Multicultural Marketing: Growth Means Opportunity
By Dan Woog
Culture cannot be learned, says Wanla Cheng, president of multicultural
marketer Asia Link Consulting Group. It must be absorbed by osmosis.
For example, a non-Chinese marketing expert might know that in Chinese
culture the number eight is propitious and four is bad, but he cannot truly
understand what a Chinese immigrant wants –- or fears -– from an American bank.
Without that understanding, a marketer can't communicate with his client's
target audience: Chinese bank customers. And that's why, according to Cheng, it's
vital for marketers to be members of their target audience.
Multicultural marketing has arrived. Asian Americans, African Americans,
gays and lesbians, and especially -- thanks to their surging numbers and
immense buying power -- Hispanic/Latino Americans all represent lucrative
and growing markets.
Marketing and Cultural Skills Needed
Does this mean improved job prospects for marketing experts who are
"Definitely," says Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, CEO of Enlace
Communications, a Hispanic/Latino marketing company. But simply being
Hispanic/Latino, Asian, African American or gay does not mean you're a
"It's not a birthright," notes Newman-Carrasco. "You have to
leverage your culture, heritage, insights and background. You need
multicultural and marketing skills."
Vijay Chattha, "chief talker" at marketing agency VSC Consulting,
advises multicultural job seekers to consider: "What skills do I bring to
the table?" For example, if a prospective employer is expanding in your
country of origin, highlight the connection in your cover letter.
"We market a lot to Indians and Pakistanis," Chattha says.
"It's important to know that applicants speak, read or write those
languages, or have traveled there. Even spending time in ethnic areas of big
American cities is good, especially if you've looked at marketing strategies
Right now, the multicultural marketing sector needs analysts, researchers,
writers, translators and salespeople, says Newman-Carrasco. Multicultural
marketers should possess foreign-language skills, particularly Spanish or Asian
languages, and the ability to understand other groups from anthropological,
sociological and cultural perspectives.
"Many people are 'cultural,' but few are really 'multi,'"
Newman-Carrasco notes. "You have to understand the whole spectrum."
For example, Mexicans should be able to relate to Cubans, Puerto Ricans and
Central Americans. When hiring, Newman Carrasco looks for an understanding of
sales and metrics plus a little common sense.
Cheng seeks candidates with marketing experience, preferably "a
creative problem-solver who knows about strategic business plans."
Chattha likes strong Internet skills, because "blogs and chat rooms are
increasingly important ways to get your marketing message out." He advises
job seekers to network through multicultural trade organizations, like the Hispanic Marketing &
Communication Association and South
Asia Media Marketing Association (Note: Asian-language site).
Unlike Cheng, Newman-Carrasco says you don't need a multicultural heritage
to be a good multicultural marketer and suggests immersing yourself in another
culture. Some African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos and Asian Americans prefer
not being identified as multicultural marketers, she says. "They fear
being siphoned out of the mainstream."
Know the Corporate Culture
Every company treats multicultural marketing differently. "Some use it
as a check-off box without really empowering it," says Newman-Carrasco.
"Others use it as a way to grow the company, and the people in that
department really get noticed." Before taking a multicultural marketing
job, she says, ask about the budget and to whom the position reports: community
relations or the CEO?
Howard Buford, founder and CEO of multicultural marketing agency Prime
Access, agrees with Newman-Carrasco. "We've got people working in
Hispanic, African American, and gay and lesbian markets who are not part of
those groups," he says. "And when marketing companies were all male,
an awful lot of men sold an awful lot of Tampons." However, he admits,
"you probably have an edge if you're part of a group. You have a deeper
understanding of the consumer's mind-set. Multicultural people probably do have
an internal sense of what motivates the consumer, what media they trust, what
products they use. It always helps to live the life of your consumer."
Outlook: Continued Growth
Looking ahead, Buford believes the surge in Hispanic/Latino and
Spanish-language marketing will continue, particularly in areas like financial
services, entertainment, automotive and travel.
Regarding specific job opportunities, Newman-Carrasco sees growth in the
consumer insight and innovation areas (new technology, such as podcasts and
cell phones), "ethnographies" (lifestyle studies, like living with
families as they open cereal boxes and videotaping their breakfast routines)
and entrepreneurial opportunities (hiring outside marketers with insights).
There is good money to be made in multicultural marketing with more to come,
says Newman-Carrasco. "This is an additional skill set, and companies now
recognize its importance."
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