Multicultural Marketing: Cultivating new customers from the explosive wave in ethnic growth

by Robert Lerose.

The face of the American consumer is changing dramatically, and the repercussions of those changes will be felt for decades. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans make up about 35 percent of the current U.S. population. By 2050, the Pew Research Center projects that non-whites will become the dominant ethnic group in the country.

With this group’s sizable buying power—amounting to about$2.5 trillion today—small businesses that actively court them through multicultural marketing efforts will find a significant source of new customers, new sales, and new brand-building opportunities.

These three groups are only the tip of the iceberg, too. “Multicultural has expanded to include several groups,” says Lisa Skriloff, president of New York-based Multicultural Marketing Resources, a marketing and public relations firm founded in 1994. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that a customer is of two cultures.”

Today, Skriloff says, members of a variety of groups—including people with disabilities, seniors, women, and smaller but identifiable ethnic groups—could be included in multicultural marketing.

Join ethnic associations

Some small businesses may be reluctant to wade into ethnic marketing because of misconceptions or fears. For example, sending out the wrong message because of a bad translation is a common concern. Or, not knowing which group within a larger ethnic group to target. “There are 15 different Asian groups,” Skriloff explains. She adds that some businesses trying to reach Hispanic consumers might be unsure of their country of origin.

But there are a number of steps that any small business can take to overcome these apprehensions and get started. For example, a retail establishment with an employee on staff who speaks Spanish could put out a sign saying “We Speak Spanish” in Spanish. They could also enlist the help of an agency that specializes in multicultural marketing.

Skriloff also recommends getting involved with associations and organizations that already serve the ethnic business community, such as the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, the Hispanic Federation, and the Asian American Advertising Federation.