During the first few days of this global COVID-19 pandemic, I attended a virtual meeting with colleagues from different locations across the world. In this meeting, I heard about how local markets like China, Hong Kong, Australia, U.K. and Germany, among others, were tackling the challenges created by the disruption we are currently facing. After a few minutes listening to the speakers, it was clear that we are facing this pandemic crisis as a planet, that this is a global crisis that sees no boundaries and respects no religion or ideology.
However, it also became apparent to me that different communities are responding to this crisis in different ways, and most importantly, that culture also has a significant impact on the way populations around the world face these current challenges.
For instance, in Asia, past experience with other respiratory viruses created a culture of prevention, including the broad use of protective masks and gloves, followed by strict social distancing protocols; meanwhile, populations in Italy, unfortunately, suffered the consequences from close and frequent social interactions.
The same is true in the U.S., where we are observing that some communities are also facing the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic differently. A study recently published by my colleagues at Alma used a combination of social media listening and secondary data from partners to highlight some of these differences. My summary is below:
Working from Home Is a Luxury for Minorities
Working from home quickly became a reality; however, for minorities in America, this represents a significant challenge. First, WFH is easier when you have a white-collar job, mostly working on computers. According to the Labor Department, approximately 30% of Caucasian Americans can work from home, compared to 20% of African American workers and only 16% of Hispanics in the job market.
Additionally, minority consumers represent a disproportional number of people employed in the informal economy. Furthermore, Latinx and African American entrepreneurs have been leading the creation of small businesses over the past decade, and these businesses are also significantly impacted by the economic consequences of the crisis.
The Surge of COVID-19 Racism
Unfortunately, one of the negative consequences of the COVID-19 crisis in this country has been an increase in racism towards Asian Americans, fueled by xenophobic rhetoric in parts of our society.
However, on the positive side, there’s an indication that minority groups in the U.S. are working together to fight this negative trend. All over social media, messages of “minority solidarity” are being shared, creating a pushback against this wave of hate against Asian Americans.
Information and Culture Gaps Exist
During the first few days of response to the COVID-19 crisis, it took three days for the official guidelines from the CDC website to be translated into Spanish.
Online searches in Spanish have spiked, ranging from information about the virus, where and how to find grocery provisions, how to get unemployment benefits, and even research on alternative home remedies to fight the disease.
An analysis based on iSpot.TV data provided by Univision showed that while 117 brands from 22 industries developed COVID-19-related messages in the past three weeks, only 13 brands from 7 industries developed messages in Spanish.
But minority disparities are not only driven by language gaps, as African Americans across the country are struggling to get access to healthcare information and support as well. This is crucial as we have seen that the African American community has been more impacted by the COVID-19 virus relative to its population size. One of the main reasons is the higher incidence of diabetes, heart, and respiratory diseases among the African American population.
While our society as a whole struggled to convince young people to stay at home as a way to protect themselves and their family and friends from the contagion, Latinx youth led the movement to stay home. Why? Because they disproportionally live in multigenerational households (27% of Latinx households vs. 16% of non-Hispanic White households are multigenerational).
The relationship between minorities and their elderly has always been extraordinary, and the bonds and stories that are being created during these times will leave a legacy for generations to come.
The Power of Optimism Gets Stronger
During these difficult times, Latinx’s cultural trademark of optimism is probably facing its biggest challenges. However, the Latinx community is fighting back, using social media as a tool to share their message.
All across the country, Latinx users are using TikTok to share their favorites videos, and Pandora has identified an increase in the consumption of Latin music as a form of relief. In essence, familiar culture is comforting, especially during tough times.
And this sense of optimism may already be working. Latinx consumers already have a significant optimistic view of the months to come, with 51% feeling hopeful that their financial situation will improve in the next six months, compared to only 22% of non-Hispanics.
I spoke with my colleague, Angela Rodriguez, who led the development of this report and asked her about how marketers should react to the insights presented, and this is her take on it:
“A common enemy doesn’t mean a common impact on all consumers. Not only are many segments experiencing greater health and economic consequences as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but their safety, life, and purchase decisions are made through the lens of their culture more than ever. Safety isn’t only a matter of personal protection, and job losses reverberate beyond the household, for example. Marketers should recognize the importance of showing they understand and care about these consumers in a moment when showing up for their communities means more than ever.”
After navigating the plethora of opinions from many subject matter experts and consultants about the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, one common conclusion is that life won’t be the same when this crisis is over. It is also essential to recognize that these consequences won’t be felt the same way by different segments of our society, and this realization is significant since it can improve the way we support our communities.
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Stay healthy and take care of each other!