Reaching out to ethnic customers can lead to growth.
Bottom line: You’re missing out on business that could amount to impressive numbers.
Research your target market
Multicultural marketing will pay off faster if you recognize that the ethnic group you’re targeting isn’t monolithic. For instance, you can’t just reach out to the "Asian-American market," which includes people with ethnic origins in Japan, China and the Philippines. Decide which one you want to target. Furthermore, what appeals to Hispanics in California may not have the same sway with Hispanics in New York. Gear your marketing to the right segment of the ethnic community, and hire employees who can serve them best.
Here are four ways to gain insights into the customer groups you’re targeting:
- Research the culture. Check out ethnic and industry newspapers and publications such as Hispanic Business Week, Black Enterprise, Diversity Marketing Outlook and Marketing News. Read the ads to see how your competitors are pitching their products. Are they focusing on product effectiveness or on how much the customer will enjoy using it? What products and services are most heavily promoted? Explore books as well: "Hispanic Market Handbook: The Definitive Source for Reaching This Lucrative Segment of American Consumers" (by M. Isabel Valdes and Marta H. Seoane, Gale Research, 2000) is invaluable if you’re targeting Hispanic customers.
- Consult with leaders in the ethnic community. Identify key people in business, religious and nonprofit groups. Invite them to a breakfast or lunch meeting for a candid discussion of how you can better serve their community’s needs. Emphasize that you welcome their counsel. Chances are you’ll get a lot of good ideas that will help sharpen your marketing focus. Don’t forget to say, "We want your business." It’s flattering for others to think, "They’ve reached out to us."
- Listen to your in-house experts. If you want more local Korean-American business, ask Korean-American employees for their advice: "What are we doing right?" "How could we make our product or service more appealing to the community?"
- Conduct focus groups. Bring together eight to 10 members of a minority group to answer specific questions. This will help you develop a profile of potential ethnic markets and find out how participants rate various aspects of your product. Follow these guidelines:
- Hire a professional. No one connected with your company — including yourself — should take on the focus-group task. You want honest feedback, which you won’t get from participants who are reluctant to say anything negative to your face. You need a professional moderator to recruit participants and run the one-hour session.
- Decide what you want to know. Focus groups are great for testing assumptions. You may assume Hispanics, whose second language is English, will want to read online about your product in Spanish only. But focus-group participants may show a preference for your English site because they think it’s better.
- Gear your questions to elicit helpful answers. Don’t ask questions that can only be answered in a positive way: "When you think of our service, do you think ‘innovative’, ‘going the extra mile’ or ‘friendly?’" Another, less-positive option, such as "could be better" or "compares poorly with other stores," will encourage honest responses.
- Decide how you want to receive the results. The facilitator can give you raw data from the focus-group session, but what you really need is information you can apply to your marketing efforts. You may find it more helpful to have the facilitator work with you in analyzing and interpreting the data.
Build a diverse staff
Most of us are more comfortable doing business with people who are like ourselves. It’s human nature. If you’re selling hip-hop clothes to teens, for example, you don’t use 50-something salespeople. Hire people who can wear hip-hop clothes and understand that particular aspect of youth culture. Similarly, if you’re targeting Hispanic customers, you need to have at least one Hispanic staff member who relates to the Latino culture. And if you expect to reach customers from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, your employee roster should reflect that diversity.
David Gorenstein, president of Choice Abstract Corp., a title-insurance agency in New York City with a 30% growth rate in 2000, has built a staff that resembles a "mini United Nations" to serve his culturally diverse customer base. Besides African Americans, Hispanics and South Americans, Gorenstein’s employees include people of Irish, Italian, Jewish and Cuban descent.
No language barriers
Language can be either a stumbling block or an asset in your multicultural-marketing efforts. The attitude that, "This is America, and people who do business with us should speak our language" won’t help. Remember: Language is a communication tool. With both mainstream and ethnic customers, clear communication based on mutual goodwill is essential. Here are three ways to ensure that language differences aren’t a barrier to business:
- Hire bilingual people. If you’re courting a large customer base that speaks a language other than English, you need at least one person on staff who speaks that language. While most of Gorenstein’s clients do business in English, for instance, four Spanish-speaking employees are on hand for those more comfortable using Spanish. "We did a deal with a client in Puerto Rico who tried hard to speak English," he says, "but in the end, one of our bilingual employees took the call, and then communication wasn’t a problem."
- Use a professional translator for advertising and promotion. Literal translation of English into another language won’t necessarily convey your marketing message accurately. A cultural adaptation of the words may be required. One translation gone awry was Pepsi’s "Catch the spirit" slogan, which in Spanish literally means, "Catch the ghost."
- Use professional, over-the-phone interpreters. These services allow you to communicate from English into more than 100 languages, 24 hours a day. Perhaps you want to do business with a customer in Japan, but neither party speaks or understands the other’s language. Solution: Call the interpretation service’s 800 number, and you’ll be connected to an interpreter within seconds. You pay a one-time sign-up charge, usually $150, which may be waived with special promotions, plus a per-minute charge, typically $2.20.
Phone interpreters are particularly helpful for conducting business internationally when you need parts or supplies quickly. Say that you’re a San Francisco-based flower broker and you need 20-dozen red roses within 24 hours to supply local florists for Mother’s Day. You know of a supplier in Chile, but you don’t speak Spanish. You get a Spanish-speaking interpreter on the phone and explain what you need. The interpreter then conveys your message to the supplier in Chile. Until your international transaction is completed, your interpreter stays on the line — a helpful partner in growing your business on a multicultural level.
Writer: Kathleen Conroy