Special Report on Multicultural Marketing:
Thirty-nine million African Americans are spending more than $892 billion in the United States today. Fueled by a steadily increasing population, this market’s spending power is projected to surpass the $1 trillion mark by 2012.
The implications of marketing to this audience are clear, and these statistics are likely provoking companies to not only incorporate niche marketing into their overall marketing strategy but also to recognize the value of investing an equitable share of dollars and efforts in targeting the African American audience.
While there are market segments growing at a faster rate than the African American market—namely Hispanics, due in large part to immigration—the African American market is growing more rapidly than the general population and currently represents about 13 percent of the total U.S. population, according to Howard Buford, president and CEO of Prime Access, a multicultural advertising agency in New York, N.Y.
Furthermore, its spending power is impressive, particularly compared to that of other market segments. “Among African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics combined, African Americans represent about 61 percent of the combined spending power,” says Buford.
Investing time in understanding the common culture, value system and life experience of this influential market could result in more impressive response rates for and overall profitability of direct response campaigns. “Messaging focused with this group in mind can be more effective and, in the end, basically more efficient and get stronger results,” says Buford.
Traditionally, television, radio and print magazines have been the preferred media used to reach this audience, however other channels are growing in their use and effectiveness. The Web has become an increasingly influential channel among African Americans, with new sites such as BlackVoices.com and BlackPlanet.com emerging to target this audience’s specific needs and cultural preferences.
Web marketing, particularly through mobile communications, is quickly turning into a critical communication and sales tool, according to Jay Rossi, CEO and founder of DDR Global, a multicultural agency based in Montclair, N.J. “Online video advertising seems to be another hot area in terms of opportunities for marketers to take advantage of niche markets,” he says. “There’s such a great potential for the viral impact of a good online video, and the potential for reaching a very large segment of the population is just immeasurable.”
Direct mail also has been growing considerably over the past few years, according to Lamont Stanley, CEO of direct mail marketing firm KLS Media Group in Lithonia, Ga., who has developed campaigns for clients including Ebony and Essence magazines. “I think the reason why [direct marketers] are using direct mail is they can enhance their electronic media, measure response and it’s more cost effective,” says Stanley. “Direct mail is not as sexy as radio and television—it’s not as glamorous. But the bottom line is it works and can definitely save advertisers a lot of money. And the way the economy is right now, people are trying to pinch dollars and make sure their dollars are well-invested,” explains Stanley.
Guidelines for Reaching the Market
As with any audience, basic marketing rules and principles apply to reaching the African American market. But there are a number of unique considerations that can help marketers deliver focused messaging to which the audience likely will respond.
1. Get to Know Your Market. Taking the time to understand your market—who they are and what they want and need—seems fundamental, but is key in connecting with African Americans. Consider their lifestyle and values, and be culturally relevant in your messaging by recognizing holidays and cultural observances.
“You really have to understand the consumer—understand their aspirations, understand how they live their lives, understand their value systems,” says Buford. “[Your brand] can play a very different role in the life of African Americans than it does in the life of the general market.”
2. Be Authentic. Be authentic in your messaging in order to build credibility with your market. Use appropriate language, references and imagery; avoid the use of stereotypes or generalizations. “You want it to look like someone from within the African American mindset and experience created it,” says Buford. “Authenticity is especially important.”
3. Use Appropriate Lists. Don’t underestimate the value of using well-targeted lists, including in-culture lists generated from African American promotions. “The mailing lists that work best are those [containing people] who have responded to African American promotions, such as catalogs that sell African American products,” says Rick Blume, vice president, multicultural marketing at Hauppauge, N.Y.-based full-service marketing firm Specialists Marketing Services. “Other types of African American mailing lists are those that are inferred African American, overlaid with geography and other data identifying African Americans.”
4. Draw on a Media Mix. You may be generally satisfied with the way one media channel is working for you, but consider how several channels may reinforce each other and boost your overall strategy. “I think [marketers] should consider doing a media mix, not only thinking about radio, television and magazines,” says Stanley.
5. Push the Hot Buttons. Incorporate themes and topics that tend to resonate well with the African American market. According to Blume, the top “hot buttons” that this audience identifies with are Christianity, health, gospel, Black History Month, Martin Luther King Day, Kwanzaa and Malcolm X’s birthday. Blume attributes several of his successful direct mail campaigns to the use of these hot buttons, including efforts for Disney Resorts, Black Enterprise magazine and Doubleday Black Expressions Book Club.
6. Segment the Audience. Consider what factors are relevant in helping you further segment your audience. Distinguishing the African American market from the general market is a good start, but your audience is segmentable in many more ways, including: life stage, income level, education level, age, family status and gender.
One exciting and influential niche within the market, Rossi notes, is the youth market. “The youth market within the African American market seems to be a more up-and-coming market in terms of spending power,” says Rossi, who highlights African American teens’ propensity to spend on technology, apparel and music. “And there’s also the influence of the teen niche on the older generations within the family, influencing the decisions made … ”
7. Tailor Your Creative. Utilize appropriate imagery—particularly African American models—and color schemes. Make sure your overall creative is appealing and well suited for your market to increase the likelihood of them identifying with your message.
In one of KLS Media Group’s direct mail packages for a heating company, for example, he showed an upscale African American male reading Black Enterprise magazine. “The fact that he was reading a Black Enterprise magazine related to the audience, so we try to do things that hit home to the consumers,” says Stanley.
In a campaign for Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, KLS Media Group used images of soul food, while another campaign for Kentucky Fried Chicken showed images of a family gathered at a reunion—both demonstrating an understanding for the market’s values and lifestyle.
“The vibrancy of colors seems to be important to the African American market in particular,” says Rossi. “We’re thinking in terms of color and creative, and … there is a certain amount of consideration for vibrant, eye-catching colors that pop, as opposed to cool shades of color that have less of a visual impact.”
8. Incorporate It in Your Initial Strategy. Factor multicultural marketing into your overall marketing strategy, rather than fitting it into a general market approach. “We spend a lot of time evangelizing our clients about the importance of factoring it into their initial strategy and not making it an afterthought,” says Rossi. “Commit the necessary resources in terms of budget, in terms of personnel.”
Don’t Make Assumptions. Since the common language spoken by the target audience is English, marketers often have assumed African Americans would be receptive to messages targeted to the general market. “At one point, [marketers] weren’t marketing specifically to African Americans, thinking that African Americans who speak English are being marketed to in their [companies’] general market promotions,” says Blume. “And they’re right in some respects, but the only problem was that [African Americans] weren’t responding so well because these mailings were not targeted to them specifically—their culture, their relevance. When [companies] started to specifically target African Americans, they were responding in great numbers—much higher response rates than [companies] were getting normally.”
Make the Connection
Reaching the African American market in a relevant and efficient way—no matter what the channel—requires employing some unique tactics and approaches. While this consumer audience can be reached through general marketing, it can be far more effective to connect with them on a more personal level geared to their needs and interests. “Ideally you would deliver a message one-on-one, and you could speak directly to what is most important to that individual,” says Buford. “That would be extremely expensive … but you want [at least] to segment them into likeminded groups and deliver a message they’re going to find both memorable and compelling.”
Marissa Fabris is a freelance writer in West Chester, Pa. She profiled Cisco for Target Marketing’s January 2008 issue. Read the article at www.targetmarketingmag.com/r?s=85092