But this process, called "acculturation," has multiple facets. On the surface you learn to walk and talk like a native; you start to project the image. Beneath the exterior, however, is a deeper part of yourself -- the cultural part of your psyche --that remains attached to your country of origin. You see yourself a child of parents born elsewhere and seek to retain a connection to this heritage even as you fashion your identity as a mainstream American. That's the dimension called "affiliation."
As multicultural consumers edge closer and closer to becoming the majority in America -- they already represent the greatest growth opportunity for brands -– the desire to assimilate is being overtaken by an interest in cultural heritage. This is happening not just among more recent arrivals, but among younger, second- and third-generation multicultural consumers raised in the United States. Here we see a trend of "retro-acculturation," as people become increasingly interested in knowing more about their roots.
This is not really surprising. Our children and grandchildren live in a country that is far more multicultural than in the past. In school and at play, many classrooms and sports teams have become a mixing bowl of cultures, all interacting and influencing one another. Many ethnic neighborhoods, once fortress-like in their cultural insularity, are becoming increasingly integrated --with Indians living next to Chinese, next to Russians, next to Japanese and so on. This pattern tends to increase people's desire to identify with their own culture.
For multicultural marketers, the next five years are likely to see momentous changes. A recent Brookings Institution report showed that Hispanics and Asians produced the largest population gains in America's 100 largest metropolitan areas in the decade since 2000. Hispanics, especially, are not only growing faster -- they are also younger. About 70% of Hispanics are under the age of 40, as opposed to 51% of non-Hispanics.
Forward-thinking brands are changing their marketing strategies accordingly. Coca-Cola's CMO told the annual Nielsen Conference in June that 86% of its growth within the youth market will come from multicultural consumers. Customers who were once regarded as a niche marketing opportunity now represent the majority of spending growth in the United States. Brands that are failing to focus a significant portion of their attention and marketing budgets on understanding and appealing to these audiences -- especially Hispanics -- are behind the curve. They will fall to competitors who do.
Mobile devices and social media are fast becoming the central hubs of connection. Younger Hispanics use smartphones nearly twice as much as non-Hispanic whites -- and they are three times as likely to create online content, according to research by Geoscape. Brands that are not talking to multicultural consumers in digital forms are missing the conversation.
For brands the challenge of this new era will revolve around understanding and leveraging how today's form of multiculturalism is redefining the marketplace of tomorrow.