Corporate America is increasingly undertaking enterprise-level initiatives to move multicultural market considerations from a segment-driven consideration into their core business operations. Market realities are driving this trend: the growth of multicultural populations, their spending power and the projections they will drive a majority of market growth in many industries. A glimpse at the demographic profile of the coveted millennial population brings this market imperative into focus: Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians make up 41% of all millennials in the U.S.
Marketing is often the “tip of the spear” for these massive corporate efforts, and appropriately so. Marketing is all about creating customer-led demand. Ironically, many organizations have created multicultural departments, “centers of excellence”, or diversity functions, which have been given responsibility for mainstreaming multicultural.
Total Market Is a First, Awkward Step towards Bigger Changes to Come
The Total Market Approach has been one of the first manifestations of this trend within marketing. I do not believe that the Total Market Approach is a nefarious attempt to marginalize ethnic advertising agencies, eliminate segmented multicultural marketing efforts, or obfuscate cost-cutting efforts. Instead, I see it as an honest experiment by thoughtful and well-intentioned organizations looking to fundamentally redefine multicultural marketing within their organizations. However, I do not view the Total Market Approach as long-term model. Debating the merits of the total market approach misses this most important point: marketing at the highest levels must change.
Marketing Must Change as Massive Demographic Shifts Reshape America
The demographic makeup of millennials provides a snapshot of today’s multicultural marketplace. However, the coming generation provides a better glimpse into the future of the America and how marketing has to change. Gen Z is the first generation in American history to be almost majority minority (47%). But Gen Z will change multicultural marketing in more profound ways. Hispanics make up 23% of Gen Z, but 91% are native-born and only 24% speak Spanish. Future immigration into the U.S. may change Gen Z, but projections point to educated, wealthier Asians driving most immigration into Gen Z. Gen Z is also 5% mixed race, the highest in history
A Marketing Industry Focused on “Differences” Will Never Solve These Big Marketing Challenges
Companies are turning to multicultural marketing and diversity experts to help solve the immense marketing challenge of taking multicultural efforts to the enterprise. Unfortunately, most of these experts – whether marketers, researchers, or diversity experts – bring a bias and fundamentally flawed frame of reference to this new multicultural world. For the last 50+ years, multicultural marketing and diversity specialists have made a living focused on identifying and leveraging the differences between the “mainstream” and ethnic minorities. As Gen Z comes into better focus, it’s clear that this model will not work.
The Solutions Lie in Shifting towards a Framework that Identifies and Leverages Similarities
A new multicultural marketing perspective must be embraced to move multicultural from silos and evolve marketing to meet the seismic changes Gen Z will usher in. This new approach should start with identifying and leveraging the similarities between cultural segments reflecting the new reality that culture no longer exists in the silo of ethnicity. This new approach is exemplified by “polyculturalism,” a model introduced by The Futures Company. Polyculturalism replaces the outdated concept of acculturation by describing and measuring the extent to which consumers balance multiple different cultures. While polyculturalism may ultimately give way to new models, it moves the industry towards a cross-cultural approach that effectively breaks down the silos of multicultural marketing.
An edited version of this post originally ran on MediaPost Engage:Hispanic on June 4, 2015.