Multicultural, General Market Agency or Both – What’s in Your Brand’s Best Interest?

By Terry Soto, Author of Marketing to Hispanics A Strategic Approach to Assessing and Planning Your Initiative and President and CEO, About Marketing Solutions, Inc.

The multicultural agency world has grown very sophisticated over the years. However, the fact remains that multicultural agencies continue to have a strong Spanish-language and Spanish language media focus. One could argue they have been pigeon holed into the Spanish language realm because many marketers equate multicultural and especially Hispanic marketing with the Spanish language.

Recognizing the largely Bilingual and English preferred U.S. Hispanic market of today, multicultural agencies are seeing and are recommending the need to develop Bilingual and English language creative for English language media, if for no other reason than because it makes strategic sense to target a brand’s target consumer profile in this manner. But herein lie multiple challenges: 1) Multicultural agencies typically don’t have the budgets to make English language media buys, 2) Multicultural agencies don’t own the responsibility for buying English language media and clients want to avoid having two separate agencies planning and buying English language media, 3) Marketers want to avoid two sets of English language messages running side by side on likely the same media, and at the crux of the matter, 4) Clients are still treating general and multicultural work as separate efforts instead of thinking of the brand’s target profile segment (s) with the races, ethnicities and cultures represented in the target profile and developing strategy to address the needs and wants and media behavior of these buyers rather than targeting based racial, ethnic or cultural characteristics.

This is a serious dilemma for multicultural agencies and one which often corners them into recommending Spanish language creative and media even when it makes more sense for a brand to emphasize a bilingual or English language driven culturally relevant campaign.
To overcome some of these challenges, some marketers have opted to consolidate their agencies and assign their whole creative and media accounts to their general market agencies. In doing so, the idea is to have a brand’s strategy, creative and media planned and implemented in a more integrated fashion, and certainly more efficiently and effectively than if handled separately. At least that’s the intention. However, the truth is that once in-house, many general market agencies continue to treat multicultural and general market work separately, and multicultural work as an afterthought instead of thinking of the client’s target profile as one. In many cases, general market agencies continue to minimize the importance of multicultural consumer targets and to overstate the effects of a general market approach so as to minimize the impact of media dollar allocation that diverts dollars from general market media budgets. In the end, this approach doesn’t end up being the optimal solution intended by the client.

I propose that optimal solution as follows:

1. Don’t consolidate.
2. Use both agencies to define the brand’s or brands’ target profile (s) segments and to consider the races, ethnicities and cultures these segments include
3. Utilize the input and experience of both agencies to develop the required integrated business strategy
4. Use both agencies to jointly define the messaging strategy including the contextual and subtle nuances that will make the creative relevant and relatable to the brand’s target profile
5. Jointly develop or participate in the creative development process
6. Hire a separate media agency to plan and place an integrated media plan to neutralize the battle for media dollars between agencies
7. Ensure the media agency allocates media budgets based on what it’s going to take to reach the brand’s target effectively and efficiently rather than allocating by race, ethnicity and culture

It’s important for marketers to accept and recognize that in today’s U.S. consumer market it is almost assured that most brands’ target segments will be comprised of multicultural consumers; in many cases disproportionately so. As such, it’s time clients to step up their game in acquiring the competency to understand the implications on their brands and to take a leadership position in how they lead the work of their agencies. Consumer market ignorance or market biases are not valid excuses for either clients to defer direction to their agencies or for agencies to bias their market focus. Turf battles between agencies will always exist so it is always in clients’ best interest to make it clear how the business should be managed and the results for which each agency is responsible individually and collectively.
In the end, multicultural and general market agencies have their respective expertise and deliver significant value. It is the client’s responsibility to ensure this collective expertise is leveraged in favor of the brand, not in favor of fees, commissions or egos.

Terry Soto is President and CEO of About Marketing Solutions, Inc., a Burbank, California – based strategy consulting firm specializing in helping her clients dramatically improve overall business performance by optimizing their strategies to succeed in the Hispanic market. te***@ab*********************.com.

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