The Future of Multicultural Marketing in America

Talk about a student that truly understands not only the importance of the Hispanic market, but the future and how it is changing.  Thank you Neleen Leslie for your insight. 

The Future of Multicultural Marketing in America:

The changing US population continues to influence marketing practice; a multicultural approach is no longer a choice for companies, it is now essential for success. While there has been a movement towards a more multicultural focus in many major companies across America, the phenomenon can still be considered to be relatively new. There is no question that this will become a major part of the local marketing landscape, one adopted by all businesses not just large national and multinational corporations but there is a great deal to be learned before the practice of multicultural marketing moves to where it needs to be.

I believe that in advancing the understanding of multicultural marketing among not just businesses but the nation as a whole, a foundation will have to be established that is based on certain key principles.

Understanding what it truly means to be multicultural

Companies have come to realize that “money is just as green when spent by people of color” (Rossman, 1994) and by people of color, I mean everyone who is not classified as non- Hispanic white. In an attempt to tap into the earning potential of these “minority segments”, businesses have tried to engage these consumers and to create connections with their brands. While some companies have an inkling of what multiculturalism and multicultural marketing specifically, is about, there is yet to be a widespread understanding of what that really means for businesses today. Multicultural marketing cannot be confined to segmenting based on race or ethnicity, as this can easily become a form of cultural tokenism (Rao, 2006) where we appear to include rather than to truly understand and target. Being multicultural means understanding that the general market has changed, the diversity of the population has resulted in such levels of cultural integration that we can no longer separate people based on race alone.

“The concept of a “melting pot” is rendered obsolete as people of all races, ethnicities, languages and ancestries live and thrive together, while still preserving important aspects of their heritage and culture. In this new, urban market, it is essential to get beyond ethnic segmentation and understand that it is the very intermingling of cultures and ethnicities that defines the urban sensibility. And the urban market is not just the inner city of New York or parts of Los Angeles – the urban market is America” (Waterson , 2004)

The future of multicultural marketing will require that we embrace the ethnic and cultural diversity of this country and begin to view the market through different lenses. Ads that target Hispanics will be both Spanish and English speaking and it will be understood that Hispanics can be of many races. It will also be understood that Asians are not all the same: Filipinos are different from Chinese and while they have some overlapping cultural values, there are differences that are worth understanding (Mueller, ).

The future of multicultural marketing will have to go beyond “labeling and lumping” for the purpose of targeting. Ethnic groups will no longer be satisfied with just seeing themselves appearing in ads, they will begin to demand that messages really target them if these brands wish to be considered. The importance of being truly multicultural will be so important to the bottom line that we will voluntarily (or involuntarily) venture out of our comfort zones and begin to see that being multicultural goes much further than ethnic diversity.

Eliminating the ‘minority mindset”

Most of the literature today on multicultural marketing continue to refer to the non- Hispanic white population as ethnic minorities. Rao (2006) defines ethnic minorities as “population groups that are small in number and by definition less than the majority mainstream population”. This definition I believe, while may be technically correct if viewed from one aspect, is also incorrect. There are few ethnic groups in the United States that are small in number, certainly not the three major recognized “minority” groups and while they are currently less than the non- Hispanic white population, in a few years this will no longer be true. According to the Geoscape AMDS 2011, the population of the three largest ethnic groups will be more than 110.5 million and by 2050, they will be about the same size as the non- Hispanic white population.

Classifying these groups as ethnic minorities is part of a mindset that will have to change in order for multicultural marketing to grow and develop into what it ought to be. This classification is conducive to an “us and them” kind of thinking (not to be confused with us versus them), which not only separates people of different ethnicities but also underestimates the sheer size and influence of these groups. Rao (2006) also says “it no longer makes sense to talk about ethnic minorities as a single group because of the growing differences within and between ethnic minority groups” and while this is true, I believe that it goes even further. I believe that multicultural marketing will need to move past ethnic minorities and into cocultures. Mueller (2008) advocated the “coculture” philosophy, which sees the various ethnic groups and their cultures as existing alongside the culture of the non- Hispanic white population. Classifying these groups as minorities is very similar to classifying their cultures as subcultures, which denotes that they are inferior to mainstream culture.

This, I believe is where multicultural marketing is headed. Waterson (2004) describes the future as the age of cultural hybridity which will the characterized by “the sharing and intermingling of one culture with another…It goes beyond acculturation, because cultural hybridity does not imply that any one culture is changed, but rather that a new, different and entirely unique culture is created”.

Redefining the Mainstream or General Market

What is the mainstream market? At first glance it may seem like a simple question but it really is not, what used to be considered mainstream 50, 20 or even 10 years ago does not obtain today. I believe that multicultural marketing of the future will see a completely new definition of “mainstream” or “general market”. Mueller (2008) and Morse (2009) have discussed the importance of developing multicultural intelligence, understanding that the mainstream market is not what it is used to be. In fact, mainstream culture in itself is a contradiction, items such as food that are considered o be “all American” have their roots in other cultures and are the result of immigrants taking these things with them from their homelands, superstars such as Halle Berry, Vin Diesel, Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys appear on the covers of main stream magazines almost as much as non-Hispanic stars, platinum selling and Grammy award winning artistes such as 50 cent, Eminem and Rihanna have given birth to a generation where music has transcended race and though branded as American, is a composite of cultures across the world and represents the new mainstream.

What I mean to say is this, the general market can no longer be seen as non- Hispanic whites, nor can we take it for granted that their values are the same. The new mainstream is a mosaic consisting of people of all races who have grown into a culture that has roots in many different cultures. Their values reflect this, their consumption reflect this and marketing communication will also need to reflect this.

