Thursday, March 25, 2010

All Marketing is Cultural

Many marketers still ask the question: What is different about marketing to Hispanics, Asians, African Americans, etc.? Isn't marketing just marketing?

Marketing is marketing but few marketers consciously realize that what they do is cultural marketing. So when they target women with children, they are really addressing a subculture in the United States.  When they address young people they are addressing another culture within a culture. When they target middle class homeowners they are not just addressing a so called "demographic," they are addressing a culture.

There is little awareness of what a culture is. A culture is a set of designs for living that are shared by many people, and sometimes those designs for living are passed on from generation to generation.

Most advertising would not work if it were not cultural. The marketer attempts to connect with consumers who share something in common, but the "demographic" is not what they share in common, it is the way of being, thinking, doing, valuing, and feeling.

Thus, it should not be surprising that to reach out to Latinos, for example, the marketer needs to understand their culture. And that is profound because it goes to the core of who people are. That is what ethnic marketing consists of. It is the understanding of the culture and the contextual issues surrounding it. It is different because the culture is different, but also because it is a lot harder to market to a different culture than to the one you are part of. See, culture is like water for the fish, we are seldom aware of it. We think a joke is funny just because it is funny. Not so, a joke is funny because it is culturally bound. A joke is funny to a group of people who share a culture, and not to others. An emotional appeal is emotional to those who share a common reaction to that appeal.

When the marketer crosses cultures s/he needs to make many assumptions explicit. There is no more obviousness of water to the fish. The fish needs to become aware of the water in order to succeed. That is what has to happen with marketers. They need to step out of the comfort of their own culture to be effective in another. That is why it is so difficult to do cross cultural marketing.

But, all marketing is cultural, and it is hard for many to realize that. So, now, why do we need to make special efforts to market to Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, etc.? Because they swim in different waters.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Multiculturalism and Integration: The Interplay of Society and Individuals

There is precedent for the current interest in multiculturalism. John Berry[i] presents a heuristic paradigm in which he considers the degree to which individuals value keeping their original cultural orientation, and the degree to which they find it valuable to maintain a relationship with the second culture. Those individuals who wish to preserve their culture and also relate to the second culture “integrate.” Those who do not value preserving their original culture and value the relationship with the second culture “assimilate.” Those who value their culture and do not care for the second culture tend to “separate.” And, finally, those who do not value either culture become “marginalized.”
Since there has been a strong movement towards cultural preservation and identity assertion it is likely that Latinos at this time are most likely to integrate. Some, particularly those who feel alienated from US society, tend to remain separate, but few seem to assimilate or to remain marginalized. That is because most tend to value their culture of origin, or their enculturation. Berry also addresses the reciprocal approaches that the receiving culture adopts to relate to immigrants. Individual integration has its societal parallel in multiculturalism, in which the immigrants’ culture is valued and society wishes to respect that cultural difference. Multiculturalism is the result of society accepting those who are different and proud to be so. Assimilation is the social parallel of the melting pot phenomenon in which the larger society accepts those who give up their original culture. If society respects the culture of the immigrants and does not wish for them to mix the result is segregation. This is what at the individual level is separation. Finally, when society finds no value in the culture of the immigrant and does not wish to have them integrate the result is exclusion. This is what at the individual level parallels marginalization.
In sum, immigrant Integration corresponds to Multiculturalism in a larger societal framework. Individual Assimilation matches the Melting Pot from a larger society perspective. Separation corresponds to social segregation, and individual marginalization matches social exclusion. Berry’s paradigm emphasizes that it both the attitude of the immigrant and the attitude of the receiving culture result in forces that affect the way in which both immigrants and the receiving society behave. 
Marketers, in their efforts to connect with consumers can consider that accepting the differences of Latinos promotes their harmonic integration in a multicultural society. This process elevates self esteem and when paired with brand attributes it can create long lasting brand relationships.
At the time of this writing the so called “immigration debate” is acrimonious and it is hard to predict how the larger society will behave towards immigrants in the near future. Nevertheless in the past 30 years or so there has been a tendency by the majority of US society to embrace diversity, and the cultural esteem of Hispanics has been elevated by wider acceptance and respect.  Greater and more visible Hispanic achievements have contributed to this increased acceptance. The likely outcome is that integration in a multicultural framework is the trend of the future. Most Hispanics have no reason for forgetting their original culture at this point. Hispanics appear to see more social and economic value in preserving key elements of their heritage. But let’s not make the mistake to think that such preservation is a copy of what Latin Americans experience, it is the preservation of the synergic cultural identity of being Latino in the United States.

[i] John W. Berry, Ype H. Poortinga, Marshall H. Segall, and Pierre R. Dasen,Cross-Cultural Psychology: Research and Applications (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002) 354.