Latina, black, Asian, Native American and Middle Eastern "multi-influential" women of color are an economically vibrant and increasingly significant sector of the economy. They are the comptrollers of the new consumerism and control 85 percent or more of all purchase decisions made today. By 2010, the buying power of multi-influential women of color will rise to $1.2 trillion--a 20 percent increase over 2007 levels.

This is the first in a four-part series on multi-influential women of color. This article will introduce this burgeoning market and focus on strategic brand planning aimed at these women.

Multi-influential women are on the cutting edge of leadership and changing patterns of control in America. Witness the recent promotion of Ursula Burns to CEO of Xerox and the longstanding tenure of Andrea Jung as CEO of Avon Products Inc. Add to that the leadership of Indra Nooyi as president of Pepsi Co. and Michelle Obama's ascension as First Lady in the White House. All are clear signals of the sweeping change that is characterizing this new America in which we live. From education to business and from sports to politics, women of color embody determination, a passion to succeed and the stamina to go the distance.

The 54 million multi-influential women of color in this country earn more and own more than at any other time in recorded history. They are responsible for the purchase of more than 1.5 million new cars and trucks; they make more than 90 percent of all vacation and travel decisions and more than 80 percent of all pharmaceutical decisions. They also are responsible for 53 percent of consumer electronic sales, a disproportionate percentage of beauty and fashion sales and almost half of all stock market investment decisions. Multi-influential women of color are avid users of new technology--from e-mail to social networking and search optimization--and they represent the major source of all new technology users for decades to come. In a word, they are the quintessential new consumer driving American business forward.

Consider these additional facts that support the economic vibrancy of the multi-influential women of color market:

  • They are younger, better-educated and represent the pipeline of professional employees who will replace today's retiring baby boomers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women of color earned 57 percent of all undergraduate degrees awarded to students of color. Expect more multi-influential women of color to become the future CEOs and directors of Fortune 500 corporations.
  • More than half--56 percent--of all multi-influential women of color are single, living alone and deciding what products to buy without spousal influence. By comparison, only 48 percent of all women in this country are single.
  • Multi-influential women of color are the fastest-growing economic sector in the entrepreneurial markets. The 2.4 million businesses in this country owned by women of color generate $230 billion in gross sales receipts and employ 1.6 million workers. They are a highly networked, influential and motivated group of successful women who are quick to recommend another company, brand, service and prospect if they believe it offers value. Gaining their trust as a customer and as a supplier of your goods will pay huge dividends.

How do you reach this new comptroller of consumerism--this $1 trillion market of multi-influential woman of color? You need an integrated business plan that combines strategic branding, culturally relevant advertising development, effective media planning, promotional and selling strategies that lead to incremental sales, and a strong customer retention and reward program.

Learning about the intended target is essential for the multi-influential market since factors such as acculturation, country of origin, language preference and racial characteristics can greatly impact your strategic plan. Even if your company has a women's marketing or multicultural marketing plan in place, you should not assume it will adequately reach multi-influential women or tease out the insights that drive behavior for women of color--a segment that intersects both gender and diversity.

During this strategic planning stage, you should study the wide range of forces that influence multi-influential women as they consider making a brand purchase. What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of your brand in relation to the intended target? Who are your competitors and what are some of the successful initiatives they have used to grow market share among women of color? How differentiated is your product in appealing to the unique physiological and psychographic needs and desires of these women? What changes are required to increase brand relevancy?

Primary research, including attitudes assessment (qualitative focus groups or quantitative studies), online or mall intercept surveys, statistical sampling and secondary research are useful tools. Ethnographic studies can put you in the shoes of multi-influential women of color and provide you with fact-based planning. As a final element of the strategic planning process, interviewing key influencers and opinion leaders often provides a valuable opportunity to learn more about the needs of multi-influential women from a third-party perspective.

Here are some online resources to help you learn more about multi-influential women of color and to conduct strategic research:

The 85% Niche
Trend Sight 
The Hunter-Miller Group 
New American Dimensions LLC 
BrandAmplitude LLC 
Grapevine 
Interbrand 
Prophet

The purpose of the research phase is to illuminate content development for other aspects of the marketing planning process (e.g., awareness, consideration, active shopping and post shopping) and to identify the immediate, mid- and long-term opportunities to grow the business among multi-influential women of color. These consumer findings are then matched against brand values to come up with a positioning statement that serves as the basis for advertising development and the creative brief. We'll discuss these aspects of connecting with multi-influential women of color in Part 2 of this series.

In this new economy, where every untapped source of incremental revenue and business must be investigated, multi-influential women of color represent immediate, low-hanging fruit. Begin your quest to connect with multi-influentials. In so doing, you will grow this powerful niche that is moving from the fringes to the main stage of American economy.