News & Views

Opinion / “Multicultural” Marketing in a Millennial World

by Contagious Contributor

Huge's Yashoda Sampath and Mitsy Lopez-Baranello discuss the effects that globalisation on millennial consumers


Millennials – people born between 1980 and 2000 – are the most racially diverse generation in American history. Integrated with American mass audiences and also identified with the cultures of their parents and grandparents, these individuals undermine the boundary between the “mainstream” and the “fringe”. 

In a global context, immigration patterns manifest differently from market to market, but our research suggests that focusing on demographics distracts from the larger truth: that “ethnic” identities are no longer reliable markers of consumers’ behaviours and preferences. To deliver real value to millennials, brands must pursue more granular insights about this newly dominant – and ultra-diverse – generation of consumers.

“Multicultural Marketing” fences you in

Historically, “multicultural marketing” consisted of targeted marketing efforts to specific, clearly defined, non-Caucasian ethnic groups. This presumes a “mass audience” surrounded by satellites: Hispanic-American, African-American, Indian-American, and so on.

This approach is not completely irrelevant, but it is predicated on a number of assumptions:

1. It assumes each of these outsider groups is monolithic in behaviours and attitudes; that you can have a comprehensive “Latino” strategy, or a “Desi” strategy.
2. It assumes non-white ethnic groups are foreign born and therefore less likely to be acculturated/assimilated.

Rather than sticking to stale orthodoxies, savvy marketers and designers will instead benefit from understanding the forces driving attitudinal and behavioural changes.


Globalisation and its consequences

There are two effects of globalisation that are particularly interesting to us as marketers.

First, we are only beginning to understand the effects of technological interconnectedness. When migrants arrived 50 years ago, long distance calls were prohibitively expensive, forcing a reliance on the post (the horror!). Now, thanks to Skype, Facebook, and many other communications services, migrants are easily able to stay close to relatives back home.

This interconnectedness facilitates a second effect: the diaspora effect. Because technology reinforces once-severed connections with ancestral homelands, influences are easily traded between Americans, for example, and their relatives in the motherland. Our research has shown that the diaspora effect significantly drives millennial brand affinity.



International authenticity

Nowhere is the diaspora effect more powerful than for food brands. In a recent research study we conducted with young Hispanic-Americans, we were surprised to learn how influential their diasporas are on their purchasing behaviour. One story about Goya, repeated in similar research about other food brands, distils this effect. Our participant longed to recreate a Cuban-style rice and beans dish she’d tried when she visited her grandparents. She called her grandmother to ask how to make it authentically; her grandmother told her the key ingredients aren’t available in the US, but that Goya premade products were the next best thing.



In this and other similar instances, participants communicate this international authenticity to their friends, becoming brand ambassadors in a very literal sense. The end result: the influence chain extends much further than before. Savvy brands can use these connections to drive brand affinity both in the migrant’s new country and in the homeland.

These new affinities aren’t limited to so-called “ethnic minorities”. In the United States, technology has enabled even white Americans to bridge the gap between their New World identities and their Old World heritage. Not since the first waves of migration have so many Americans renewed their claims on their German-American or Swedish-American backgrounds.

Taking action

Brands need to take a hard look at what value they can actually offer the millennial consumer. Achieving this requires consideration in three areas:

• What are your audiences actually doing online? What are their needs and behaviours, either spoken or unspoken? How are they interacting with digital properties? What tasks are they looking to complete? Where do they find inspiration? Trade one set of easily observable attributes (like demographics or location) for attributes that have more practical value to your design and campaigns and build your segments based on these.

• What role can your brand authentically play in serving those needs? What value can your brand offer, whether through service, experience or offers? It goes without saying: if you can’t offer authentic value, don’t try to force your way into the conversation. Focus instead on what your brand is effective at.

• How is your audience evolving? The term “emerging audiences” is too narrow. In reality, new audiences are emerging constantly, particularly if you think of behaviour as the key attribute. Stay attuned to these changes and your brand won’t be caught on the back foot.

In short: marketers should use insight-led segmentation, guided by behaviour and preferences, to offer authentic value to multicultural consumers. By marketing to the millennial audience as a fundamentally heterogeneous one, brands can reach diverse segments with messages that are personalised, flexible and broad in their reach.