One Size Does Not Fit All: Put Emphasis On 'Multi' In Multi-Cultural

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As the general population continues to become more diverse, with ethnic Americans of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent making up 25% of the overall U.S. population, the days of one-size-fits-all marketing are gone forever. Today, marketers are much more aware of the significant opportunity that the varying demographic groups present and realize that they can no longer afford to neglect the combined buying power of ethnic Americans who, according to estimates, make up $1.3 trillion or 18.5% of all U.S. buying.

To appeal to these highly lucrative and diverse audiences, marketers are now abandoning traditional mass-marketing practices in favor of laser-focused, multicultural marketing efforts.

Multicultural marketing is defined as targeting and communicating to ethnic segments based on their diverse cultural framework. The opportunity cost of not creating a multicultural marketing strategy can translate into staggering losses for businesses either through the misinterpretation of marketing messages, the loss or damage to the brand image or worse the risk of customer alienation and defection. Given that the ethnic diversity in the U.S. is far more reflective of a global landscape, it is even more imperative for marketers to fully understand cultural differences, language treatments and purchase-drivers and to integrate those variations into their everyday marketing strategies and tactics.

While it has always been second nature for marketers to leverage surveys in order to quantify everything from general product interest to pricing and packaging, these surveys are even more valuable in creating and supporting multicultural marketing efforts. Before engaging in your own initiative, be sure you can answer the following questions and ensure that you leverage this knowledge to develop strategies that appeal to each unique demographic.

Show Me You Know Me

Multicultural marketing is no different than other marketing in that marketers must research, plan, develop and execute their campaigns based on the feedback from their various audiences. After all, what may be appealing to one culture might have the opposite effect on another. In order to avoid alienating customers, marketers are now applying web survey technology to pre-test everything from overall messaging to creative lay-out in order to appeal to a variety of audiences.

However, language is just one part of the overall communication process. To facilitate cultural adaptations, the savvy marketer starts with awareness and understanding-something that can be easily achieved by surveying and pre-testing assumptions to better define and use the right mix of cultural variables.

These variables could include something as simple as using multicultural faces in your campaign photography in order to increase the rapport between your organization and your audience or adjusting color preferences and graphic presentation forms to increase the effectiveness of your website presentation. To achieve a competitive edge in campaigns, marketers must understand the cultural differences and lifestyle characteristics of Latino versus Asian versus African, etc.

Another lifestyle variable that marketers must also consider is timing, particularly because holidays vary by both country and culture. Targeting a campaign around a holiday often requires timing adjustments. For example, Mother's Day is observed on a different day in Latin American countries than in the U.S. While some American-based Latinos have adopted the U.S. date, others have not. To meet the needs of various Latino audiences, savvy multicultural marketers may choose to spread the campaign over a longer period to cover the date range based on the preferences identified in their survey research.

Talk To Me in Ways I Will Understand

Certain brand names or taglines have completely different meanings when translated into various languages. For instance, The Dairy Association's huge success with the campaign entitled "Got Milk?" prompted them to expand their advertising efforts to Mexico. Unfortunately, they soon realized that the popular slogan, when translated, meant "Are you lactating?"

So before inadvertently insulting or alienating people due to innocent, yet damaging language errors be mindful of a couple of basic rules and use surveys to validate messages and language prior to execution:

Never underestimate the importance of translation. At a minimum, marketers must ensure that their translations are done by translation experts who understand how to write marketing copy. It is no longer enough to use a native-speaker, journalist or other professional writer. Today, the translator should be a trained copywriter as well. Before executing a campaign blind, be sure to validate through focus groups and surveys.

Test, test and test again. Before spending time, money, and resources make sure that both you and your customer are in synch. It is better to leverage surveys and measure the effectiveness of your efforts prior to launching a major campaign. Not only will this maximize your efforts and save money but more importantly it might preserve your brand from a multicultural misstep.

Appeal to My Instincts

One of the most common mistakes of multicultural marketing is to assume that a specific call to action will appeal to all targets. With online surveys, marketers are able to identify how one culture might respond stronger to a certain offer or value proposition, while another may be more motivated to buy based on manufacturer's reputation or product feature-set.

Another consideration for marketers is whether or not to incorporate humor into the marketing message. The appropriate and effective use of humor is a particular challenge in multicultural marketing, because what might be considered hysterical in one culture could be deeply offensive in another. However, remember one simple principle, and you are likely to avoid the pitfalls of misplaced humor. A wise man once said, "Use humor about situations, not people." Obviously, most humor is going to involve people in one way or another; however, it is relatively easy to use online surveys to pre-test offers and concepts in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

It Really Is a Small World After All

When marketers attempt a one size fits all approach they fail. Multicultural marketers know they need to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk in order to be effective.

For instance, the United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU), which traditionally conducts surveys mostly by mail, decided to leverage the web. As a result of the various distribution mechanisms they realized the need to statistically weight the data in order to correct for a potential response bias from checking account users. To avoid this potential bias, they applied a respondent authentication filter that enabled them to discover that members outside the U.S. were significantly more likely than their U.S. counterparts to respond to their web-based survey. Without this insight, the research results would have been biased, potentially leading to some poor decisions by the credit union's marketers.

By leveraging the global reach of web surveys, marketers can identify key drivers that exist in various cultures and grow their business by appealing to discreet segments and unique audiences. With a little bit of knowledge and know-how, marketers can create extremely effective messages that resonate on a personal level with each consumer.

Jim Stachura is Director of Research and Analytics at Aelera, an Alpharetta, Georgia-based consulting company. Jim can be reached at 770-619-7787 or via email at jim.stachura aelera.com. Meg Murphy is a Vice President at Inquisite, an Austin, Texas-based provider of online survey technology. Meg can be reached at 512.225.6800 or via email at mmurphy inquisite.com.

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