For years, consumers in the United States have been described as “empowered” — in control of the marketplace, wielding the power to influence everything from customer service to customized products to pricing. Empowerment also continues to be a goal among Hispanic and African-American consumers. But like many other positive experiences in life, empowerment can be complex and fraught with conflict.
According to a new study from The Futures Company, the new realities of empowerment are a mixed blessing for African Americans and Hispanics and are causing equal amounts of exhilaration and stress among these two ethnic
groups. And these new realities can be seen in four key trends: “sustaining a resilient optimism,” “a ‘being the first’ mindset,” “experiencing cultural conflict” and “raising the bar in the marketplace.”
“Today, both Hispanic and African-American consumers are very stretched in all phases of life, and they have added pressure to keep up,” notes Sonya Suarez-Hammond, director of the study and VP of Multicultural Marketing Insights for The Futures Company. “It actually requires a lot of hard work today for Hispanics and African Americans to take advantage of, and enjoy, the positive aspects of becoming empowered.”
The Yankelovich Multicultural Marketing Study (MMS) 2009, to be released to study sponsors on March 27, blends exclusive data and insights to explore this central theme of the new realities of empowerment. There are both rewards and pressures to empowerment for African Americans and Hispanics. Also, some influences enhance empowerment for these ethnic consumers, while other influences hinder empowerment.
On the positive side, African Americans and Hispanics are gaining more status and empowerment than ever before, due in part to the election of our nation’s first African-American President and to the fact that the Hispanic population is poised to nearly triple from 2008 to 2050, from 46.7 million to 132.8 million. In fact, 78% of African Americans, 72% of Hispanics and 77% of Non-Hispanic Whites “believe African Americans as a group have more power today than ever before.” And 74% of Hispanics, 73% of African Americans and 64% of Non- Hispanic Whites believe the same about Hispanic power as a consumer group, according to a February 2009 MMS recontact survey.
But with the up side of empowerment comes the down side. For example, even though President Obama’s election has made both African Americans and Hispanics significantly more optimistic about the country’s future and their own future (see Table 1), that milestone was achieved in the midst of a recession, and these ethnic populations report more economic anxiety than Non-Hispanic Whites (see Table 2).
These new realities of empowerment are reflected in the cultural pride, passions, desires and needs of these ethnic consumers today and can be seen in many ways, most notably in this year’s four emerging trends:
1. U.S. Hispanics and African Americans are “sustaining a resilient optimism” in their attitudes toward economic uncertainty, partly because they have enhanced access to opportunities and information, along with an extremely strong sense of spirituality. Today, among all high-anxiety consumers, 70% of Hispanics say they are optimistic, compared to 48% of Non-Hispanic Whites.
2. U.S. Hispanics and African Americans have a “being the first” mindset that fuels a need-to-know-before-others attitude, which is often overlooked or underestimated. For these ethnic consumers, this mindset can serve as a pathway to increased feelings of empowerment. Seventy-five percent of both African Americans and Hispanics, compared to 56% of Non-Hispanic Whites, believe that it’s a sign of success to be “among the first to know about new ideas, trends or things that are happening in today’s world.”
3. U.S. Hispanics and African Americans are “experiencing cultural conflict.” Greater empowerment allows these ethnic consumers to express themselves more fully but also causes internal and external tensions. Today, 72% of African Americans and 63% of Bicultural Hispanics “think a lot about how being African American or Hispanic affects them.”
4. Because of their increased empowerment, these ethnic consumers are “raising the bar in the marketplace,” so they have more marketplace expectations and judge marketers on more criteria than Non-Hispanic White consumers do. For example, Hispanics and African Americans are demanding more organic multiculturalism — they want companies to move away from a self-serving multicultural approach to something that is inherently more real and sincere. And 77 percent of African Americans and 71% of Hispanics say, “Because businesses are too concerned about offending the general population, they fail to take a firm stand on issues that are important to minorities,” vs. 54% of Non-Hispanic Whites.
The study points to a huge opportunity for marketers, according to Suarez-Hammond. “The challenges posed by the new realities of empowerment, in the midst of today’s economic climate, provide an opportunity for companies to gain loyal African-American and Hispanic customers,” she says. “About ninety percent of African Americans and Hispanics say that companies that make sincere efforts to be part of the Hispanic or African-American community deserve their loyalty. So it’s definitely worth the effort to try to connect with these ethnic consumers.”
To view charts CLICK above on ‘More Images’
The study was developed in collaboration with Burrell Communications and Dr. Felipe Korzenny, professor and director of the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University.