A Primer on the New America for CMOs

As Never Before, You Need to Understand Your Brand's Role in the Creation of Culture and Identity

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Carl Izzi
Carl Izzi
It's no secret that Joe and Jane Consumer -- the symbols of mainstream America -- no longer exist. A recent Advertising Age white paper details how the 2010 U.S. Census will confirm much of what we already know: The U.S. is more multicultural than ever and demographic patterns point to a more diverse consumer market. Consider just one recent Census statistic: 72% of baby boomers are white non-Hispanic compared to only 54% of Americans under 18.

For most marketers, the growth of multicultural segments became a business imperative after the 2000 Census and the generational focus shifted from boomer to Gen Y. If you're managing a large brand today, you are likely addressing these opportunities through some combination of targeted Hispanic, African American or Asian, and youth-marketing initiatives.

But today that segmentation is not enough; a bigger change is emerging that is more meaningful than just demography. Tech-adoption habits, an increasingly dense urban landscape and a globalized environment mean that Americans live within a fluid conversation through which new influences catch on quickly and then spread like wildfire. "Cultural hybridity," whereby consumers are increasingly defining themselves in multiple ways as a result of "cultural bumping" (picking and choosing from the influences they are exposed to and creating new ones as they go) has added layers of nuance to consumer profiles.

For the CMO, the question becomes how to connect to complex audience segments that are shifting fast and are at once more global in outlook but more fragmented, all against a backdrop of "doing more with less" and measured accountability? The short answer: Rip up the playbook.

Traditional approaches for identifying and reaching audiences must change. The very notion of a "general market," a euphemism for a mainstream, largely white U.s., must go away. Instead, CMOs need to start thinking about a rapidly morphing, culturally and ethnically diverse set of nations-within-a-nation: the new America.

In a real-time, hybridized consumer culture, there are many more influences on consumers' choices than occurred in the command-and-control era of media-dictated culture. This signifies a greater need to "get under the hood" of visible consumer behaviors to understand emerging cultural connection points, whether for a multicultural or general-market effort.

As CMO, your job, as never before, is to understand your brand's role in the creation of culture and identity. Here are a few guideposts for navigating this new territory and creating a marketing playbook relevant to the new America:

1. Extrapolate the values that come from multicultural marketing.
Multicultural marketing has always been about finding connection points, through cultural relevance to an ethnic audience. Now cultural relevance takes on an even more important role in the overall marketing mix, and brands need to ensure that they are tied to the cultural drivers that underpin a specific market. Pepsi's Refresh Everything campaign was launched in the spirit of political and social change that defined Barack Obama's candidacy, energized a group of diverse millennials looking to push the country's reset button, and helped reposition Pepsi as a modern brand.

2. Embrace the need for complexity.
The days of a mainstream culture and counter-culture are largely gone. Brand messages not only have to be culturally connected, but they have to be delivered with the nuances that reflect specific target audiences -- and in the right channels. Absolut Vodka softly targets a LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) segment with viral videos about urban farming. A slice of that Pepsi campaign offers an inspirational message to African-American moms in social media.

3. Listen and look for the trends.
Where once styles, tastes and, yes, sentiments on products were dictated to us through tightly scripted media, today consumers dictate the rules. But in the age of fragmentation and cultural hybridity, there are lots of waves for marketers to ride. Anime, salsa, drift racing and afropunk are all phenomena that started with ethnic roots and grew into marketable opportunities. In this fast-shifting cultural mix, trends take shape more often and faster; learning to understand and spot the shifts will give astute marketers a great advantage in uncovering marketing opportunities. The use and growth of social media is the ultimate trend within itself. It presents a significant chance for consumers to collaborate and brands to listen for opportunities in those conversations. The signposts for today's fast changes are coming from consumers themselves in this unprecedented era of consumer expression capacity. Twitter, tag clouds and crowdsourcing are as useful for brand monitoring as they are for peer-to-peer connectivity.

4. Settle into iterative living.
The pace at which these changes are taking place is much faster than most brand-marketing structures are built for. A brand launch that is a single moment in time is a concept of the past. To adapt to a more complex consumer-marketing structure, brands need to enter into the non-stop cycle of listening, testing and refining.

The 2010 Census will present an opportune moment for CMOs to refocus on the changes affecting the consumer landscape. These changes go beyond demographics and, for many brands, warrant a rightsizing of targeting strategies and the marketing mix. Brands that make the shift will find new opportunities in the emerging trends and segments to position for growth.

Carl Izzi is president of GlobalHue/Next and a member of GlobalHue's executive committee. Prior to assuming his current role, Carl founded GlobalHue's interactive practice and helped the company break ground in the digital multicultural space for clients including Walmart, Bermuda Tourism, the U.S. Navy, Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge and others.
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