Connecting With America’s Growing Multicultural Consumer Will Require An Authentic Approach

Originally pulled from Forbes.

“A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” Albert Einstein said that, but we don’t need to be geniuses to implement new thinking in business. We only need real leadership that’s innovative and courageous enough to evolve and take action now. That’s how we close the growing opportunity gaps within the three pillars of workplace/workforce, external partnerships and the marketplace/consumer. We must see these opportunities everywhere every day and anticipate the unexpected, sow those opportunities and unleash our passionate pursuits, grow those opportunities with a strategic focus and entrepreneurial spirit, and share opportunities with a generous purpose. That’s how we reinvent leadership for the 21st century and sustain growth.

And it starts by asking one question: What are we solving for?

This is the final of five articles to help you understand what is required to answer the question and compete in today’s fiercely competitive global marketplace across a variety of industries. The articles detail the insights and frontline experiences shared by leaders of the roundtables at my June 2015 Executive Summit, “Preparing U.S. Leadership for the Seismic Cultural Demographic Shift.” The first article featured Earvin “Magic” Johnson, chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, and Mike Fernandez, chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners. Both use their entrepreneurial spirit and passionate pursuits of excellence to fuel business innovation that most U.S. corporations don’t see. That article – and all six in this series – shows how the Cultural Demographic Shift represents a natural evolution of American enterprise and its business models.

In the not-too-distant future, the nation’s population will include 50 million Hispanics. But Latinos aren’t the only rapidly growing minority group. By 2050, Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders will comprise an estimated 54% of the population, as America becomes a minority majority nation.

If you’re a CEO, I’ve got good news. These multicultural employees and consumers are ready to commit their full potential, purchasing power, trust and loyalty to organizations ready to commit to them.

But to tap into this incredible source of future success, corporations and brands must first solve the “identity-crisis” they unknowingly perpetuate among multicultural employees and consumers who believe companies don’t understand or value their unique needs and perspectives. They also rarely see themselves reflected in the vision, mission, value proposition and/or business model of most brands.

We invited some of the most respected voices in multicultural marketing to help illuminate this emerging consumer – and how companies can begin to know them. I wanted to share with you some of insights our panel members discussed with our audience of corporate executives.

Armando Azarloza, president of The Axis Agency, led our roundtable session with a provocative question: “In today’s acculturated, millennial-obsessed world, does culture really matter?”

“Yes,” he said, “Not as a definer of identity, but as a critical component of what makes me, me, and what makes you, you, and as a roadmap to reach a growing new audience,” Armando told our audience. “Today, every advertising campaign embodies some element of culture. But going forth, it can no longer simply remain a subtext.”

Rather, it must be the driving force behind the model, he said.

Why? Because while the coming seismic shift will be fueled mostly by the growth of the Hispanic and Latino population, it will be a multicultural phenomenon at its core.

“This new collective mindset transcends ethnicity. On its face it’s an expression of language, fashion, rituals and lifestyle,” Armando told our audience. “At the core it has deep-rooted values, beliefs, interests and a sense of purpose that binds this increasingly multicultural market.

The new consumer will be more culturally nuanced than ever before. Mark Stockdale, president of New Majority Consulting, told us companies must grasp the subtleties.

“When we look at the cultural shift, the new consumer is younger, much more likely to be bilingual, and bicultural,” he said, also noting that in the past, brands got it wrong by marketing to Hispanics in a silo.

“We used to say it’s all about assimilation,” he noted. “That’s not correct. Cultural values carry over. “40% of millennials are foreign born, and those cultural nuances – not differences – really do linger if you’re Hispanic, Asian or even African American.

“You’re looking at a consumer with two realities,” Mark told us. “And he will choose which is best for him. It’s not about adopting one and relinquishing another.”

And after millennials, look out for Generation Z, said Jose Villa, president of Sensis, a cross-cultural advertising agency, noting that people under 20 years old are mostly “blind to race.”

“And that’s going to completely shift everything we think about in marketing, as in, culture will no longer be within the silo of ethnicity.”

The impact of these shifts will likely have a profound effect on how companies approach this new customer base – and whether they succeed. Because the demographics skew younger, the implications of the customer’s media and social habits are crucial, as well.

