The Truth About Black America

Radio One / Yankelovich Study Shatters Myths

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Pepper Miller Pepper Miller
"Myth Buster." It rolled off my tongue unrehearsed and unplanned while presenting a sampling of findings and insights from the Black America Today study commissioned by Radio One (the largest U.S. radio broadcasting company targeting Black Americans) and conducted by Yankelovich.

As one of the study's team members, I had the honor of introducing the study to a live audience at Target Market News' ninth annual African-American Research and Advertising Summit held in Chicago June 30 thru July 1.

My eyes scanned the PowerPoint bullets, and I found myself testifying at key points:
"The digital divide is over. Done. Stick a fork in it! Sixty-eight percent of African Americans vs. 71% of all Americans are online and two-thirds shop online." I then added, "Myth Buster!!"
In an instant, I recalled the ongoing struggle to convince marketers about the value of Blacks online. Marketers' skepticism and resistance to examine this segment is partly attributed to studies that focus on African-American computer ownership vs. online access. An ownership focus misleads marketers into believing that Black value in the digital space is nil. Access tells a bigger story about who does what, when and where online. Radio One and Yankelovich asked the better question and got it right.

The survey of 3,400 African Americans is the largest marketing-research study ever done of Black Americans. It is also the only study to wisely include Black teens and seniors (ages 13 to 74), because Black consumer opportunities don't exclusively begin and end with 18- to 34-year-olds.

The study shatters many other myths, including assumptions about Black identity, optimism, the hip-hop generation's respect for elders, discrimination and saving.

Importantly, the survey, representing 30 million Black Americans, identified 11 specific segments within Black America today, ranging from Connected Black Teens, Digital Networkers and Black Onliners at the younger end to Faith Fulfills, Broadcast Blacks and Boomer Blacks at the older end.

The segmentation analysis identifies how Black Americans are different from and similar to each other in meaningful ways that include:
  • What it means to be Black today
  • Perceptions about African-American history
  • Consumer trends
  • Media preferences
  • Confidence in institutions such as churches, government, financial services and the media.
Another myth buster, for example, showcases how Black America saves. Among the Connected Black teen segment, 25% are saving to start a business. Yet, among Digital Networkers, the majority of whom are in their 20s, 45% are already saving for retirement! This finding says much more about this segment than the obvious benefits to financial services. It reminds us not to believe the negative hype about young Blacks. In reality, young Blacks are doing better than ever in America. This observation also co-signs Mark Penn's insights about young Blacks "doing good" in his book "Microtrends," thus representing new opportunities to connect with this segment.

Black Onliners are exciting and baffling. The majority are males who are serious web users, are more engaged in Black media, are very brand-conscious and place a greater importance on being with other Blacks. I scratch my head in puzzlement because Black men -- who don't look to other cultures for cues about swagger, language, fashion, music and what is cool -- are the fuel behind the trends that the world follows. Yet, beyond automobiles and alcoholic beverages, this segment is rarely on marketers' radars.

Finally, here's a study that quantifies the way that many Blacks live every day: dreaming, living, buying, connecting, thinking and, yes, hurting. It also sends a message that Blacks are so much more -- more than criminals, welfare recipients, athletes and overachievers. Black Americans don't all live the same way or believe the same things.

Catherine Hughes, founder and chairperson of the Radio One Board, adds, "While people are less inclined these days to think that all Blacks are the same, they really do not understand the diversity within the African-American community. We are confident that Black Americans -- and all Americans -- will find the results of the survey useful and in some cases surprising, given perceptions about Black life that are still pervasive in our country."
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