Today, African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic consumers account for more than 120 million people combined (38% of the total U.S. population) and are increasing by 2.3 million per year. With expansive buying power and unique consumption habits, multicultural consumers are an integral part of any marketing strategy and now more than ever, brands are finally getting it. Understanding the unique needs of these consumers require nuanced and culturally acute roadmaps to connect and engage in a relevant way.

Fostering great customer experiences for these consumers, understanding that their needs may be different than those of mass market and accounting for those differences is just the beginning of the multicultural marketing equation. Strategically approaching the consumer journey depends on a whole host of factors including, but not limited to, the nature of the product and/or service you provide coupled with the consumer identity and all that reveals as well as their consumption behaviors.

Language Means Business

The consumer funnel in the U.S has changed over the past 5 years and more so with the advent of social media. Marketing, if done right can get the customer to purchase your product/service but what follows after is equally as important. Consistency within the consumer journey is key for customers to become loyalists and advocates of a brand. Research confirms that the United States is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, with 80% of foreign-born Americans speaking a native language other than English. Now that markets are increasingly more global in nature, some companies are finding value in making customer service experiences multilingual, to accommodate the different needs of multicultural consumers. Understanding this, Booking.com has made conscious efforts in enhancing their customer service by employing agents that speak fluent English plus at least one other language. Along with a deep pool of multilingual talent for their call centers, they have a large group of translators who work on their websites. Travel is an expensive and high involvement decision and consumers want to get it right. Having native, in-language communications options during the purchase process helps to reassure the consumer making a decision and provides intrinsic value. In 2013, Aetna partnered with a language services provider to set-up multilingual over-the-phone interpreting. The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) held its annual Global Contact Center Awards in 2015, where it awarded Aetna, the Best Multilingual Support Center. Consumers had the option of accessing healthcare information in a language in which they were most comfortable in, which resulted in increased trust and brand value.

There is enough data to support the hypothesis that these efforts do pay off and add to the bottom line eventually, if done right. For example, a study published in the Harvard Business Review found that a 5 percent improvement in customer retention rates can increase profits by more than 25 percent. Another study found that a 1 percent reduction in customer-service issues could generate an additional $40 million in profit for a medium-sized company over five years. Even though this seems like a must have, volume, budget and lack of agents restrain companies from taking substantial efforts in this area. What further adds to the challenge is that the multicultural consumer is extremely diverse - from different countries, speaking multiple languages.

Customized Products

Another way to reach and provide value to these multicultural customers is through modifying products and services, wherever possible to meet their unique needs. For certain brands that could mean modifying the advertising message, for others it could be modifying the product, but whatever route they take it needs to be authentic and meaningful. Cosmetic manufacturers in the United States are just now beginning to customize and tailor products targeted at Asians, Hispanics and African Americans. L'Oréal USA acquired Carol's Daughter to enable them to build a new dedicated multicultural beauty division. Living Proof, a Haircare Company, developed a line of products formulated to address the challenges of all women with curly hair and upholds its inclusive branding with ethnically diverse models.

With entertainment being a passion point for many multicultural consumers, content providers aren't far behind. Comcast launched X1 En Espanol, complementing the original English version of its cloud-based video service interface. The new experience let Latino customers find and discover their favorite programming in the language of their choice and helped to bridge the content divide for millions of Spanish-speaking households within the Comcast service area.

Culture Matters

Unique differences in culture vary greatly among the multiple ethnic segments that comprise the U.S. multicultural population. These cultural distinctions affect their consumption and shopping habits and directly impact the need for brands to continue integrating multicultural insights into core business strategies.

In today's millennial obsessed world, cultures are transcending the traditional age-old boundaries and are now more seamlessly integrating with one another. No longer do these segments operate in silos but are instead an important part of mainstream society. As these boundaries continue to overlap and transcend, it's important to note that culture may mean something different to American born Asians versus their immigrant parents. Hence marketers need to further segment their consumers by filters of age and acculturation levels.

Being sensitive to a multicultural target's needs shows them that you understand them and actually care - the eventual goal all brands should work towards. Depending on a variety of factors and a brand's product or services offering, marketers can define what steps they should take to meaningfully engage consumers during the entire customer journey. The key to getting it right is providing authenticity, relevance and value.

This article was co-authored by Shweta Joshi, Account Manager @GravityMediaLLC

Published on: Aug 30, 2016