources, a marketing and public relations firm founded in 1994. "It doesn't necessarily mean that a customer is of two cultures."
Today, Skriloff says, members of a variety of groups—including people with disabilities, seniors, women, and smaller but identifiable ethnic groups—could be included in multicultural marketing.
Join ethnic associations
Some small businesses may be reluctant to wade into ethnic marketing because of misconceptions or fears. For example, sending out the wrong message because of a bad translation is a common concern. Or, not knowing which group within a larger ethnic group to target. "There are 15 different Asian groups," Skriloff explains. She adds that some businesses trying to reach Hispanic consumers might be unsure of their country of origin.
But there are a number of steps that any small business can take to overcome these apprehensions and get started. For example, a retail establishment with an employee on staff who speaks Spanish could put out a sign saying "We Speak Spanish" in Spanish. They could also enlist the help of an agency that specializes in multicultural marketing.
Skriloff also recommends getting involved with associations and organizations that already serve the ethnic business community, such as the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, the Hispanic Federation, and the Asian American Advertising Federation.
Partnering with grass roots or local community organizations—through networking or sponsoring an event—can yield good results. "Another good resource is the local ethnic media," Skriloff says. "If you're thinking of taking a small ad in an ethnic newspaper or a local ethnic TV channel, the media outlets themselves might help you create a small ad at no charge."
As with mainstream marketing, multicultural marketing involves constructing a clear picture of who your potential customers are, and then approaching them in an appropriate manner.
"You have to understand the cultural nuances, who the influencers are, and reach out to them in a variety of ways," says Esther Novak, CEO of VanguardComm, a New Jersey-based multicultural marketing agency. "That means either through social media, targeted mainstream media, or associations where they gather."
For example, she says, multicultural households are more often multi-generational than mainstream households. It's not uncommon to find grandparents living with their children and grandchildren under the same roof. And it's not uncommon for some of these children not to go away to college. Marketing messages need to be sensitive to these realities.
Researching your target group and the community they do business in should also guide your marketing choices. "If you're marketing in a highly ethnic neighborhood of either Hispanics or Asians and where there's been a fair amount of new immigration, then you've got to do it in Spanish and Chinese and Korean," Novak says. "You have to speak their language, literally."
Sometimes the best way for a small business to gain a multicultural customer is also the most transparent: let them know you want them. "Over 50 percent of the babies [born] in Los Angeles are Latinos," Novak points out. "So if you have a cleaning service for cloth diapers, you have to do something to let them know they're welcome."
Be true to your brand
For some multicultural marketers, getting the word out about ethnic groups doesn't end with a sale. It ends with redefining how these groups are presented to the public. This is the case with Greencard Creative, a New York-based communications firm that is trying to change the perception of Latinos in America with their social platform, the American Latino Initiative.
"The mission of the initiative is to change the industry narrative about Latinos and to break through a stereotype," says Tatiana Pagés, Greencard's CEO and chief creative officer. "The first thing you need to do is see who these people are today and how they relate to your brand and the values of your brand."
As an example, Pagés recalls talking with women in both Mexico and the United States about Campbell's soup, one of her clients. In Mexico, Campbell's promoted the brand's convenience—quality food that doesn't require much time in the kitchen—to female consumers. But when Campbell's reached out to Mexican women who had immigrated to America, their approach changed. Now, the company talked to them as Latina housewives who like or want to spend more time in the kitchen. "Why are they talking to these women as a Latina brand when they are an American brand?" Pagés says. "That was a big insight, seeing why these brands are changing [the way they] talk to Latinos." If products or brands want to connect successfully with ethnic groups, Pagés explains, their marketing needs to go beyond ethnic insights and strive for something more universal.
As Latinos reinvent themselves and bridge the gap between old and new worlds, Pagés advises small businesses to stay true to their core identity and values. To connect with Latinos, she says, "you have to be transparent and be an honest brand. It has to feel honest and true to the essence, so they become loyal for the long term."