Jeff Yang, founding partner and CEO of New York-based multicultural marketing consultancy Factor, Inc., theorized a year ago in the pages of American Demographics that many of the old ways of thinking about multicultural, and the models that were built to negotiate the space, are outdated even obsolete. For Yang, it was important to start recognizing multicultural as more than an artificial construct developed to allocate marketing and workforce resources in, what more often than not, amounts to a token effort.
From the vantage point of an obsolete model, little- or un-recognized realities of the multicultural landscape, Yang averred, are groups like Outward Bounders, young people (mostly immigrants or the children of immigrants) whose affinities and friends and cultural reference points are transnational, and Transient Internationals, temporary U.S. residents from abroad.
Now, there's almost always a conflict among the smartest people about the way to make progress beyond the anachronistic model. For some, the term multicultural is a necessary business concept to help people understand and buy in to ways to apply market segmentation resources as the population becomes more dynamic and diverse. As organizations currently exist, they might actually need ethnic and multicultural marketing theory and practice as an essential lens through which they can see opportunity in the diversity of their customers or constituents.
Others argue the word multicultural stands for all that is wrong with marketing and marketers today, fatally relying on mischaracterized segment descriptions that do the opposite of what they're meant to do, which is to help people manage product strategies and communications and market intelligence budgets in a smarter way. More than a few wise marketing executives with or without ethnic or multicultural in their titles say that good ethnic or multicultural marketing is good marketing, period.
Anachronistic models burn time and energy, and they wind up making it hard to actually get what's going on. Outward Bounders and Transient Internationals, for instance, reflect a global fluidity that is a fact of our life today, in social, economic and cultural ways. If we look simply through the multicultural lens, we might see an Asian, Hispanic, African American or Native American household. But we might very easily miss the connection or the direction or the influence or the value that would serve as the real trigger of engagement with someone whose cultural heritage profoundly accompanies him or her across national borders, rather than being left behind like an item that wouldn't make it through customs.
Whether it's trying to strengthen an organization, a healthy city, a customer base or a partnership network, diversity is more critical than ever. It's the connective tissue to the future. People like Richard Florida, our featured visionary in The Visionary & the Futurist, page 25, and a keynote speaker at this month's Pop!Tech (www.poptech.org) in Camden, Maine, who help us begin to see past our outdated models to realize that today's and tomorrow's diversity involves fluidity, geographic dynamism and global crossings.