Reaching Multicultural Consumers with Authenticity

By Bruce Kirton, Director of Strategic Planning and Research, UWG

By nature, consumers from different cultures operate from different points of view, and this mode of operation also applies to us, the marketers. When we're looking to reach consumers from different cultures, how do we bridge the gap in perspectives to reach them authentically?

I had a coworker that I would occasionally take to a nearby soul-food restaurant for lunch. He was always worried for his safety because he thought everyone in the restaurant was yelling and arguing, but I had to explain that that was just the way some black people interact, with very spirited conversation. What's more interesting is that I worked with this level of discomfort every day in our office.

People of color are constantly adjusting to mainstream culture throughout their day-to-day lives, and most of their peers are completely unaware of this until the roles are reversed and they are the minority in the situation. As people of color, we develop a talent for code-switching from situation to situation--in our speech, our body-language, our sense of humor, our food tastes, to name a few.

What does this mean for marketing?

Along with the mainstream audience, multicultural consumers are bombarded with commercials all day--an ad has a better chance of breaking through to them if it has a cultural connection that pulls on their heart strings a little differently than something that was designed for the general market.

For example, Tide produced a commercial in which the camera panned-in on a sunny living room, on the couch where a Black father is taking a nap with his newborn on his chest, and the shot ends close enough to show the wedding band on his finger. The spot did so well that it was placed into general market rotation. It worked for the general market because it appealed to emotional family nostalgia, and Black viewers took notice because we were being portrayed as a traditional family unit rather than a broken home without a father.

If you're obviously targeting me, and it's culturally relevant, that's different than if you're trying too hard, and you didn't get it right--like the Burger King ad featuring Mary J. Blige that never aired. The issue with that commercial was not the fact that Mary J. Blige was in it, or even that she was singing. The misalignment occurred in the way she was used to sing about the food, rather than have the food featured in an authentic experience from her life. I'm only truly upset by strategies built on assumptions of how my culture behaves. We're not monolithic; we have a wide range of behavior and attitudes just like everyone else, and of course, an understanding of multiple perspectives is valuable to people of color as well. If you're open-minded, you learn something from everybody.

A smart marketer will also have an understanding of when cultural resonance is more important to connecting consumers to their brand. In a situation where I'm buying a product and I'm mostly concerned about price and concrete product attributes--like a cough syrup that addresses my specific symptoms--the cultural resonance in the brand messaging is less important. In a situation where I'm buying a product and I'm looking to align with a particular lifestyle and achieve a particular feeling--like the feeling of success when I buy a nice car--the cultural resonance is very important.

When it comes to authentic brand messaging, the open understanding of different perspectives has to be incorporated throughout the process--not just in the finished product of an advertisement. In other words, as marketers, we have to walk the walk. In order to reach a diverse set of consumers, we need to have a diverse set of minds in the room as we strategize and execute our campaigns from the start. We also have to understand when cultural resonance is most important, so we can apply it appropriately.