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Excepts from
Thaddeus H. Spatlen, Copyright 2000

Multicultural Marketing

Multicultural marketing has evolved since the early 1990s. Prior to that time, marketing to diverse racial and ethnic groups was generally referred to as minority marketing.

While the term “marketing to minorities” is still used to refer to the targeting of racial/ethnic groups, diversity in multicultural terms extends far beyond race and ethnicity to embrace life styles such as sexual orientation or distinctive value orientations associated with dietary practices embracing vegetarian and organic food preferences or catering to disability populations.

Broadly, multicultural marketing can be defined as the process of using market exchange concepts, methods and techniques to recognize and respond to culturally-distinct group characteristics and preferences of individuals, organizations, and communities.

The essence of multicultural marketing requires culture and its complexities to be at the core of management and strategy. Cultural distinctiveness of target groups is emphasized in contrast to the dominant and relatively standardized European-American norms of traditional marketing. Cultural diversity is emphasized over cultural homogeneity.

Whereas traditional marketing generally assumes assimilation into the dominant culture, multicultural marketing recognizes differences from the dominant cultural in many forms—language, customs, music, food, folk art, and other forms of cultural expression.

The language characteristics and cultural traditions of many immigrant groups commonly lead to “high context” relationships that foster a group-centeredness, stronger social bonds, and more close-knit interactions than typically occur in the dominant culture.

They have not assimilated into European-American culture and indeed attempts to persuade, seduce, or even force groups to assimilate have led to external and internal conflicts among minorities.

As America proceeds to more and more diversity, it is the model of acculturation--where cultures exist side-by-side and influence each other--that may be more effective.

The marketing implications that follow are that communications media in languages other than English are needed to prevent market isolation because of language. Or, if English is the appropriate language, the focus might be on media that serves a community of color.

There could be an emphasis on word-of-mouth messages or, alternatively, less emphasis on
individualistic and self-centered messages and themes.

Multicultural marketing also embraces changing cultural traditions in the United States. Another reflection of the shift to multicultural marketing is illustrated in responses
to changing demographics and increased market power of culturally-distinct groups of consumers.

The growing presence and importance of Southeast Asians and Hispanics in Southern California have brought about noticeable marketing changes. Retailers in malls serving Southeast Asians have altered their merchandise assortments to reflect substantially higher proportions of petite sizes than in the stores serving other population groups.

Supermarkets catering to Latino (especially Mexican Americans) frequently alter store décor, musical programs and incorporate Cinco de Mayo and other holidays in their store operations. Such responses illustrate how multicultural marketing benefits both consumers and enterprises. Consumers are better served with more appropriate choices in goods and services. Enterprises benefit by increased patronage and more competitive performance in their operations.

Along with the culture as traditionally defined, the political, legal, and social factors that play into the group’s history in America must be considered and understood.

Racism is part and parcel of this package and metrics point to the continued influence of racism on multicultural communities in income, health, poverty, crime, education, and wealth. This ranges from the stark deprivation of the American Indian on some reservations to the glass ceiling faced by the most well-endowed Asian Americans.

Multicultural marketing broadens the field in several ways. It assigns meaning and importance to groups and communities that have been neglected and traditionally under-served.

Marketing becomes more culturally-sensitive, inclusive, pluralistic, and progressive than was and is the case in traditional marketing.

Multicultural marketing represents a forward-looking perspective in the theory and practice of marketing.


The multicultural approach makes marketing more inclusive and challenging. Beyond the racial/ethnic designations and accompanying demographics, there is a new
paradigm regarding the marketing process and marketing practice.

Marketers are challenged to acknowledge, understand and celebrate the differences in the
marketplace that provided a basis for exploring new market opportunities.

The dimensions extend beyond the demographics of race, ethnicity and lifestyle to include
sexual orientation, disability and other distinctions with cultural origins. It could be simplicity as a consumer life style and environmentally-oriented consumption.

The focus extends to highly specialized product offerings in organic food preparation or in the consumption of conventional products such as using ethnic identity to market
men’s fragrances under the Michael Jordan label.

The shift is towards the ultimate in customization that leads to greater consumer satisfaction based on cultural diversity and differences.

Consider that within the Asian American designation there are as many as fifteen to twenty subcultures ranging from Asian-Indian to Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to Cambodian and Vietnamese. As the second and third generation of each of these groups flourish, American culture is fused.

This makes the mixtures and combinations more complex and challenging for business to find culturally-appropriate ways of determining just how assimilated or culturally-distinct each sub-group has become.

