In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, most of us are trying to understand how to honor this critical moment in our country and evolve. The consequences are many and will continue to impact us as individuals, and as business leaders.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading and listening to several marketing and advertising industry leaders on this topic. There’s little doubt in my mind that progress will mean a combination of actions and behaviors alike, including better education and understanding of the realities faced by minority groups in the ad industry, better hiring practices, and more representation at all agency levels.
One additional aspect that has started to get more attention is the importance of consistency and commitment to targeting multicultural consumers as part of a brand’s marketing plans. This is an important debate, since over the past decade, the market, driven mostly by short term efficiencies, has adopted what they call the “Total Market” approach.
According to its advocates, cultural and ethnic background and nuances are not necessarily proper segmentation parameters. Instead, everyone should be targeted based on their shopping behaviors, and a single message and media plan should be sufficient to reach everyone.
Worse yet, when they present their arguments against Total Market, multicultural marketing experts are accused of either “trying to divide people, instead of uniting them,” or to “complicate things, with more meetings, more agencies, more work,” or ultimately, “create a parallel, separate marketing plan for our brands.”
However, research initiative after research initiative has demonstrated that “Total Market” is terrible for business. Moreover, they concluded that any savings or efficiencies achieved were short-lived and not replicable in the following years.
And ultimately, brands that adopted the “Total Market” approach started to be negatively impacted. They experienced declines in brand attributes, sales, market share, and margin among the fastest-growing segments in America: multicultural consumers.
The time has come for our industry to abandon the “Total Market” trap, reject the one-size-fits-all approach, embrace America’s multicultural consumers as segments to be acknowledged, and respect these consumers’ unique culture and characteristics. A more modern and contemporary approach towards our minority-majority marketplace is needed – a new approach that values multicultural marketing professionals and multicultural media as partners on this journey.
Furthermore, we need to recognize that expertise matters and that differentiation and authentic connections come from embracing our differences. Besides, there’s a need to reinvent the models, processes, and paradigms created decades ago when multicultural marketing was mostly an afterthought and treated as an appendix or supplement of a mostly non-Hispanic white focused marketing plan.
I spoke with Carlos Santiago, President of Santiago Solutions Group and Cofounder of the Association of National Advertisers’ AIMM, Alliance for Inclusion and Multicultural Marketing, who last year conducted a comprehensive study on this subject. This is his opinion on the topic:
“Total Market is another legacy monument that runs a blind eye at the value of cultural richness. As validated by AIMM’s Cultural Insights Impact Measurement™ in 2019, Total Market efforts rarely appealed with strong cultural relevancy to all the segments under “total,” and it didn’t serve advertisers to boost purchase intent. In fact, in nine out of ten ads, Total Market underdelivered authentically to each segment.”
This new approach will create opportunities to converge messages towards a broader target at times and diverge towards more segmented targets at others. This new approach will consider multicultural opportunities beyond Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and Pride Month.
Besides, it is very important to emphasize that this new approach will not make minority segments compete against each other for a limited size of the investment pie. Instead, they will consider redistributing the whole pie according to the growth opportunity and our country’s population composition.
Let’s all embrace these changing times with humility. We don’t have all the answers, and we need an open mind to break with the dominant practice of lumping all consumers together when crafting messaging strategies.
Breaking with the status quo will require significant collaboration, optimism, and courage. But as DDB’s founder and ad industry icon Bill Bernbach once said, “The people who are going to be in business tomorrow are the people who understand that the future, as always, belongs to the brave.”