Multicultural Marketing: Who Needs It?

December 3, 2014

If you don’t tailor your marketing to specific nationalities, you may be missing more than half your customers.

By Martha Spizziri

“Together, the ethnic groups make up a majority of top urban areas,” explains Lisa Skriloff, president of the marketing firm Multicultural Marketing Resources (MMR). And ethnic populations are growing outside cities, too, in unexpected places such as Nevada and Georgia. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau says ethnic communities will be the majority of the U.S. population by 2042. The largest ethnic group is Hispanics; Asian Americans are the fastest-growing.

“[Targeted marketing] is no longer just a nice thing to do, or a politically correct thing to do…it’s an ROI thing to do,” says Skriloff. It shows ethnic consumers that your company wants their business. Measures such as marketing in the customer’s native language boost response rates.

Marketers often try to appeal to all segments with ads featuring people of multiple ethnicities. But that approach can just fail to resonate with anyone. “It doesn’t say ‘this product is for me, this company cares about me,’” Skriloff says.

Yes, it can be tricky to market to ethnic groups; we’ve all heard anecdotes about translations gone awry. But one of the biggest mistakes is disregarding cultural differences, says Joseph Ofori-Dankwa, professor of international business at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU). For example, if you market to a Muslim audience on a Friday, your message might not be heard. Friday is a day of prayer for Muslims.

Getting help

All this may seem daunting, but there’s help. If you have limited resources, start by tapping into the knowledge of employees from different ethnic backgrounds, suggests Ofori-Dankwa. Other options: Some chambers of commerce are knowledgeable about the issue. Approach marketing professors at a local university and ask if students can do independent projects for you. Or try an economic development center, such as SVSU’s Center for Business and Economic Development.

There are also websites, LinkedIn groups, trade magazines, newsletters, and conferences (MMR has a list of meetings at Find an agency specializing in multicultural marketing through member directories of groups like the Association of Hispanic Ad Agencies and the Asian American Advertising Federation. The most important thing, says Skriloff: “Just do something.”