Thus, within each subculture many finer distinctions can be made with respect to generational differences, language preferences and degree of assimilation into the American mainstream. Creative marketers can make as many sub-segments as there are profitable and consumer-satisfying distinctions to be served.

Evidence of the paradigm shift has been found in academic arenas for a number of years and has recently surfaced in business periodicals talking about such topics as the fusion of Hip Hop in mainstream marketing and the Hispanic market.

The approach is becoming institutionalized in other ways as well. There are awards to recognize outstanding marketing campaigns and programs targeted to specific groups.

The American Marketing Association’s “Effie” award for advertising
effectiveness in orienting promotional themes and messages to different cultural subgroups is one such example.

Beyond the obvious economic and business reasons for the shift to multicultural marketing, there are political and even societal changes that should be recognized.

Multiculturalism in related fields of education, entertainment, and cultural studies evolved to acknowledge the merits and desirability of a more pluralistic and heterogeneous view of the world.

This is in contrast to notions of a “melting pot” into which groups had not melted and for promised integration of the civil rights movement into a society in which groups by preference and circumstances remained socially distinct, if not ideologically and politically separate.

In all senses, a greater measure of cultural pluralism has come to marketing. Diversity and heterogeneity are to be pursued in strategic and tactical programs rather than homogeneity and mass marketing.

The best illustration is with the term “urban” (read initially as African American) but which now includes apparel, music, hair styles, and other forms of consumption which have their origins in America’s ethnically-dominant inner cities.

The influence of “urban” on consumption patterns has spread to suburban malls and communities in addition to youth cultures throughout the world.

When pursuing these attractive multicultural markets, it’s important not to fall into the same trap as mainstream marketers. Multicultural markets are unlike white non-Hispanic markets yet marketers sometimes treat them similarly. Likewise, minority markets themselves are by no means homogenous and it’s important to understand the many cultures that are represented in the catchall classifications created the government.

The transition from one majority culture that permeates mass marketing to multiple cultures calls for a new model to be successful. One size fits all and one-stop shopping will no longer be the order of the day. Enterprises cannot look at national demographics and expect to capture any markets. The niche market will be the rule rather than the exception.

Markets will be defined by smaller groups with their own unique demographics. These markets will be defined geographically because ethnic groups are concentrated by geographical areas.

Culture will become very important to marketing. Ethnic groups have their own music. Their folk art informs the colors they like and the clothing they wear. Food is specific to ethnicities. Even if the group speaks English, they may lean towards communication in their native languages.

This new approach must embrace the full cultural and social spectrum of each market segment.

As the numbers grow, minority populations will increasingly assert themselves in their own ethnic identity rather than allowing themselves to be defined by mainstream marketers.

Minority populations are currently classified as black, Hispanic, Asian Pacific Islander, and Native American. These classifications were mainly formulated for governmental tracking and are often meaningless when targeting markets.

They do not give clear indications of race nor ethnicity. Categories overlap and many subcategories exist and will continue to proliferate. The new model will accommodate the reality of each of these markets no matter how small they are. It will understand the consumer from his or her own group’s perspective.

It must also adapt to the fusion of cultures. The category of mixed race is increasing disproportionately because individuals are choosing to identify themselves with all their heritages.

This recognition anticipates cultural fusion, some of which already occurs between ethnicities and crosses over into white non-Hispanic markets.

Examples of ethnic foods adopted by mainstream markets are many. Hip hop music and fashion has crossed over to urban youth markets of European and Asian descent both in the US and abroad. In fact, there are some indications that mainstream marketers find the variety of multiple ethnicities and the depth of culture they bring attractive.

Product line extensions, multi-lingual campaigns in advertising along with developing and reinforcing brand loyalties are some of the ways in which marketers are challenged through multicultural entrepreneurship.

The prevalence of these smaller market niches and the depth of knowledge needed to create authenticity suggest that large-scale enterprises may not be optimal for servicing these markets.

Micromarkets call for commensurately smaller enterprises. In fact, current indications are that minority businesses may be best positioned to capture this.

The broad scope and impact of these developments are reflecting the emergence of the New America. It is a nation and a business system that is becoming more
heterogeneous, multicultural and responsive to differences that accompany these characteristics.

Achieving success in the future of business and marketing is likely to
be enhanced when marketplace responses fully reflect and incorporate into strategies, decisions and actions an understanding of multicultural marketing and entrepreneurship.






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