Marketing Communications in the U.S. is no longer a one-size-fits-all proposition. Effective message delivery to all residents of the United States requires that we examine the unique consumer behaviors of the country’s communities of color.
The designation “community of color” may be applied to a wide spectrum of minority and ethnic groups. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, approximately 30 percent of the U.S. population currently belongs to a racial or ethnic minority group. The Census Bureau projects that by the year 2100, non-Hispanic whites will make up only 40 percent of the U.S. population.
Successful multicultural messaging depends on messages and products that are crafted to each individual audience, rather than presented as recycled versions of products designed for mainstream audiences.
Reaching the African American Market.
Although African American consumers are unique, they are not difficult to reach. To understand what affects the consumer behaviors of African Americans, we need to examine the history that frames what it means to be black in America. Unlike groups such as Hispanics and Asians who immigrated to the U.S. in search of a better life, African Americans were brought to this country against their will, and faced tremendous adversity and denial of basic human rights.
Today’s African Americans continue to further establish their place in American culture, prove their worthiness, and empower themselves. Research tells us that they respond positively to messages that show they are important members of society.
Too often, African Americans are thought of as a single market segment. This is erroneous thought. Like other communities of color, African Americans are a diverse population. Clear differences exist by culture, region, social and economic status, as well as age, experience, and education.
Other considerations are:
• Half of African American households are headed by females
• African Americans are likely to live in larger households than whites
• In terms of high school graduation rates, an equal percentage of black students earn diplomas as white students.
There is no guaranteed technique for reaching African Americans, but major differences have been identified between how African Americans and whites respond to messaging:
• African Americans take messages more literally than their white counterparts.
• African Americans tend to like copy and visuals that directly correspond to one another.
• African Americans prefer lifestyles and contextual appeals. They find messages more believable that feature people in real situations. They are less responsive to talking heads or single-spokesperson appeals.
• African Americans tend to prefer message delivery vehicles that represent a variety of cultures, featuring people of various hair types, skin tones and personalities.
• African Americans look for positive images of black life.
Reaching the Hispanic/Latino Market
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics have surpassed blacks as the nation’s largest minority group (January, 2003). Like African Americans, the Hispanic/Latino market is a diverse group. The largest segments as identified by the Census Bureau are: Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, those who have immigrated from Central and South America, and a category known as “other Hispanics.”
Hispanics in the U.S. hold both a strong desire to preserve their traditional culture and values, and optimism about their children’s opportunities in America. There are important differences between Hispanics born in the U.S. and those who have immigrated: those born outside the U.S. or in Puerto Rico speak mainly Spanish, follow more news from Latin America, and preserve the traditions of their native country while also adopting U.S. culture. Yet they also say that their own lives are now improved, and feel closer now to the United States than they do to their native country. Succeeding generations of Hispanics—those born in the U.S.—speak English, watch English-language media, and follow U.S. news and events.3
Strategies to reach Hispanic/Latino audiences often miss the mark. Although 46 percent say they speak mostly Spanish or only Spanish in the home (71 percent of those born outside the U.S. speak mostly or entirely Spanish), merely translating English messages into Spanish can result in sending the wrong message or no message at all. In the 1970′s, General Motors tried the Chevy Nova in Mexico, no realizing that “nova” translated into “no go.”
In addition, presumptions can’t be made about attitudes, cultural values, and how much the Hispanic/Latino, or other ethnic group understands about products and services.
Guidelines for reaching Hispanic/Latino audiences include:
• Give detailed information; use demonstrations.
• Stick to literalism and reality; use strong visual images
• Use testimonials.
• Show a colorful, upbeat environment.
• Understand the importance of family.
• Go for neutrality in accent, appearance and lifestyle.
• Use informal Spanish in Spanish-language messaging.
• Stay away from translations or dubbings of English copy. Translations don’t always work. Copy should be adapted.
Reaching the Asian American/Pacific Islander Market
Like Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans are not a single race of people.
Asian Americans have a strong tie to family and culture; their households are larger than those of other Americans; and there is generally more than one worker in the home. Decisions are often made by both husband and wife, and word of mouth is important to Asian Americans. Eighty-five percent of respondents in a study said a friend’s recommendation was their primary source of consumer information.
Although Asian Americans represent a diverse group, some similarities in reaching them are:
• Asian Americans have strong ties to family and culture.
• Older Asians prefer messaging in their native language.
• Newspapers are a powerful medium for reaching Asian Americans.
• Asian Americans have a strong need to please and impress their families.
Reaching the American Indian/Alaskan Native Market
Native Americans are unique as individuals and in their tribal cultural heritage. Effective message delivery may differ from tribe to tribe and from community to community. Native Americans find meaning and wholeness in spirituality and harmony with nature. The family and the group take precedence over the individual, and they are anxious to be rid of stereotyped images of their culture.
Although they too represent a diverse group, some similarities in reaching the American Indian/Alaskan Native Market are:
• Native Americans place importance on credibility and honesty.
• Use bright and colorful visual images.
• They think storytelling is an important tool to pass on information, so stories/testimonials should be used to make a point.
• Native Americans like to be heard, they like to be given an opportunity to talk about their experiences, problems and suggestions.
Written by Gayle Wiegand