Two years after Walmart made headlines by announcing that it was eliminating its "multicultural marketing team" and making multicultural marketing a business imperative for everyone at the company, a majority of marketers are adopting the strategy under its new name: Total Market.
"Embedding a multicultural perspective into all of our efforts is not a choice," said Gilbert Davila, CEO of Davila Multicultural Insights and Chairman of the Association of National Advertisers' Multicultural Marketing and Diversity Committee, in opening remarks at the 15th Annual ANA Multicultural Marketing and Diversity Conference this week. "It's a necessity. It's time for us to embrace a total market approach, while still targeting individual demographics. In this plan, everyone is included. Everyone is represented. Every single time."
The Total Market strategy was one of the predominant themes at the conference, which drew more than 800 attendees to Los Angeles, including three general sessions that directly addressed the approach and how it is working.
"We are not in Kansas anymore, the general market doesn't look the same" said Marelena Peleo-Lazar, chief creative officer at McDonald's, a company that could be considered the granddaddy of the tactic with its long running global campaign "I'm lovin' it."
"When we take the time to invest our resources to understand the points of view of the ethnic customers, we make smarter decisions that promote our brand in the best possible way," Ms. Peleo-Lazar said. McDonald's starts its process by looking for culturally relevant insights -- not simple stereotypes. Those are used to develop the marketing plan, then the creative and finally the media buy.
Some 54% of all advertisers are practicing some level of Total Market strategy, said Carlos Santiago, CEO of Santiago Solutions Group, which conducted a benchmark study on the subject for the agency association AHAA: The Voice of Hispanic Marketing. Of those, some 66% said Total Market approaches were already helping their businesses in measures such as market share and return on investment.
But there is no single, clear definition of the Total Market strategy, Mr. Santiago said. The AHAA is forming a group to develop guidelines and best practices.
"Marketing 101 means Total Market," said Lauventria Robinson, VP-multicultural marketing for Coca-Cola North America. Coca-Cola has a hybrid structure whereby brands will have dedicated multicultural marketing teams that help them go deep with certain segments but also benefit from a cross-cultural team that helps all brands when it comes to youth, teen and millennial segments in particular. For her, she said, multicultural marketing is not a question of "either/or" but an "and."
"I've been around multicultural marketing through my whole career," said Tony Rogers, senior VP-brand marketing and advertising at Walmart, "and I come at this from the perspective of a rational business person who is trying to figure out the right way to grow my business and how to make my messages resonate with everyone in my audience."
But Total Market strategies are not a given and certainly not easy to do, executives said. "We have to reframe the conversation," said Lizette Williams, senior brand manager for Kimberly Clark. "We are not going to continue fighting for minimal ethnic budgets. Our job is to help our leaders understand how the multicultural business opportunity will help the overall company achieve its goals … and more importantly what is the cost of doing nothing at all."
Getting planners, creative agencies and media buyers to really embrace a Total Market strategy is another hurdle. Coca-Cola's Ms. Robinson said she had to "push the envelope and force partners to work better together," a sentiment also expressed by others.
"Don't let yourself be defined as 'I am a Hispanic marketer, or I am an African American marketer,'" said Walmart's Mr. Rogers. "The whole idea of Total Market implies that you are just a marketer."
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