Don't Be So Quick to Dismiss Power of Asian Consumers

This Group of Early Adopters Will Soon Have a Spending Clout of $700B and Is Making Its Own Mark on U.S. Culture

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- While no one has that proverbial crystal ball to predict the future of advertising and marketing, one thing is for sure: Asian-Americans will continue to build on their heritage, family values, academic prowess, adaptability and rising spending clout to be the most attractive consumer-market segment in the country.

THE NEW FAST FOOD: Vietnamese Banh mi from the 'Nom Nom' food truck.
THE NEW FAST FOOD: Vietnamese Banh mi from the 'Nom Nom' food truck.
Most marketers have heard this all before but continue to dismiss the power of the Asian-American market, saying it's too diverse, too small to segment, too complicated -- even cumbersome -- and too regional, not a national audience for a national player. They've even said they aren't influencers or trendsetters; they're influenced by others.

Not true.

Every ethnic group in America borrows, adapts, embraces and sets trends that impact other cultures, including Asians and Asian-Americans, but Asian-Americans do assert their own mark on a wide variety of market drivers, including food, technology, music, dance, fashion, politics, social media and more.

Here are some important headlines from just the past few weeks that dispel the many myths about Asian consumers.

Chinese-American designer Vern Yip is tapped by HGTV and W Hotels to design a luxury Manhattan apartment with a view of the Statue of Liberty. "Aarti Party" is one of the newest Food Network shows, featuring South-Asian-American celebrity chef Aarti Sequeira. Some of you tuning into the Food Network may have also witnessed the "Nom Nom" food truck (serving Vietnamese-American-inspired banh mi sandwiches) win nearly all of the challenges around the country before losing a hard-fought battle with gourmet burgers. And just last week, Far East Movement, an Asian-American boy band that opened one of Lady Gaga's concerts in Japan, hit No. 1 on iTunes.

Even more compelling are the stats. The two largest segments of the U.S. Asian population, Chinese and South Asians, have populations that are larger than several European countries. And with more than 15 million consumers whose population will escalate to more than 30 million in less than a few decades, the spending clout of Asian-Americans rivals the GDP of more than a dozen European states and leading economies around the world. For a population that represents only about 5% of the U.S., by 2014 Asian-American consumers will have more than $700 billion in spending power, up from $509 billion in 2009.

Not convinced?

There isn't enough room here to list all of the advances in social media and high tech that have been influenced or invented by Asian-Americans. YouTube? Co-created by an Asian-American. Yahoo? Also co-founded by an Asian-American.

Even traditional Asian-American media has grown in the U.S., influencing a new generation of Asians and non-Asian consumers. Today, there are more than 800 traditional Asian-American media organizations, a growth of more than 300% since 1990. Traditional media has also influenced online media use.

A quick look at the segment
Asian/Asian-American population in U.S.
14,013,954

Number of nationalities/ethnic groups represented:
At least 24

Number of languages:
At least 56

Biggest group by language spoken:
Chinese. (After English and Spanish, it is the most widely spoken language in the U.S.)

Biggest group by nationality: Chinese.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.
"Our viewers have never been so powerful in terms of driving the new-media consumption trends," says Yukai Liu, research analyst for KTSF Television, a Nielsen-rated broadcaster focusing on the Asian-American communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

One specific trend she sees is that Asians and Asian-American consumers always want to be connected using the latest and most popular online applications and technology. Asian-Americans are the earliest adopters of technology and are the first among American consumers to integrate different media platforms.

Asians and Asian-Americans will continue to stay true to their cultural values and heritage by placing their own mark on future trends. "Asian- Americans are actually more engaged in content that reflects their own cultural heritage," says Ms. Liu. "These consumers are more connected by social-media networks that offer more cultural connectivity."

Financial services and banking companies are also closely watching the trends. As a result of the economic climate, Wells Fargo has noticed consumers are trying to save more of their earned income. Recognizing that Asians and Asian-Americans place value on trusted relationships and on saving for the future, the company sees trends such as social networking as an opportunity to build upon its already successful marketing and communications initiatives in the Asian-American market.

"At the heart of the Asian culture is a desire to build meaningful relationships in life, which seems to be also reflected in the popularity of social networking," said Nancy Wong, Wells Fargo Asian American Segment Manager. "The commitment to saving has been a core part of Asian values for thousands of years."

So, despite the technological edge attributed to Asian-Americans, many core cultural values such as saving for the future, educational attainment, familiar bonds and healthy living still persist. Marketers who recognize how to navigate through the intersections between trends, key influencers and cultural values will become the most successful stewards of their brands.

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