Direct Hit

Cultural Awareness

Another segment that cannot be ignored is the ethnic consumer. With 25 percent of the population either black, Latino or Asian, ethnic Americans represent close to $600 billion in gross income. Amy Hilliard-Jones, founder of Chicago multicultural marketing firm Hilliard-Jones Marketing Group, calls the market "unmined gold."

"The income they represent is well above the income potential of certain countries in the world, including Canada," Hilliard-Jones says. "And yet many U.S. businesses have a strategic plan to invest in other countries [but are ignoring] the significant potential right here within the borders of this country."

Like consumers overseas, ethnic American consumers must often endure the brunt of inane marketing efforts. According to Hilliard-Jones, companies often think it sufficient to just change the faces in a marketing campaign or to place a few ethnic consumers in the backgrounds of ads--"as part of the party," she adds, "but not the host."

Another common mistake is to generalize ethnicities--focusing on, say, Asians, rather than individually addressing the different orientations of Chinese-, Japanese- and Korean-American consumers. To avoid such issues, marketers are called upon to "use a lot of strategic analysis and cultural sensitivity when approaching a multicultural market," Hilliard-Jones says. "They can't make assumptions but must take the time to build a base of cultural awareness."

That doesn't mean relying on stereotypical nuances, such as slang or overtly ethnic overtures. "You don't have to do that to show you understand different ethnicities," says Hilliard-Jones. "What people want is to be recognized that they exist, treated relevantly, and respected for their culture and the heritage that their culture represents to them."

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This article was originally published in the October 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Direct Hit.

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