lost in translation
with multicultural customers demands skills that are more
than skin deep
By Kari Richardson
Henry "Que" Gaskins '93
"Que" Gaskins '93 tells the story of a marketing
campaign gone awry, in his view.
A fast-food restaurant wanted to reach the young African-American
market, so it filmed a commercial using a fictitious disc
jockey who spun burgers on his records and laid down rhymes
scripted by advertising agency executives at corporate headquarters.
says the campaign used real insights — namely,
that young African-American men are major consumers of
and they respect rappers and DJs — but still managed to take
a wrong turn. He would have hired a real rapper, letting
the performer write his own rhymes and choose his own clothing
to wear in the commercial.
as global vice president of marketing for RBK, Reebok's
fastest-growing division responsible for getting new products
into the hands of influential youths, he knows what he's
one was taking insights and making sure they made sense
in a cultural context," Gaskins says. "Authenticity and credibility
are everything. Kids are going to take one look at this DJ
and say, 'Who is he? Why haven't I heard of him? And why
is he spinning burgers on his records?'"
elusive and essential
companies these days doubt the importance of multicultural
marketing. Census 2000 spelled it out for those who still
it: Minority populations will likely become the majority
in the not-so-distant future, as their numbers are increasing
many times faster than the Caucasian population's, and
their buying power right along with it.
According to MarketResearch.com, the U.S. Hispanic
population grew more than four times as fast as the population
as a whole between 1990 and 2000, and is still underserved
by many consumer-goods companies. The firm also reports that
the mean income of African-American households grew 25.8
percent between 1990 and 2000, resulting in 3.7 million African-American
households with annual incomes of $50,000 or more.
Asian-Americans earn more on average than any other racial
group, with annual household incomes of $83,804 — 8
percent more than Caucasian households bring in.
While the numbers make it clear why companies are eager
to court a multicultural audience, they fail to answer one
important question: How?
a vastly complicated area for marketers, yet one in which
some Kellogg School graduates are helping to chart
Gaskins builds his reputation and his campaigns on authenticity,
snagging real-world rappers Jay-Z and 50 Cent to promote
their own shoes, and bona fide DJ Pharrell to license a line
of clothing and footwear under a separate label.
"We are building a reputation as the sound and rhythm of
sports," he says. "And what makes it credible is that kids
actually listen to this music."
is a theme echoed by other Kellogg School graduates who
work in the field, such as Cheryl Mayberry McKissack
'89, who says customers are quick to detect insincerity
legitimate relationships can't be faked.
Mayberry McKissack founded Nia Enterprises four years ago
after consulting with some of the executives in her circle,
many of whom were struggling with the problem of trying to
build solid relationships with their multicultural customers.
Enterprises provides market information about African-American
women and their families, helping companies connect with
this group that is rapidly gaining in buying power and clout.
African-American women and you will reach their families
too, the Kellogg graduate says. That's because the aggregate
income of African-American women, she says, is equal to 49
percent of the total income of the African-American population.
Moreover, African-American women, like Caucasian women
and Hispanic women, tend to control buying decisions for
Using technology as a key tool, Nia Enterprises taps its
database of 100,000 self-selected African-Americans to provide
companies with feedback on everything from the way a new
cosmetic works to a suggested name for a brand of soap, and
can have results within 48 hours.
women] are happy to participate because they are not asked
their opinion nearly as often as the general population,"
McKissack says. "There is a need to build a trusted dialogue
with African-American women and their families. There's a
need to gain a better understanding of the products and services
that best serve this group."
Cheryl Mayberry McKissack '89
relationships that deliver results
way for firms to build meaningful relationships, McKissack
says, is to identify two or three causes that are important
to the company. Better yet, she says, have employees come
up with the initiatives and encourage them to volunteer time
in those areas.
"The routine used to be go to the store, buy the product
and go home. Consumers today want more than that. And companies
are realizing they have to connect on more than one level," she
General Mills, Rudy Rodriguez '95, the company's director
of multicultural marketing strategy, favors community outreach
as a tool to reach ethnic consumers. The company has partnered
with well-known organizations such as La Raza, the Congressional
Black Caucus and the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People in efforts to build relationships with
sought-after Hispanic and African-American customers.
fits initiatives targeting ethnic consumers into existing
campaigns when possible. Ads featuring Colombian
singer and breast cancer survivor Soraya are a natural extension
of the Yoplait yogurt brand's "Save Lids to Save Lives" drive
to raise money for breast cancer research, he says, and build
on its image as a brand that champions women's lives.
job is made a bit easier by the fact that yogurt is a
food already favored by Hispanic consumers, but he used
some of the same principles in planning an event featuring
African-American NASCAR driver Bill Lester, who is sponsored
by Honey Nut Cheerios.
"Consumers were happy to see that we were sponsoring a
race car driver from their community and positioning him
as a role model. We saw double-digit increases in sales within
the African-American community," Rodriguez says.
also worked for Active Sports Marketing Group, a California-based
marketing services company that
developed an integrated marketing program to help the U.S.
