Friday, October 29, 2010

How Can Companies Address Cultural Diversity in Marketing

There are companies that have dedicated groups to deal with Latinos, for example. And sometimes they have separate groups to handle multiple minority group. In some cases there is a multicultural marketing group as distinct from the main marketing group. Some companies have had niche marketing units for a while and then have disbanded them. Some recreate them after a while and then merge them into discrete business units. There may not be one recipe for how to organize the marketing function to account for cultural diversity among consumers but the following are important requirements:

1.      First and foremost there must be members of the cultural groups of interest within the organization at most levels of decision making. These individuals should, at least conceptually, be vigilant about issues that affect their cultural communities. Hispanic in our case.

2.      There should be cultural expertise in the organization that goes beyond objective culture to address the subjective culture of the groups in question. Ideally these would be cultural anthropologists that also have marketing expertise. As a minimum these should be practitioners that have some in-depth training about the focus culture, even if they are members of the culture itself. Being a member of a cultural group does not necessarily imply that the person understands his/her own culture. That is because culture is not evident even to its own members. In house cultural expertise used in marketing strategies and tactics can help connect effectively with culturally diverse consumers and avoid costly errors. Also, it helps organizations avoid the assumption of similarity that many marketers tend to make because “after all we are all human.” I have made the point elsewhere that using culture as a connecting mechanism becomes a shorthand for better communication with culturally diverse groups.

3.      As purposeful marketing claims increased importance in the marketplace, organizations are redefining their mission to become better citizens. As the grocery store a hundred years ago had the purpose of serving its community businesses now are coming back to that enlightened point. As a sense of purpose guides the organization the bottom line is also covered. Purposeful marketing requires now that companies act upon the multicultural reality of the United States.

4.      Integrating decision making in organizations will be an increasingly important endeavor. This is particularly true in marketing as Latinos and other emerging minorities cannot be seen as niches anymore but as driving forces of the entire economy. The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) can no longer compartmentalize culturally diverse groups as smaller opportunities than the defunct “general market.” There is no such thing as a general market, there are segments of cultural groups compounded by subcultures and lifestyles. These need to be understood in a coherent scheme where culture is part of the segmentation scheme, and where culture is part of the strategic thinking of the company.

5.      The cultural experience of the company needs to be an ongoing effort. Companies need to keep their radar out in culturally diverse communities to understand trends and changes. Executives need to go on ethnographic interview outings to see where and how their consumers live. They need to experience firsthand consumer practices and ways of behaving. It is not just the research/insights group that needs to be in contact with consumers, it is the decision makers. To do otherwise makes the work of researchers and insight gatherers futile because they will not resonate at the decision making levels. Marketing needs to go back to the village, larger now but still a village in a psychological sense.

There does not seem to be a way to ignore the cultural transition the United States is experiencing. Marketers are at the point where they need to strategize and segment in a comprehensive way. Marketing to Hispanics, for example, is not anymore a secondary priority, because that is where the future resides. But a new approach to marketing in a diverse society should be done so that complexity and cultural overlaps are recognized.

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