Ikea's Leontyne Green Talks About Diversity and Marketing to African-Americans

Customer Experience Has to Live Up to Expectations Created by Advertising

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Leontyne Green, U.S. marketing manager, Ikea North America
Leontyne Green, U.S. marketing manager, Ikea North America
In honor of Black History Month, Ad Age caught up with a number of marketing and advertising executives for a Q&A. The second in the series is Leontyne Green, U.S. marketing manager of Ikea North America, who answered via email.

AA: How did you get into the business? Any advertising heroes? Professors? Celebrities you looked up to?

Ms. Green: As a restaurant general manager, I became increasingly curious about the links between consumer behavior and purchase intent and my ability to drive my business. I subsequently received my MBA from Clark Atlanta University (CAU), as a means to transition into marketing. I started my marketing career at Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer Healthcare, where I spent over seven years in brand management, before joining the Ikea U.S. organization in 2006.

During my time at CAU, I had the opportunity to meet and be exposed to Ann Fudge and Kenneth Chenault. Those discussions were great opportunities to listen and learn from other African-American leaders in corporate America.

AA: How do you feel about diversity in the advertising industry? Is there a need for African-American targeted agencies?

Ms. Green: There is a huge opportunity to increase diversity among the more senior roles within the advertising industry, on both the creative and account side. There has been an increase in diversity among junior roles within the advertising agency on the account side, but there's still opportunity for increased diversity on the creative side.

Today, there's a need for African-American focused agencies. African-American consumers have their own distinct needs and wants, based on their values, culture, and history. These distinctions influence media usage and message tonality. However, if more general-market agencies prioritized focusing on multicultural audiences within their scope, the same general-market agencies could provide clients with relevant insights, strategies, and tactical plans for reaching different audiences, including African-American.

Marketers [still] fall into the trap of thinking that they are effectively communicating with African Americans by just including African-Americans in their spots.

AA: Thoughts on marketing segmentation by ethnicity? Is it necessary?

Ms. Green: I strongly believe that understanding your consumer base is the minimum requirement to building your business and your brand. Through segmentation, marketers can gain a greater depth of insights about their target . These insights can then be leveraged into creating relevant platforms that stimulate engagement and ideally, gives marketers permission to promote their brands. When the insights are used appropriately, in a manner that supports the values, beliefs, and/or culture of their consumer (instead of perpetuating broad generalizations), marketers can begin to build trust for their brands.

AA: Should such targeting be a company-wide initiative or something that 's happened on a store-by -store (or region-by -region) basis?

Ms. Green: To effectively have a relationship with any consumer, a base of trust must be established. One element that can build trust is having the consumer feel that the brand has "something for me" and they "understand me." Another element that reinforces trust is the consumers' belief that they always meet the brand in a consistent, positive manner, regardless of the media or venue. For Ikea, if the customer experience in the store doesn't meet the promise in our advertising, we not only miss the opportunity to build trust, but we alienate customers further than if we had ignored their needs all together.

Therefore, the commitment to marketing segmentation must be a company-wide initiative. The concept has to be embraced and actively supported by all functions and leaders within an organization, io ensure a consistent meeting with the consumer. In my experience, when market segmentation is only a focus of a small, sometimes separate group, there is a struggle to maintain support among competing priorities.

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