Is your multicultural marketing speaking to cross-cultural audiences?

HookPR_Multicultural_marketing_01If you doubt that the face of America is changing, visit an elementary school.

The U.S. Census Bureau projected years ago that by 2020, 50.2 percent of children under age 18 would be ethnic minorities. In many states, including Delaware, that day has arrived early.

The next huge shift: by 2040, people of color will become the nation’s majority.

The demographic changes mean that multicultural marketing messages must speak to a variety of ethnic groups  — and a growing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Multicultural marketing is no longer an option. Savvy marketers must become more sensitive to and knowledgeable about multicultural communities and cross-cultural dynamics. Old marketing rules don’t apply anymore.

Ten to 15 years ago, campaigns focused on specific ethnic groups, such as African-Americans or Koreans, with specifically targeted “multicultural marketing.” Now marketers are striving to master a “total market approach” that aims to extend across general and ethnic markets with a meaningful message that appeals to all while appreciating specific cultural nuances.

The goal is to be culturally relevant to more people and engage in meaningful conversation. Here are five more tips to prepare for and respond to this demographic shift:

1. Understand the demographic shift.

Research your target multicultural communities and identify their needs. Don’t just say you want to reach Latinos or the LGBT community. Find out who they are. Develop the personas that you would for any other group that you plan to target.

Your content and messages should speak to them and reflect their needs. This is a best practice for content marketing in general that must be applied to a cross-cultural message or strategy.

Once you really get to know your targeted communities, you are less likely to commit cultural faux pas or use stereotypical elements. Remember, this is a new era that requires fresh thinking.

2. Learn and listen to what’s important to them.

Listen to conversations online to see what people are talking about. Do this as part of your regular marketing research. Use translation tools and targeted hashtags to discover what people are discussing on social media. For instance, #BlackTwitter offers an interesting lens for understanding trends in the African-American community. Tools such as are also useful for hashtag research.

3. Develop a strategy.

You can target a community with specific messaging — or you can create global messages, sprinkled with smart cultural nuances — that excel at reaching the larger population while speaking directly to one group.

Create culture-specific messages. Share content created in the language of your target audience. Creating an online community allows an organization to understand consumers’ experiences and hear their stories in their words. A perfect example is the AARP, which manages AARP Black Community, AARP en Español (Latino community), AARP AAPI Community (Asian American and Pacific Islander) and AARP Advocates (to promote social change).

These pages offer wildly distinct curated and original content that speaks directly to a very specific group of followers.

If you’re going to create dedicated communities, develop content that is specific to the groups you are targeting. This is tricky if you’re posting in Spanish or another language. Your links should also promote articles in that language.

Or you can think total market. Coca-Cola, a universal icon, excels at engaging diverse populations with a single message (think about the controversial multilingual “America the Beautiful” commercial). The company also has a single page on all social media channels for its U.S. consumers. Coca-Cola’s social media managers effectively use hashtags in other languages while writing the message in English. One post showed two Latina women enjoying colorful tacos with the message “Celebrate the taste of where you came from. #SaborACasa (tastes homemade).”

4. Understand how universal truths inspire stories.

Universals bind us and help us make sense of the world by making connections. Now more than ever, consumers want to connect the dots and see how others overcome the challenges in their lives.

For instance, Duracel’s new tagline, “Trust the power within,” leads to stories about people who have overcome adversity, including NFL player Derrick Coleman, who is hearing impaired.

In the ad, the Seattle Seahawks player says: “They told me I should just give up. . . but I’ve been deaf since I was 3, so I didn’t listen.” In this case, the “power within” was in the batteries used by his hearing devices over his lifetime. But the real story about perseverance and beating the odds was so much more universal.

Universal truths include coming of age, fear of failure, need for change, parent-child bond, price of progress, quest for knowledge and will to survive.

If you use a universal truth, step outside your comfort zone and determine how that theme plays out in the lives of people from a variety of cultures.

5.Prepare for adversaries and watchdogs.

You’re never going to please everyone. Don’t expect to. Some organizations have found that showing biracial or same-sex couples creates controversy. What might seem safe to you might turn people off. But if you’re looking to include diverse populations and engage them, you can’t be afraid to embrace an authentic position.

You can:

  • Do your research
  • Ask representatives from your target multicultural community for feedback on messaging
  • Show a genuine interest in and respect for people from other groups cultures
  • Engage in dialogue
  • Be transparent

The nation’s demographic shifts can no longer be ignored. You must prepare your marketing strategy. Jeffrey Bowman, a former Ogilvy PR executive and author of “RFRAME The Marketplace: The Total Market Approach to Reaching the New Majority,” says, “Advertising creative is not the only outcome of the total market approach. In part, it’s a statement for changing the perspective, of seeing things and doing things differently.”

Patricia V. Rivera is a marketing consultant and owner of the Lewes-based Hook PR Group (www.