When attempting to reach out to a diverse audience, it is the goal of a business is to come across as being knowledgeable and having empathy. Everyone knows that businesses are always trying to sell something, so it is imperative that the outreach message is socially current and aware. Having a multicultural consumer base means that a business must have a multifaceted marketing campaign.
What exactly is multicultural marketing?
Multicultural marketing is basically “a marketing strategy that recognizes the differences in culture and ethnicities of a target market.” A business may recognize that it has a diverse customer base, but that doesn’t mean that its marketing strategies are culturally relevant. Imagine crafting a sales campaign for a product around the date of October 11th. This day is widely known as Columbus Day but, in recent years, there has been an effort to acknowledge the federal holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
As a company, it is important to be aware of the changing tides of social etiquette around historical events and how they tie into its marketing strategies. Many companies still run discounts and sales around “Columbus Day.” But many more organizations are starting to pivot toward a more uplifting route of Native Americans on October 11th. Instead of having a sales campaign, many companies are now opting for more initiative-based campaigns centering around Indigenous Peoples, and they often looked over the impact on history.
Initiating this change from marketing based on Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day can be seen as being inclusive and catering to an underserved and marginalized group. This not only portrays a business as culturally informed but also exposes it to new customer demographics. Based to a poll in 2019, “79 percent of students surveyed supported replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, according to College Pulse, a data and survey analytics company.”
Attracting a newer, younger demographic can be crucial to keeping a business relevant in the industry. Businesses can market products and services under Columbus Day if they so choose. But the demographics that interact and engage with the message will most likely skew older and more conservative. That in of itself isn’t wrong. However, businesses must keep in mind how their messaging attract certain demographics and pushes away others.
Speaking of pushing others away, sometimes the attempt to bring people together through, what they think is, multicultural marketing can do the opposite. Another cultural holiday that has made cultural waves within the last year is Juneteenth.
Recently made into a federal holiday, Juneteenth commemorates the official end of slavery for African-Americans in Galveston, Texas in 1866 (3 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation). Juneteenth has been celebrated by African-Americans, in the state of Texas, for decades. But, with ongoing discussions around police brutality, racial inequality, and activist Opal Lee pushing for it to become a federally recognized holiday, Juneteenth rose into the cultural spotlight.
Many businesses had already created marketing campaigns centered around Black Lives Matter, in an attempt to show solidarity with the Black community. But, with Juneteenth becoming an official nationwide holiday, some companies saw an opportunity to reach out to a minority demographic in a deeper way.
However, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Below are some examples of companies trying and failing to cultivate a marketing campaign around Juneteenth.
Example 1: “Old Navy suspended a Juneteenth campaign after asking Black influencers to purchase the brand’s Juneteenth T-shirts, plus lowballing them on rates, according to Fashion United.”
Example 2: “The NHL’s San Jose Sharks recently deleted a Twitter post that depicted its mascot breaking the literal shackles of slavery.”
Example 3: “A Ford spot that’s been running since last week, made up of what looks like stock footage, also attempts to honor the holiday.”
(Examples provided by morningbrew.com)
These marketing scenarios show how utilizing multicultural marketing in the wrong way can, at best, annoy the demographic that a business is trying to reach, or at worst, deeply offend them. Each scenario mentioned above missed the mark on trying to show solidarity with the African-American demographic. When a company doesn’t fully research the cultural customs of the demographic that they are trying to reach, it can lead to a major backlash.
One thing many companies tend to forget when creating a multicultural marketing campaign is the importance of being specific. It is often overlooked that not all Black people are ethnically African-American. Black people come from all over the world. Another thing to consider is that not all African-Americans celebrated Juneteenth before it became a national holiday.
Specifically, African-Americans from Texas celebrated Juneteenth. So, a hockey team in San Jose, California creating a Juneteenth post might not reach the intended audience. A franchise sports team in Texas would have a better time reaching the intended audience due to demographics and location.
Creating a multicultural campaign can be a tricky thing to do in an environment of political, cultural, and social upheaval. It is extremely important to know how to read the room, or in this case, read the digital room. With social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc., it is easier than ever before to gauge a potential audience on what they like and dislike as a consumer.
As a business, get in the habit of studying your customer base. Look into who they follow, what posts they like, and what content that they comment on. This is part of being aware of what the conversation is.
As stated earlier, being culturally aware is a huge part of creating successful multicultural campaigns. If a company wants to target Hispanic/Latino Americans, it must consider integrating its native language of Spanish into the outreach message.
If that same company wants to do a Juneteenth campaign, it should consider giving part of the sales from products purchased to programs and initiatives that help uplift the African-American community. Finally, if that company decides that it wants to utilize October 11th to honor Natives Americans, a strategy could be to donate sales of products to institutions and resources that can highlight and educate on Native American civilization pre-colonialism.
This is where empathy comes into play. The intended target audience must feel that a company can empathize with aspects of its culture. People know that the main goal of a business is to sell a product. This means that a business must take great care and pay attention to how its message can be perceived positively and negatively.
If a company makes a mistake or has a history of being culturally/racially insensitive, it must be willing to show how it will actually change for the better. Think about how a company like Vogue was met with skepticism when editor-in-chief Anna Wintour promised readers that she acknowledged how the magazine failed to promote diverse fashions creators. Even former employees were skeptical.
True healing takes time and action from those who played a part in marginalizing people that are not a part of the majority White demographic. Companies must gain the trust of their audiences, no matter the demographic, by being honest and being consistent.
One successful multicultural marketing campaign doesn’t make a company the beacon of diversity. Putting the audience first is always key to successfully reaching them.