Some fundamental truths about multi-cultural marketing

On August 12, the world’s largest multi-cultural event came to a close.  The 30th Summer Olympic Games in London ended after 16 exciting days of competition.  In the two weeks that follow, London will welcome participants to the Paralympic Games.  These events bring together athletes from many nations.  When the events come to a close, all participants return to their countries of origin… Well, not quite!  You only have to look at the multi-ethnic face of Team Canada to see that Canada may not be the country of origin of many of our athletes.  The multi-ethnic array of the team mirrors the multi-cultural mix of our country and so many other countries of the world.

Changing demographics in Canada and the emergence of potentially lucrative ethnic markets have brought attention, effort and investment in marketing to ethnic groups, with varying degrees of success.   “Multi-cultural marketing” may be a buzz-word for some and big business for others.  Here’s my take on some seemingly obvious fundamental truths, which, when understood, should dispel some persistent misconceptions and support successful multi-cultural marketing strategies.

Fundamental truths

  • Ethnic groups are not “just one big happy family.”  There are sub-groups and cultural differences.

For example, there are linguistic and cultural differences among Africans, people of colour from the Caribbean and African-Americans.  However, I often wonder what ROI has been achieved on Canada Post’s full-page ads in the Community Contact newspaper for MoneyGram transfers to Africa.  Community Contact is a Montreal-based newspaper that caters primarily to Black Anglophones of Caribbean origin, who are avid cricket fans.  I was quite surprised that Canada Post did not chose to advertise its promotion of the World Cup of Cricket last year in the Community Contact newspaper, but continued to advertise MoneyGram transfers to Africa – a service used primarily by Québec’s African community, which does not comprise the majority of the newspaper’s readers.  This example illustrates that Canada Post, like many marketers, don’t understand that there are cultural sub-groups in ethnic communities with different lifestyles, interests, preferences for products and services and more importantly, they use different community media channels.

  • Ethnicity does not always play into consumer choices.  Members of Canada’s various ethnic and cultural groups generally feel a sense of belonging to Canada. 

An Ethnic Diversity Survey conducted by Statistics Canada indicated that half of the population identifies with their ethnic or cultural group.  The study also found that ethnic attachments persist, but weaken over several generations and Canadian identity increases with the number of generations a person’s family had lived in Canada.

I do believe that strong ethnic attachments emerge under certain conditions, such as international competitions and cultural and sporting events.  It is important for marketers to understand the conditions in which ethnicity and cultural affiliations become relevant to consumer engagement and purchase behaviour.  For example, the victory of the Italian team in the World Cup of Soccer and the stellar performance of the Jamaican Olympic team in the track events elicited strong ethnic and cultural affiliations among second and third generation Canadians of Italian and Jamaican heritage.

  • Ethnic marketing should not only be limited to ethnic products.  There is a higher demand by ethnic groups for some non-ethnic products than among the general population. 

An Environics Multicultural Imperative study found that recent immigrant and second generation members of visible minority groups are highly educated, are interested in status symbols, recognition and appearance and are likely to own their own homes within the first six years of living in Canada.

For this reason, marketers in the banking, retail and home improvement sectors should pay particular attention to ethnic consumers.  It is important to understand when and where to invest in marketing activities geared to this audience and build worthwhile relationships without alienating non-ethnic clients.

That said, there are needs that are specific to ethnic markets that are not being met through the mainstream supply chain.  A good example is beauty products, particularly hair and skin care products specific to the needs of ethnic groups, are not widely available in the major retail stores.  With the new immigrant and ethnic populations growing at a rate faster than non-visible minority groups in Canada, retail marketers should consider ethnic products as potentially lucrative contributors to their product line-ups.

The BIG picture

Accepting these fundamental truths, I believe, is an essential step in the right direction for successful multi-cultural marketing.  But this is not enough.   Although some marketers may consider multi-cultural marketing as a branch or special practice of mainstream marketing, multi-cultural marketing will play an increasingly important role in understanding overall consumer trends in Canada.   

Statistics Canada predicts that by 2031, roughly one in every three people in the labor force could be foreign born.   The presence, needs and influence of these consumers cannot be ignored, and will have to be addressed in demand surveys and other market research activities, now and in future years.   Multi-cultural marketing in Canada will have to be integrated in the marketing plan of every business that intends to be sustainably successful.  This, in my view, is the BIG picture.

Consider the following areas to focus on:

  • Get to know more about ethnic and cultural communities – not just demographic profiles but also research consumer patterns and purchase motivations and how they differ from those of the general population.  (Be aware that most of the available research is on economic and sociological subjects with generalized conclsions and therefore must be read with caution as the disparities in economic and social conditions among ethnic groups could be misleading to marketers.)
  • Poll customers purchasing ethnic products – ‘Did you find what you were looking for?’ ‘If not, can we order for you?’
  • Faith-based centres, ethnic/cultural associations, particularly among the older generation, are important centres of community life and open the door for local marketing activities such as the promotion of services discounted when bought/subscribed to by groups.
  • In marketing research surveys, integrate questions that will provide information relating to cultural differences (e.g. alcohol consumption, recreation, consumer purchases).
  • Acknowledge the Canadian identity of ethnic target market segments, while respecting their cultural values and differences in a positive way.

A final word

There is a growing body of research and resources to support multi-cultural marketing.  The studies cited in this blog as well as Marketing Magazine’s annual Multi-cultural conferences and featured articles provide some good information.  There may be other resources available and your comments and suggestions are welcome.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.

Published by Camille Isaacs-Morell

Enabling businesses and people to be successful. This is my mission, my life’s work. It’s always been what I have done wherever I’ve been employed, called to serve or to volunteer. An experienced business leader, my core values are truth, integrity, and respect. I believe that values-based leadership is critical for organizational success that is enabled by an engaged and empowered workforce. Working over the years in several senior marketing, communications, and executive leadership mandates for global, financial, healthcare, and non-profit organizations, it has been through times of transformation and difficult change that I have done my best work. In my blog posts, I share my perspectives on leadership, marketing and strategy that are based on my key learnings and observations over the years, all with the objective of helping others reach for success. In my spare time, I enjoy the beauty of nature which I reproduce in my pastel paintings.

4 thoughts on “Some fundamental truths about multi-cultural marketing

  1. Interesting to have concrete examples. Plus, examples within a country, as some old studies would neglect sub-cultures and attribute one culture to one nation. I believe one of the key-points of multi-cultural marketing would be segmentation. If you know exactly who your target audience is, then you can reach them more efficiently, because research can be made on their cultural backgrounds.

  2. Thanks Nadia for your comments. One of the obstacles to effective multi-cultural marketing is that there is not enough information on ethnic / cultural markets and segments within these markets. Some researchers are doing work on this, but much more can and should be done. Marketers are challenged to understand the conditions in which ethnicity and cultural affiliations become relevant to consumer engagement and purchase behaviour.

    1. Very good point. If you don’t have the right data, segmentation is not as effective as it should be. I mean, you don’t have what you need to properly design your marketing strategies according to the ethnical/cultural audience.

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