I’ve discussed how Corporate America is increasingly “moving multicultural out of the silos.” Marketplace dynamics are driving this shift, initially and clumsily, in the form of the total market approach, as brands look to stay relevant and grow in the increasingly minority-majority reality of Millennial and Gen Z populations. There is another factor underpinning the change in multicultural strategies by major marketers: an understanding that culture no longer exists in in silos according to ethnicity.
Why another definition
There are two major reasons why cultural marketers need a new approach and model beyond those in existence today – whether it’s general market, multicultural, or total market – all of which fall short in meaningful ways. The first reason is a result of limitations of the acculturation model, as consumers of different ethnic backgrounds, who are not immigrants, not only acculturate seamlessly, but also embrace multiple cultures, including cultures outside their ethnic background. The Futures Company has articulated this with their “polyculturalism” model describing and measuring the extent to which consumers balance multiple different cultures. The overly simplistic acculturation model, which serves as the foundation for traditional multicultural marketing, is increasingly irrelevant for native-born Hispanics and Asians, inaccurately describing a one-directional and linear move from un-acculturated to acculturated.
The second reason is that current definitions for general market, multicultural, and total market (see my earlier post for detailed definitions) don’t account fully for the changed circumstances and realities of today’s multicultural experience. Existing definitions, while not entirely invalid, are not designed for today’s highly diverse consumer-driven landscape. They are not consumer-centric as an approach so much as serving as classifications for convenience’s sake. Existing definitions remain valid in some but not in every situation when it comes to connecting with multicultural audiences:
Cross-Cultural: the ability for one brand to cross-over from one culture to the next culture
This definition builds upon the idea of crossing over I previously introduced:
Cross-Cultural Marketing – one marketing program that leverages ethnic markets to reach across ethnic and general markets
This new definition is a work in progress and describes a dynamic that has been happening since long before the discussion began. For some reason the discussion has gravitated towards agreement and disagreement about how to define and frame the multicultural conversation for marketing purposes. Cross-culturalism is less a definition but a working model for MEASURING THE AGE-OLD DYNAMIC as opposed to defining it. In that sense, it is forward looking and organic.
This emerging definition of cross-culturalism speaks to how we all relate with brands and culture in the real world. For instance, each of us most likely identifies with a culture but in a given day come across or interact with many cultures. But more importantly, we make consumer choices each day that are influenced by cultures outside of our own. It describes how a non-Hispanic whites end up using Huy Fong Srirachi as a condiment on hot dogs.
None of us lives in a cultural box. We are in motion just like brands are today. This is the natural way in which we experience culture today. A brand can hop from one culture to the next without dilution or losing its way.
Cross-cultural Propensity and Potential
Our hope is to apply this working definition as a means of measuring the cross-cultural dynamic, a dynamic that we call a brand’s cross-cultural prosperity. One of the first ways this model can be applied is to understand a brand’s cross-cultural Propensity and Potential. Propensity measures an existing dynamic – the degree to which a brand could cross-over or not. This approach does not co-opt existing models, but adds to them by exploring HOW AND WHY not what. But our broader and more ambitious goal is to help brands understand how they measure up in the transformative cross-cultural landscape and align themselves for future growth and relevance with multicultural audiences without losing their way as brands. Potential is a diagnostic to understand how to get a brand from point A to a cross-cultural point B.
By introducing cross-culturalism, we are introducing a measurement for brands to understand their meaning and relationship in a changing landscape.
An edited version of this post originally ran on MediaPost Engage:Hispanic on April 28, 2016.