The Real Meaning of Multicultural Marketing

Multicultural Marketing Diversity

And How it Affects Your Business

When I went to a store to buy my first lawnmower, I brought a male friend, looking for more muscle to get my purchase into the car. Even though I initiated the conversation with sales and made it clear that I was the customer, he talked to my friend, rather than me, going so far as to ask my friend to give it a trial push (to check the “fit,” I guess). I walked out of the store without making a purchase. To this day, I hope that the sales rep was on commission. I also hope that he now understands that women buy lawn equipment, too.

Multicultural marketing is about selling to diverse individuals, and it relates to much more than customers’ country of origin.

Ethnicity is Only One Component

If you look up “multicultural marketing,” you’ll probably see references to ethnicity. Actually, people are more than just their countries of family origin. They are male or female. They are young, old, or somewhere in between. Their life experiences gave them different values, and they may be sensitive to distinctions in marketing.

You need to consider every potential aspect of your customer base to ensure that your marketing effort targets everyone — and insults no one.

Your Marketing Campaigns Should Target Your Current and Intended Customer Base

The first step in marketing is to clearly identify your existing market. The next step is to decide if every future customer will fit within the same mold, or if you will need to broaden or change your message to appeal to an entirely different group than you do now.

Maybe you make unique home-repair tools that attract knowledgeable long-time homeowners. An ad in Family Handyman magazine that says that the tool is a “multifunctional device that can reduce the weight of your toolbox” might effectively get the word out to your traditional customers. If you want to target young cash-poor new homeowners, then “save money with one tool that does just about everything” might be a better way to hook a new, young customer base — particularly if you use social media to broadcast your message.

Examine Your Message From Every Perspective

When creating an effective marketing campaign, it’s important to consider the viewpoint of absolutely everyone whom you want your product to attract.

Every word counts. Sometimes, English words translate badly in other languages. The classic example that the Chevy Nova failed in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates to “no go” is actually an urban myth, but it’s still a perfect illustration of how languages can cause common words to mean radically-different things in other languages.

Additionally, commonly-used words can change meanings in the language of younger generations. When stating that your product represents a “basic” need in every home, hip-hop enthusiasts might negatively associate that word with white, upper-echelon females who don’t appreciate diversity.

Avoid Really Obvious Targeting Mistakes

Sometimes, businesses work hard to develop marketing campaigns that fully address their target markets — and then blow the message by not noticing avoidable errors. Consider these examples:

  • A 2015 Yellow Pages app ad in Toronto subways suggested that viewers “Find out if Bi Bim Bap tastes as fun as it sounds” and included an image of a noodle bowl. Unfortunately, the well-known South Korean dish translates to “mixed rice.” South Korean observers could be offended by the blatant error. Even Canadians might lose trust in an app that doesn’t know the difference.
  • In 2013, Nike developed women’s gear imprinted with traditional Southwest Pacific tattoo art. The product received negative feedback from people who were familiar with regional tattoos. Some pointed out that the images chosen are sacred; others recognized that the tattoo is used exclusively by men, thus making it inappropriate for women’s clothing. This type of error can be particularly devastating to a business that is forced to toss an entire product line.
  • Last year, a high-end Italian fashion house promoted an upcoming runway show in China with a social media campaign showing a Chinese woman attempting to eat a variety of Italian foods with chopsticks. The repercussions were swift. A number of Chinese celebrities canceled their planned attendance at the show, and word quickly spread throughout China. The show had to be canceled due to the stereotypical representation of Chinese people. Due to a boycott, the brand is still in trouble today.

Since self-editing is typically error-prone, I count on editorial opinions to ensure that I don’t miss errors during countless reviews of my own work. You should do the same before releasing your marketing campaigns. Solicit opinions from a diverse representation of your own employees. Then, try to get opinions from individuals outside of your company. You can develop formal marketing focus groups or even just talk to a variety of people on the street, but talk to someone.

It’s certainly challenging to create politically-correct messages every time, but you need to pay close attention to details that can cause an unintentional black eye to your brand. Obtaining outside opinions helps to reduce the risk of serious blunders.

Multicultural Marketing Must Come From the Heart

The term, “impostor syndrome” is traditionally applied to individuals who misrepresent themselves to boost their feelings of self-worth. It is now being applied to multicultural marketing as well, because people recognize businesses that shamelessly use their marketing to pander to specific markets.

You don’t have to belong to every conceivable culture to speak honestly to all customers. It’s not necessary to use youthful buzzwords that show how woke you are. There is seldom need to advertise in multiple languages to get your message out. Avoid using offensive, stereotypical images. Integrate an all-inclusive message into your marketing campaign, and, for heaven’s sake, just be real.

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