Growing up in the United States in the 80s as a Hispanic immigrant, I found myself straddling two cultures. One was based on my South American heritage, and the other was the American way. There wasn’t much diversity at my school. I was one of a handful of racially and ethnically diverse kids. At that time, people of different racial and ethnic groups were not prevalent in mainstream English-language TV shows and commercials, and culturally relevant content was limited. I focused intently on learning English so that I could integrate myself into the culture, so much so that when I finally did learn to speak English, I preferred not to speak Spanish at home.
So, I became acculturated to life in America. Growing up I would help translate for my parents and other family members, particularly as it pertained to health information. Fast forward four decades, where the multicultural landscape in the United States looks nothing like it did when I was in grade school.
In today’s age of multiculturalism, when it comes to marketing to ethnic and racial groups, “translating” a general message into various languages just won’t cut it.
America is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever, according to the 2020 Census report, and moving toward a multicultural majority. Ethnic and racial groups now represent 43% of the total U.S. population, which translates into substantial purchasing impact. In 2020, the buying power of Black/African American, Asian American, Native American, and Hispanic American persons was $4.9 trillion, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth. That number is expected to grow as the racial and ethnic composition of the country continues to diversify.
This shift has led to more and more companies marketing directly to multicultural audiences. But are they doing it effectively?
In today’s age of multiculturalism, when it comes to marketing to ethnic and racial groups, “translating” a general message into various languages just won’t cut it. For a multicultural marketing program to be effective it needs to be culturally relevant. That means the efforts should take into account aspects of the audience’s lives that may be specific to their ethnic or racial identity, or some other social norm that is important to them and their community. To connect and engage with multicultural audiences, your approach should:
Having the right person as the “face” of your campaign can go a long way in making sure your audience identifies with your message. People who are ethnically and racially diverse want to be seen, heard and understood, so highlighting people who represent the target audience is the first step in effective multicultural marketing. Yet beyond just depicting them in imagery, be sure to reflect their lived experiences that incorporate culturally relevant messages, situations, and art direction. Also avoid perpetuating stereotypes and misperception by doing research and consulting people from the communities you are trying to reach. Working with real people and representing their lives in your campaigns is the most effective way to achieve these goals. On behalf of the Family Heart Foundation, Merryman Communications recently worked with one of the Foundation’s African American advocates to successfully launch a campaign that included educating Black/African American persons about inherited cholesterol-related conditions that can lead to early heart disease and stroke. The campaign highlighted this advocate’s experience with heart disease and featured him and his family in the creative. Furthermore, the team worked together to develop content for the Foundation’s website that discussed heart disease in the Black/African American community and risks affecting this population.
There are certain behaviors, norms, values and beliefs that are unique to each racial and ethnic group. Similarly, there are different cultures within each group. Take Asian Americans for example — their culture is traced back to more than 20 countries in Asia, including the Indian subcontinent. Not only are there multiple different languages but also subcultures and generational differences within each racial and ethnic group you are targeting. While your audiences will appreciate you sharing information in their native language, understanding their culture will help you build stronger connections and exert a greater influence on them. Also, be sure to communicate with the preferred and most respectful language. Bookmarking resources, such as the CDC’s Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication and The Diversity Style Guide, can be helpful in this regard.
Avoid perpetuating stereotypes and misperception by doing research and consulting people from the communities you are trying to reach.
A mass media advertising campaign won’t be effective for all your audiences. You need to be intentional about reaching each specific racial and ethnic group where they are. While social media is a platform that is used by many multicultural groups, disseminate messages and content according to where your intended audience congregates or gets their information. For example, if you want to employ a digital strategy to target Hispanics and Black/African American persons 18-49, then leveraging YouTube would be the best approach given that this is where these populations are online, according to Pew Research Center’s report on Social Media Use. On the other hand, if you want to target Asian Americans, you need to consider that 34 percent of the population has limited English proficiency so it will be essential to leverage channels that are language-specific for an effective campaign.
Have you noticed when you’re scrolling through your feed in May you only see Asian American persons because it’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month? The biggest mistake companies make when marketing to multicultural audiences is doing so only during awareness months. Although most brands do this with good intentions, it dilutes the authenticity of the brand and doesn’t build trust. Connecting with multicultural audiences isn’t just a one-time awareness month post, it should be part of your overall year-long marketing efforts.
What are your audience’s traditions, beliefs and customs? For example, family is central to the Hispanic culture (known as familismo), they take care of each other and make decisions as a family, especially when it comes to healthcare. This includes extended family such as grandparents, uncles/aunts, and cousins. Hispanics feel a strong connection to their country of origin, so cultural identity is also a factor in their decision-making process. Gather insights on what influences your audiences and use those insights to develop your strategy.
Connecting with multicultural audiences isn’t just a one-time awareness month post, it should be part of your overall year-long marketing efforts.
Multicultural marketing requires embracing diverse cultures to influence behavior. So the next time a cultural awareness month comes around, don’t miss the mark by sharing a translated social media post with a stock image. Instead, consider the cultural mindset of your audience and diversify your marketing strategy all year-round.