Conducting in-depth primary and secondary research

If the mainstream market has changed, this means that there is now a need for a shift in how multicultural research is done. This research needs to be relevant and specifically designed for the new market (Rossman, 1994). This is similar to the approach taken when targeting any market segment, multicultural marketing should be no different. Preconceived notions about the market no longer stand and new understanding needs to be developed. This new body of knowledge cannot stem solely from secondary research; we need to gather fresh insights that are not tainted by unconsciously ethnocentric viewpoints. This does not mean we will throw out everything that we currently think we know but the same information may need to be viewed from a new angle. Observation of this new breed of consumers is also vital and will assist in understanding them and putting past research into perspective.

Research will continue to be a way of life in multicultural marketing. As we are beginning to understand, the multicultural market is changing and will continue to change into the foreseeable future. In order to continue this understanding of the market, we will need to be tracking the trends and changes in behavior. What obtained two years before will unlikely to continue to hold in the present day. This phenomenon will never change; multicultural marketing will require a commitment to truly understanding the target audience and in order to do that we will need to research.

Understanding cultural dynamics

While we understand that culture is a major determinant of consumer behavior and regardless of what we thought before, we now know that America is not the melting pot it was theorized to be (Rossman, 1994), there is still much to be done in understanding the various cultures that exist in this country. In understanding the cultural diversity of the consumer market, we need to begin looking beyond the obvious- what consumers say and do and begin to unearth the whys, and as a result “open new doors to the minds of cultures” (Rapaille, 2001). There are many unconscious codes that are the foundations of cultures and no matter how much we ask, consumers will never be able to articulate. It is therefore imperative for us to pursue and in- depth understanding of culture in order to unlock the nuggets that are the key to connecting with consumers (Mueller, 2008).

Consumers do not just consume products for their functional values; brands have taken on new meanings and have become symbols to consumers. Products therefore have to meet unspoken needs and move towards establishing relationships that are synergistic, symbolic and symbiotic. The culture of multicultural consumers is akin to another language that we need to learn to speak in order to communicate with them in a meaningful way (Rapaille, 2001).

Segmentation and targeting

Segmentation of the multicultural market as has been established will need to go beyond race or ethnicity since multiculturalism itself is so wide. As cited in Rao (2006), multiculturalism encompasses race, nationalism, gender, ethnicity, sexuality as well as philosophical and political ideologies. Multiculturalism also includes religious beliefs, the growing Jewish and Moslem community who have come to represent increasingly powerful and distinct consumer groups; the disabled population is another segment that adds to the diversity of the multicultural landscape.

This makes it necessary for new bases of segmentation to be developed for this new marketplace. The LGBT, disabled, Jewish and Moslem market segments are just a few segments that transcend race and will require a new form of targeting. Segmentation will play a very important role in marketing in the future as consumer segments will continually have to be redefined.

We are moving towards an age where segmentation and targeting will be geared at reaching people with similar values and beliefs and share an appreciation for similar product attributes and benefits. I believe that what Morse (2008) describes as the “wink and prayer” will be an important part of targeting the new general market. Not only will advertisements and marketing campaigns show racially diverse images but messages will have strong cultural undertones that resound with people of different groups who have similar values. This of course will not only be limited to advertising, after all, advertising sometimes may not be the answer to reaching certain segments.

Marketing will take on a multicultural focus that extend beyond media campaigns, but begin to become integrated in communities, investing in initiatives that are important to the target audience and creating symbiotic relationships that will see brands adopted as part of cocultures in America.

By Neleen Leslie
Florida State University

Geoscape, American Marketscape DataStream 2011 Series.
Morse, D.R. (2009). Multicultural Intelligence: Eight Make-or-Break Rules for Marketing to Race, Ethnicity, and Sexual Orientation. Paramount Market Publishing.
Mueller, Barbara (2008). Communicating with the Multicultural Consumer. Peter Lang Publishing Inc.
Rao, C.P. (2006). Marketing and Multicultural Diversity. Ashgate publishing Ltd.
Rapaille, G. C. (2001). 7 secrets of marketing in a multi-cultural world. Provo, Utah: Executive Excellence Pub.
Rossman, M. L. (1994). Multicultural marketing: Selling to a diverse America. New York: AMACOM.
Waterson, A. (2004). The Dawning of Multicultural America. Horotwitz Associates Inc. Annual Forum on the State of Cable and Broadband.


1 Carlos Poblano { 10.02.11 at 11:43 pm }

I believe it is true how the companies in the United States have the necessary to attract Latinos to their market. I was living in Michigan and i remembered how even calling Verizon, T-mobile, or any company, like carpet cleaners, they all have the costumer service in Spanish because they know that the Latinos population has grown so much in the United States over the years.

2 Gabi { 10.03.11 at 3:16 am }

I think is great that the new ideas for marketing are to include multiculturalism because today, these minority has become a majority, and it is very important to include them. Marketing needs to include non-hispanic, mexicans, and ethnic societies, because they’re part of the majority.

3 Alvaro del Peral { 10.03.11 at 4:46 am }

It’s an important advance for all the ethnic groups that the companies are considering their needs and likes; because these ethnic minorities will be about the same size as the American population in 2050. But it’s sad to know that all of these changes aren’t enough, the cultural diversity is the best way to develop the society. Marketing will become multicultural in all the aspects, and we have the responsibility to achieve this and convert all people in communities and societies tolerant and able to share a business or deal with anyone.

Leave a Comment