True Colors

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Cultural factors influence the online behavior of ethnic consumers.

Black and Hispanic Americans use and perceive the Internet differently than general market consumers as a result of their distinct cultural backgrounds and values, according to a recent study by Cultural Access Group, a market research firm and consultancy in Los Altos, California. As Internet participation rates of multicultural segments grow, shrinking the so-called digital divide, marketers who pay attention to these differences will be better able to serve the needs and capture the loyalty of these online consumer segments.

“Culture plays a powerful, defining role for how ethnic consumers behave and purchase goods and services. Ethnic Internet users are no exception,� writes Thomas Tseng, Cultural Access' director of marketing, and author of the report entitled, “Ethnicity in the Electronic Age: Looking at the Internet Through a Multicultural Lens.� “Key cultural drivers are emerging in today's online multicultural marketplace. In our digital future, identifying these drivers now will have tremendous ramifications for ethnic marketing in future years.�

All Internet users, regardless of race or ethnicity, overwhelmingly find the medium to be a positive addition to their lives and one that makes their lives easier, according to the study. However, when it comes to whether or not the Internet has helped American society overall, blacks are far more skeptical, and Hispanics far more optimistic, than the general population. For instance, almost twice as many blacks (20 percent) as Hispanics (12 percent) or general market consumers (11 percent) disagree that the “Internet has improved our society overall.� And only about a quarter of blacks agree that the “Internet has helped to break down racial barriers� (27 percent) and “economic barriers� (29 percent). In comparison, a full 60 percent of Hispanics say the Internet has helped dissolve racial lines, and 48 percent say it has helped erase economic ones.

The majority of Hispanics and blacks say that the Internet keeps them connected to their ethnic communities, with 73 percent of Hispanics and 59 percent of blacks in agreement. Seventy-six percent of blacks and 68 percent of Hispanics typically visit ethnic-oriented Web sites. But more than any other group online, blacks believe that people of color have unique needs on the Internet (52 percent), whereas just 16 percent of Hispanics, and 14 percent of the general market agree with the notion. Blacks are therefore extremely receptive to sites that they believe are specifically geared toward them. Seventy-nine percent of African Americans agree that the content on black-oriented sites is meaningful, and 46 percent of them prefer going to such sites than to others. Yet only 37 percent of this group agrees that there is adequate content aimed at fulfilling their needs.

When targeting blacks online, marketers should pay attention to African American's focus on empowerment and their economic goals, advises Tseng. For instance, blacks are twice as likely to use the Internet for job hunting (50 percent) than are general market consumers (24 percent). They are also almost three times as likely to explore family or relationship themes on the Net — 34 percent compared with 13 percent for the general market. (For more information, see March 2001 Cover Story, “Online America.�)

Marketing to blacks requires delicacy in addressing their general lack of trust in the Internet as a medium — just 43 percent of those who have been using the Internet for three years or more purchase products online, compared with 75 percent of those in the experienced general market. And almost half (49 percent) are uncomfortable submitting their credit card number online, compared with 16 percent of general market consumers. Taking steps toward understanding black women's needs and providing for them on the Internet is also key, says Tseng, since more than three-quarters (76 percent) of black Internet users are female.

Reaching online Hispanics is quite another story. Content providers need to focus on creating Web sites geared to their primary uses for the tool, such as their greater tendency to surf for international news. Unlike black Internet users, however, the bulk of Hispanics, (64 percent) do feel that the Internet provides adequate content targeted to them, but only 38 percent of them prefer visiting Hispanic sites. In fact, only about one-third of Hispanic adults say they are satisfied with the quality of Internet content available for their kids. Web site developers take note: 89 percent of online Hispanics have children at home, compared with 37 percent of the general market, and the role of children in the Hispanic home tends to be more central than in other cultures, according to the report. Marketers need to build on Hispanics' favorable perceptions and optimism toward the Internet by improving and expanding their range of choices, says Tseng.

“Understanding these ethnic-cultural factors, rather than focusing exclusively on digital access, will be the key to reaching the emerging base of online African Americans and Hispanics, in addition to Asians and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and other ethnic populations,� says Tseng. Considering that these groups combined already represent a $1.3 trillion consumer marketplace and are expected to grow to between $4.3 trillion and $6.1 trillion by 2045, perhaps getting to know what makes them click isn't such a bad idea.

For more information, or to download a copy of the full report, visit or call Thomas D. Tseng, director of marketing, at (323) 782-3412.

Culture Clash

While experienced black and Hispanic Internet users research and purchase products online at higher rates than those with less experience, they still trail experienced general market consumers.

Three or more years' experience
Black 62% 43%
Hispanic 65% 42%
General Market 78% 75%
Less than three years' experience
Black 46% 19%
Hispanic 55% 26%
General Market 60% 50%
Source: Cultural Access Group
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