March 02, 2012

  By Jose Villa / Sensis We hear the term “multicultural” a lot. Marketers, academics, and industry leaders love to talk about multicultural groups and the growth of America’s multicultural population — the various minority groups, including Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and “other” (Middle Eastern, European, South Asian, etc.) that are rapidly expanding in size and influence. As a marketer, I’ve always grappled with the question of whether this is an actual segment or just convenient nomenclature, created by corporate America to neatly package what would otherwise be very distinct groups of individuals. It always helps to step back and think about what a segment means from a marketing perspective. Marketers are always looking for ways to group individual consumers based on dimensions that make them similar. Trying to find elements about them — such as demographic (age, education, income, geography, employment) or psychographic (personality, values, attitudes, interests, or lifestyles) characteristics — that can be grouped, or clustered to simplify their world. As marketers, we’re always looking for scale — the ability to group an overwhelming number of unique individuals (often millions) into groups we can target based on shared characteristics. A commonly accepted form of segmenting consumers is based on ethnicity. There are thousands of people — like me — making a living on this accepted segmentation when it comes to Hispanics. While those of us who work in the area of marketing to various ethnic groups are typically categorized as multicultural marketers, do the consumers we collectively work to reach act, think or behave similarly? For marketers and brands, is there something about how they think about products and services and/or how they consume media that makes them similar? Is there such a thing as a multicultural consumer segment? Those of us in the business of marketing to Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians and other non-general market audiences have always been hesitant about this amalgamation. As specialist marketers, it goes against our very reason for existing to combine disparate ethnic segments. Hispanics are unique, and fundamentally different from their general market brethren, requiring unique marketing and communications to reach them. This logic has always carried over to the difference between Hispanics and other ethnic groups — namely African-Americans and Asians. However, at the risk of sounding blasphemous to my fellow multicultural marketers, I posit it might be time to reconsider the concept of a multicultural segment. As the demographics of the U.S. rapidly change, and a growing Hispanic, African-American, and Asian (among other ethnicities) youth population exhibits characteristics very different from those of previous generations, I see evidence a multicultural youth segment does indeed exist. This may sound like the “urban” segment popularized in the late ‘90s. Urban was a term used to describe a primarily Hispanic and African-American population of mostly young males living in major urban centers — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. What I’m seeing is much broader, encompassing more than just Hispanics and African-Americans, with more gender balance, and spread out across a more diverse geography that includes suburbs and cities across the U.S. This all came into focus recently, when our agency was tasked with the unusual assignment of developing a marketing strategy to reach a pan-multicultural audience of Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, and Native American youth, ages 13-25. We conducted qualitative research — focus groups and ethnographic interviews — with these individuals from each of these groups. Our initial hypothesis was we would find more differences than similarities, and creating a “multicultural” segmentation schema of youth was not going to be feasible. However, we were surprised to find some interesting psychographic similarities. Primary among them was the fact that minority youth shared a similar life of duality experience — they live in both the cultural mainstream and their personal sphere of heritage. While preliminary in nature, our research uncovered the existence of a shared psychographic profile among these Hispanic, African-American, Asian and Native American youth of belonging to the “other.” They can navigate between these worlds effortlessly despite differences in language, appearance, or cultural nuance. They live in a multicultural world defining themselves by their likes and dislikes and not race or ethnicity. Whereas the mainstream is racing to understand the meaning of “multicultural,” minority youth feel they are the very definition of multicultural. They still live, however, within specific, tangible groups defining themselves as “other than” or “different from” the mainstream, multicultural as it may be. More research is warranted to validate our new hypothesis. However, recent data from the Census points to an interesting twist on this “multicultural segment.” According to the most recent 2010 Census, multiracial children are the fastest growing youth group in the U.S. A recent Pew Report also pointed to a rise in mixed-race marriages. The implications for marketers are significant. First, the efficiencies and scale I talked about would be significant if brands could develop marketing programs that worked across a larger audience of minority groups. The future implications are more pronounced, considering the size of the multicultural youth population in this country and what their coming of age would represent in shifting the overall consumer landscape. For those of us involved in Hispanic marketing, there is a big question about how this would change how we look at the Hispanic market. Is this just a new segment we need to think about? Since this “multicultural segment” is by definition bigger than the Hispanic-only component, marketers might see some very attractive scale. Ultimately, I think this is a conversation we as multicultural marketers should lead, no matter where it takes us. Courtesy of ThinkMulticultural.


the question posed is a good one, but not really a new one. the simple fact is that 'multicultural' as a concept is a perfectly valid one. however, while in the past it was often thought of, described as, and marketed to as a segment (or variety of segments), the world has indeed changed. the notion of multicultural as a segment descriptor is outdated, obsolete and a bit archaic. multicultural is now (and probably for a good long time now has been) a descriptor of the total market. the market as a whole has always been multicultural. it has a great many different cultures (whether defined by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nativity, etc, etc). and all these cultures interact to some degree of magnitude. the mainstream (whatever that term really means) is so impacted by all these different cultures that even the idea of a mainstream becomes meaningless. today's world is perhaps more aptly deserving to be called multicultural because, in effect, it's grown into the label...finally. even as shortly as 10-15 years ago, i'm not sure it had yet matured into itself just yet. and the world of tomorrow will likely be even more convoluted, if we believe what futurists say about the macrotrends we are currently experiencing. but with so many sub-segments of the population expanding, thriving and better defining themselves, what ELSE can, or should, it be called? 'multicultural' is just fine.

An interesting question. From my point of view the idea that "multicultural" might not be a valid segment seems rather strange. All segmentations are potentially valid - the most important question is whether or not it creates a more valuable way of looking at the market. For every company that makes a particular segmentation, there is another company who sees those groups as homogeneous from there point of view. In our work the most challenging and fun part is finding new ways of segmenting populations - ones that change the rules of the marketplace (and are not used by everyone else) are the ones that typically create added value and competitive advantage for our clients. Mike

The blogger raises an interesting point for discussion but needlessly overcomplicates it. The "Market" has always been multicultural, it just hasn't been perceived in those terms until fairly recently as a marketing discipline. That youth, in particular, are increasingly multicultural is evident to anyone paying attention. Whether that's relevant or not depends on the interest of the marketer -- if the product is acne medicine the marketer focuses on the commonalities of the youth segment. If the product is an SUV, the marketer focuses on the characteristics of the potential buyer that drives the purchasing decision. Often, and happily for those of us making a living in multicultural marketing, that means designing and implementing varying campaigns aimed at distinct groups because that is what is most effective today and for some time to come.

I imagine a marketer would need to know whom his target audience is in order to know if the message needed to be packaged in a multicultural way. Nike designed an entire line of shoes and clothing specifically for Native Americans, yet Nike's audience tends to include, well - everyone. Nike took into consideration the cultural and physical tendencies of Native Americans to connect with an underserved population.

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