Ten million people should be tough to ignore. Yet relatively few American companies have recognized the buying power of America's Asian-American market. According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, there are more than 10 million Americans of Asian descent, up from 7.4 million in 1990. By the year 2000, 11.2 million Asian-Americans will comprise 4.1 percent of the total U.S. population.
"This is a group with educational and income levels well above the national average,' says Julia Huang, president of Intertrend Communications Inc., a Torrance, California, advertising agency that specializes in the U.S. Asian-American market. "Better still, you can reach these consumers with a fraction of your marketing budget because [specialized and foreign language] media are so cost-effective.'
Why, then, have U.S. companies been so slow to discover Asian-Americans? "One reason is that it's looked at as a fairly small market,' says Bill Imada, CEO of public relations and advertising firm Imada Wong Communications Group in Los Angeles. "[Also,] the market is made up of many different segments. There is no common language, and buying habits vary with acculturation levels, values and a variety of other demographic characteristics.'
Yet targeting Asian-American consumers is not beyond the scope of the average business. Here are Huang and Imada's tips:
- Meet the market. "If you've never encountered an Asian-American person outside a Chinese restaurant, get out and walk the walk,' says Imada. "Go to Koreatown in Los Angeles or Flushing, New York, and see what Asian-American consumers are buying and what they're interested in.'
- Check the fit. Does your product or service appeal to the Asian-American market? Is it free of culturally insensitive pitfalls, such as a product name with an unfortunate meaning in your target market's native language? Also, are you prepared to deal with customers who speak another language or hail from another culture?
- Find the media. Imada states there are more than 600 Asian-language media in the United States, including radio stations, newsletters, TV stations, newspapers and Web sites. Don't be intimidated by the prospect of advertising in another language. Says Huang: "A lot of these media are very willing to help create ads in exchange for a media buy or for a very low cost.'
Gayle Sato Stodder covers entrepreneur- ship for various publications. She lives and works in Redondo Beach, California.