Know the Multicultural Market and You'll Know the Key to Digital Success
Marketers are plowing more and more resources into digital strategies, and often multicultural budgets are pilfered to pay for it. But this may be a critical mistake, because multicultural consumers are key influencers in the digital space, as well as in a brand's relevance to popular culture.
Michelle Ebanks, president of Time, Inc., multicultural brands ("Essence" and "People En Español"), puts it this way: "Both Hispanics and African American women are driving digital adoption, and marketers with digital strategies would benefit greatly from understanding them as leaders of digital behavior."
Thomas Newman, president of Interactive One, observes, more broadly, "Our research has shown that both Hispanic and African American consumers tend to jump on trends early ... recent examples include early adoption of social networking, early adoption and higher usage of smartphones, and over indexing on specific next -generation platforms such as Twitter."
Newman's perspective is confirmed by a variety of studies, including the "AOL Hispanic Cyberstudy," which demonstrates the lead-user behavior that Hispanics exhibit online, even when adjusting for age, including more usage overall. The Pew Center's "State of Social Media" study reveals how African Americans lead in advanced social-network features like Twitter and Instagram.
A new study by my firm on how brands build what we call "cultural traction" shows how multicultural consumers drive a brand's relevance in U.S. popular culture. Technology brands such as Apple, Google, Samsung and Facebook appeal to multicultural consumers, making those brands more visionary. Multicultural consumers also underpin brands like McDonald's, Nike and Target. This is not a surprise, given the historical role of multicultural artists and consumers in leading popular-culture trends. As Newman puts it: "… these groups have tended to be both leaders and 'amplifiers' of early popular culture trends, especially in areas such as technology, music, film, fashion, art and language."
In the case of certain digital properties, success is deeply tied to multicultural audiences. Cafemom.com needed only to look at the percentage of new births coming from Hispanic women to understand that the site needed to be more relevant to Hispanics, leading to the creation of MamasLatinas.com. "CafeMom and MamásLatinas understand how important multicultural consumers are toward our digital properties. A recent survey CafeMom conducted of 2,000 moms nationwide showed that Hispanic moms outpace general-market moms for time spent online and on mobile devices. Hispanic moms are also more likely to be turning online for support ... and MamásLatinas is proud to be filling that need for community," says Lucia Ballas-Traynor, MamásLatinas co-founder and executive vice president.
The next evolution for digital strategies may be more of a "total-market" approach. Linking ethnic-specific digital content like theroot.com to The Washington Post online and Slate.com is an example of repurposing content to create new consumer pathways online based on ethnic interests. ESPN.com and ESPNDeportes.com allow toggling across specific sports and languages to tie ethnic lead-users more seamlessly into mainstream online offers.
Successfully designed strategies and digital experiences that have multicultural consumers at the core can and often do reach into other segments. One explanation for this, according to Thomas Newman, is that "multi-cultural consumers themselves have diverse and deep cultures and connections that can be introduced to a wider audience and then adopted across the country and globally. Another is that multi-cultural consumers often have come from an 'outsider' perspective -- which allows them to have unique insight into American culture that allows creativity to flourish."