Army spread its recruitment message among Hispanic and Asian
communities. Rita Belmonte '97, senior marketing consultant
for the company, which was co-founded by husband Jon Belmonte
'97, says the company planned a series of high-energy
where soccer enthusiasts and Army recruiters who play the
sport bumped elbows on the field. The three-hour sessions
included one-on-one instruction and tips by major league
players, free soccer balls and time on the playing field.
Belmonte of the clinics, held in California, Texas and
throughout the Southwest: "The Army was looking for a
very targeted way to have high-quality interaction with a
specific market. The program provided recruiters with a meaningful
way to interact with young, active people who play the sport
and to share information about Army opportunities. Everyone
got something out of it."
Active executives currently are talking with Army officials
about expanding the program for 2004, Belmonte says.
the right audience
most 21st-century companies realize ethnic marketing is more
complicated than casting an African-American in a commercial
spot or posting a sign that says "se habla Espanol,"
many still struggle to find the right way to reach their core
groups can be an effective tool for getting inside the consumer's
head, but research methods must be sensitive to cultural variations.
In-home visits can uncover insights that subjects are unwilling
to share in larger groups, but Rodriguez says researchers
must understand why, in some cultures, people are uncomfortable
sharing personal information or buying habits with a researcher
who is outside their ethnic group.
a racially inclusive workplace, he suggests, is a good
way to start tapping into the multicultural marketplace:
"You can't reach multicultural consumers unless you have
in the workplace. It's not about casting. It's about cultural
insights and cues."
But even marketers with their feet firmly planted in one
culture sometimes have to work to understand all of its nuances.
first-hand witness to the dramatic family separations
wrought by migration to the United States, Guatemalan-born
Gabriel Biguria '96 founded AmigoLatino to connect Hispanics
living in this country with their family back home. Customers,
who pay $40 for a half-hour live videoconference, use their
time to wish someone a happy birthday, gaze at an infant's
face for the first time, or say farewell to a relative who
is seriously ill.
From the beginning, Biguria struggled to explain his service
to a dubious, tech-wary clientele.
Kellogg friends didn't even believe this type of videoconferencing
was possible," he says. "Imagine a family that comes from
the countryside in Guatemala. I had to hit on the right wording
to describe it to them."
alone wasn't enough to get the message across.
Though Biguria is fluent in Spanish and familiar with Guatemala,
that country alone, he points out, has more than 22 different
dialects and a host of contrasting cultures. And his clients
hail from Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, to name
country is so different," Biguria says. "There's so much
diversity. You need to understand who you are dealing
reach his diverse audience, Biguria set up shop in San
Francisco on the same floor as the Latin American consulate,
where daily traffic to and from the office provides the perfect
opportunity to communicate with prospective clients. Advertising
efforts here and abroad center around community fairs and
festivals, where Biguria and staff show videos — preferably
of clients from the same region as the group sponsoring the
fair — to prove to doubters the service is real.
Biguria says his efforts to build client trust are bearing
fruit. Now operating in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco,
he has expansion plans slated for another six to seven cities
this year, including a location in a San Rafael, Calif.,
"It takes perseverance," Biguria says of his efforts to
understand his ethnic customer base. "Some companies try
something, have limited success, and abort without figuring
out what else they need to do."
this, small companies may have an advantage, he adds. "In
trying to tap into the Hispanic market, little details make
a big difference. The more you can individualize your message,
the more you will resonate with each one of the groups."
'Fusionism' — the
future of marketing?
companies still coming to terms with multicultural marketing
plans, there may be an even bigger trend around the corner.
calls it "fusionism" — the elimination of cultural
barriers and stereotypes that allow, the idea goes, one culture
to borrow freely from another. For instance, Gaskins, an
African-American male, has Chinese tattoos on both arms and
professes a love for the Asian culture and mindset.
In other words, people are more than the sum of their various
can't put people in neat little boxes," Gaskins says.
"If you gave me a survey to fill out, I would check off
I'm a black male, that I listen to rap music and that I grew
up in the inner city. But I've also traveled the world. I
love jazz music, as well as rap, and I'm a vice president
at a major corporation. You didn't ask me those things."
possible, Gaskins taps into specific ethnic communities,
for instance, planning a public relations event at Puerto
Rican Day in New York or "seeding" — providing
free samples of the product— to Asian trendsetters in Los
also looks for ways to tie products to location; for example,
printing the area code "202" on the back of a pair of sneakers
to designate an affiliation with Washington, D.C.
in his work marketing the street-smart, hip RBK brand
to a diverse audience, "youth" seems to resonate more as
a theme than messages of any specific culture. Perhaps that's
because younger generations are more tolerant of racial differences,
in a different era," he says. "Everybody is getting into
their family tree and everyone wants to
be different. Nobody wants to be plain."