Growing Pains for a Total-Market Approach to Diversity

Marketers Split Over the Value of Ethnic-Inclusive -- But It's Just the Beginning

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The most important development in multicultural marketing is the notion of the "total market" -- shifting from targeting particular ethnic consumers to strategies that will appeal to a multicultural nation. This past week, we saw how the concept is still in its gestation stage, causing both confusion and potentially earth-shattering shifts.

Gene Bryant, publisher of and an advocate for the uniqueness of the Hispanic market and the ethnic-agency model, noted the failure of several prominent attempts by general-market agencies (i.e. non-ethnic agencies) to co-opt multicultural-marketing assignments under the banner of "total market." These include Media Brands' (ICG) Center of Excellence, KBS&P's Ramona and Havas' Totality. "Other mainstream attempts to be-all-you-can-be to advertisers and offering the multicultural bucket approach continue to be just projects," Bryant wrote.

A few days later, Latinum, a respected network of over 100 major corporations whose membership is largely Hispanic marketing professionals, held a forum on the "total market" and gave the idea a ringing endorsement. "Instead of talking about ethnic markets, marketers are talking about the diverse quilt that is 'the cultural economy' as a whole," Latinum wrote, describing major takeaways from the meeting. "This becomes more than just a semantic distinction as investors realize that to be successful, consumer and business-to-business brands have to stop talking about marketing to' 'general market,' with the leftovers dedicated to minority segments, and instead demand that companies capture all the dollars in the pie. This shift will have substantial, pervasive implications for the future of American business strategy."

What is going on here? I have a few thoughts to explain these two conflicting points of view and hope others will join in the analysis of this critical issue for multicultural marketers.

1. The "total market" model is easier said than done in general-market agencies . We are seeing version 1.0 of a model that likely will evolve. The early version looks more like a an agency within an agency that is not efficient or financially sustainable in the near term. It will require more work to build the competency, generate the client revenue and learn to distinguish between ethnic-specific and ethnic-inclusive solutions.

2. There is general acknowledgement that the consumer universe is more ethnic in its composition, but still no agreed upon definition of "total market." As mentioned in previous blogs, the appeal of a "total market" for many CMOs is that it implies efficiency. "We can reach African Americans and Hispanics through our overall advertising" is the thinking. But while efficiencies may exist in some cases, as the consumer landscape becomes more ethnic-inclusive, marketers still need to understand when ethnic-specific is required to drive deep relevance.

An easy way out may not exist. "Total market" may represent a significant shift in popular cultural norms regarding ethnicity, but the consumer market continues to split into segments that require deeper understanding and marketing effort. This calibration will require new tools to understand media mix and ethnic relevance by brand and category, and perhaps new marketing processes and agency alignment.

Tools like the Futures Company's Cultural Compass, which my agency collaborated on, offer a deeper "total-market" understanding. The Cultural Compass helps to measure a proposition's ability to attract both ethnic and mainstream consumers and offers a guide to the right degree of cultural connection for greatest consumer reach. Another example is People en Espanol's Hispanic Opinion Tracker (HOT) Study, a survey of Hispanics that quantifies the role of ethnic identity by category and brand, to highlight when cultural identity plays a defining role in the path to purchase.

Perhaps it's not either "total market" or ethnic-specific, but "total market" and ethnic-specific. Efficiencies still may possible, but relevance is the watchword for the ever-demanding consumer.

Stephen Palacios is Executive Director of Business Development and of Intercultural Practice for Added Value NA.
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