“In the past, a cookie-cutter strategy” of marketing to Hispanics and other ethnic groups may have worked, “but now that approach should be challenged,” Mark noted.

As such, each group will also increasingly influence the choices of other groups around them – as a non-Latino married to a Hispanic or Latino spouse. So companies also need to grasp how those choices will influence the decisions of non-Hispanic whites, African Americans and others.

Start At The Top

As I’ve been saying for a long while, America’s executives must truly and deeply commit to understanding this new consumer, then set the tone. Unfortunately, the conversation has been stuck in the marketing and diversity departments – and has yet to flow to all other departments, let alone the upper echelon of today’s corporations.

“The discussion needs to start upstream, in the C-Suite,” Mark told us. “Where you allow yourself to set the tone and give people permission and new boundaries to play as you explore and build out your capabilities in this area.”

Or, as roundtable moderator Armando summed it, “This isn’t a communications problem, it’s a business problem. Until business leaders figure it out, communications people aren’t going to be able to do it for you.”

Set The Tone

Mark told us, “Setting tone is not the same as just adding another project to your list. [You] are emphatically and purposely making a commitment to understand this demographic shift. You must say, ‘We don’t have all the answers now, so let’s start with what do we know and what do we not know.’”

In short, understanding this customer and workforce base is a journey. Companies and brands should expect challenges, whether you’re just starting, or already on a path.

“You can’t take your eye off the ball,” Mark told summit participants. “You’ve got to keep the tempo, the pressure up.” And there should be a sense of urgency, but it’s very important to do things deliberately, with care “so it’s sustainable, and more importantly, scalable,” he said. “Then we don’t need to go back to the wheel every time we need to address a campaign or staffing opportunity.”

Communicate Authentically

Stephanie Kauffman, chief communications & engagement officer with Breast Cancer Research Foundation and formerly with Universal Pictures films, gave us insight to how the Fast and the Furious blockbusters connected so deeply with a multicultural audience to drive more than $12 billion in box office sales over seven films.

“Content is absolutely God right now,” she told our audience. The massive success of the Fast and the Furious films was helped immensely, she says, by leveraging the relationships the franchise’s stars already had with their audiences. To that end, “the studio took the shackles off. Usually, filming is secret,” she noted. “But we allowed those stars to engage with their audiences behind the scenes.” Vin Diesel, alone, boasts about 80 million followers on Facebook, she noted.

As a fan, “You felt like you were part of the discussion. We weren’t talking at people, we were talking with them,” she said. “Content is king. You have to be authentic. You have to engage directly with your audience.”

Avoid Lip Service

Sherina Smith, director of consumer marketing for AbbVie pharmaceutical company, gave us a great example of what companies shouldn’t do. Simply including culturally ambiguous actors in commercials or print ads, someone “who’s kind of Indian, brownish, maybe she’s Hispanic,” misses the mark.

“The point of multicultural marketing isn’t to parrot back to us who they think we are,” said Sherina, who piloted the multicultural marketing outreach for AbbVie’s recent roll out of a new cure for Hepatitis C.

“It’s to talk directly to us, create…marketing vehicles, platforms that speak to a specific community. But even within the African American or Hispanic communities, it’s not a one-size-fits-all,” she said. “I don’t think multicultural marketing always recognizes that we’re not all the same.”

Move Forward, Or Step Aside

What do the cards hold for companies and brands that don’t invest in this shift?

As I’ve been telling corporate leaders for a long while, it’s imperative that C-Suite executives commit their brand’s heart and soul to understanding this new consumer. By listening to the unique needs of this multicultural group, and reflecting them in corporate vision, value proposition and mission, you’ll be on a path to win a new generation’s trust and loyalty.

Those that don’t may be left behind, Armando said. “If you don’t do it, you better get out of the way, because some other company is going to do it and run you over, and you’re going to miss the opportunity to gain market share.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The leaders in this article have learned what they are solving for. Have you? Or better yet are you solving for the right things to establish your competitive advantage? Simple questions; hard to answer. But we must in order to establish the leadership America needs. Does your organization embrace this 21st-century leadership? Take theWorkplace Cultural Assessment and find out.

Follow me @GlennLlopis. Join our LinkedIn group here.

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