I was surprised by the breadth of my friends’ social media responses to the recent controversy involving NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. It exposed me to the many polarized views people hold about what it means to be an American, which PBS brilliantly outlined as part of a tool to foster unity in an age of diversity.
Effective marketing is all about connecting brands to consumers’ deep-seated beliefs about life and the role products and services play in it. Thus, the passionate comments from all sides have important implications for all marketers, especially as approaches to capitalizing on the growth of U.S. multicultural segments clash with people’s definition of what an American ought to be. Here are the three lessons I gleaned from observing the debate.
Three Impactful Multicultural Marketing Lessons
- Organizations can resist the need for multicultural marketing initiatives when many employees believe that to be American one needs to be mono-cultural. The assumption is multicultural marketing is not needed because once immigrants acculturate they will start behaving like all other consumers. One way to prove the need for targeted marketing is to analyze the sales of mainstream items for various levels of ethnic and non-ethnic penetration [download top sellers’ cheat sheet to find out how to do it] or to measure differences in brand awareness and consideration across segments. Another approach is to present multicultural initiatives as an opportunity to bring immigrants into the mainstream mindset.
- Brands must plan to address customer backlash if they want to take a specific stand in relation to the definition of being an
American. Coca-Cola defended its 2014 Super Bowl ad featuring a multilingual version of America the Beautiful, which endorses the view that an American is one who subscribes to the values of equality and mutual respect while acknowledging and celebrating our country’s immigrant roots. Similarly, marketers need to fully research the appropriate way to connect to multicultural passion points to avoid mistakes such as Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner protest ad. If businesses fear controversy, then they need to identify and research other ways to create an emotional connection with multicultural consumers.
- Companies should go beyond advertising and community outreach to drive multicultural relevance. They must ensure that customer experience is the same across all population segments at every touch point or else they risk losing business from alienated consumers. Thus, diversity efforts need to evolve past recruitment and retention of under-represented segments of employees and online diversity training, to fostering an open dialog on the various societal points of view on catering to unique needs of certain groups while setting the standard on how to work out differences. This can be an emotionally charged venture as evidenced by the NFL anthem debate, so companies need to test the process with a pilot group prior to rolling out an expanded diversity initiative focused on conflict management.
Maximizing a Brand’s Consumer Relevance
If brands are to maximize their revenue from all consumer groups, executives will need to become skilled at navigating differences of opinion on the definition of patriotism, equality, multiculturalism, and other American values. Using facts to pinpoint differences in consumer behavior across groups to support targeted efforts, planning for consumer backlash, fully researching approaches to emotionally connect with multicultural audiences, and enhancing diversity initiatives to foster open dialog and developing conflict management skills are ways in which marketers can maximize brand relevance across multiple segments of customers.
What approaches have you used to resolve the tension between your target consumers’ definition of being American and your multicultural marketing initiatives? Comment below.
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