Multicultural Marketing is More Than Translation

When Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat wrote his book.  It was a whack on the side of the head moment.  In the past, we used words like international to describe anything that was outside our own country - but was still separate.  Then we migrated into worlds like global, which had this connotation that an organization was unified - even though they had operations all over the world.

What Friedman showed us was that neither of these was an accurate representation of the world we live in.  We are an extremely mobile population where people will often move from one country to another just for the experience.

This means that as marketers, we are selling to a multicultural population.  Some countries are more multicultural than others, but with so much marketing happening online, you might as well assume that you're talking to everyone in the world.

A Primer on How Multicultural We Are

While cruising my blog feeds, I ran across this outstanding article by Jeff Henning at Vovici blog.  In it he outlines a presentation by David Morse, author of Multicultural Intelligence.  I've paraphrased from the article here.

American demographics:

  • The percentage of foreign-born population in the United States has increased to 14%, a level not seen since 1910.

  • Hispanic immigration is at an all-time high, and Hispanics will make up 20% of Americans by 2050.

  • By 2044, white Americans will be a minority according to projections from the U.S. Census department.

In his book, Multicultural Intelligence, David Morse talks about the eight rules that you should follow when you're marketing to a multicultural population.   I'm giving you a short summary here:

  1. Boost your multicultural competency.  When doing focus groups, be sure to match the moderator's race to that of the respondents.  You can do the same thing with surveys.  Make sure that they are reviewed by a representative of the race that you are studying.

  2. Divide and conquer.  Don't accept old stereotypes as true.  Segment your audience not just by race, but by their generation of being in your country.

  3. Don't trust experts.  Again, don't make assumptions, do your own research- you may discover something new.

  4. Don't let the joke be on you.  Watch out when using humor.  We've all heard horror stories or most embarrassing stories when someone tried to be funny and failed.

  5. Don't get lost in translation.  Don't skip the step of reviewing your survey, your discussion guide or any marketing materials that you have with a NATIVE speaker.  There is a difference between speaking a language and KNOWING a language.

  6. Find and understand cultural cues.  Use your research with natives to find the emotions and words that resonate with your audience.  This is hard enough in your own language, let alone a foreign one.

  7. Use a wink and a prayer.  Using your research and consultation with natives of the country, insert a subtle cultural reference.  This goes a long way toward building relationship with your customer.

  8. Make up, don't cover up.  If your marketing runs up against an advocacy group - stop immediately.  Don't get defensive, rather learn from the experience.

How Can You Start Thinking Multi-culturally

Chances are you've already started thinking multi culturally.  And Google Translate makes that even easier by translating web sites and blogs instantly into any language you'd like to see.  But there is more to it than that.

David Morse recommends researching your audience fully and not defaulting to old truths or stereotypes.  This means that it's a good idea to run a thorough profile update of your customers and your overall audience.

You can do this by creating a series of Micro-Polls or recruit a panel of customers, readers or general market population to participate in an ongoing survey.  Be sure to have rewards ready for them.  These might include free product or sharing the results, gift cards, etc.

McDonald's does 40% of its U.S. business with ethnic minorities, and half that group is younger than 13. In response, McDonald's runs focus groups with disproportionate numbers of minority participants. The company has also introduced performance standards for its advertising agencies, requiring them to measure how well their work addresses ethnic "insights."

A small business wanting to get more international clients might progressively test small changes in writing more specifically for a wide multicultural readership.

Don't forget, not all English speakers are the same.  A website written for a multicultural audience will always be at least slightly different than a website specifically targeting an all American audience, or an all British audience, or an all Australian audience.

Don't assume that you're multi culturally aware just because you do business with people all over the world.  It's time to start segmenting and understanding the subtle differences in our audiences so that our targeted marketing can do its job.


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