What Companies Get Wrong When Marketing to Minorities

A recent University of Georgia report predicts that the combined buying power of America's minorities will increase from $1.6 trillion in 2010 to more than $2 trillion by 2015. Yet many small businesses are not marketing effectively to their minority customers, says Ricardo De La Blanca Brigati. The 39-year-old is chief executive officer of DLB Group, a $10 million marketing firm that does business in the U.S., Spain, and Latin America.He spoke recently to Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein about why small companies should seek out minority customers and how to go about it in the right way. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

Karen E. Klein: What do you see U.S. companies doing in terms of marketing to African American, Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American consumers?

Ricardo De La Blanca Brigati: You would think that aggressively targeting these changing American consumers would be priority one for business. But unfortunately many make little effort beyond replacing a Caucasian spokesperson with a minority.

Another thing I see in multicultural marketing is focusing on helping poor people in sad situations. It is shocking. When I see an image of someone in a Hispanic marketing campaign, the people are not really good-looking. Why would you show an image of a person that no one wants to look like or be?

How would you change the message or do things differently?

It's not about changing the words from English to Spanish or another language. Minorities in this country—immigrants—they [celebrate a lot]. These people here in this country, they are working hard, they are young, they have energy. Why not have a message that celebrates the best parts of their life and connect them with popular things, not with sad things?

I would like to see more marketing that is attractive and makes [prospective customers] feel happy to be part of their group. Show them they can celebrate their ethnicity and their positive upward trajectory in society. Even if they don't have much money, show them beautiful things, both in message and image, that make them want to buy from your company.

How can U.S. business owners who aren't familiar with immigrant cultures find ways to reach out to them?

Start with observation and research. Become ingrained in their culture, dive in headfirst. Go to cultural events in your neighborhood—parades and festivals—and get your own access. Don't use focus groups or make one mass appeal that doesn't resonate with different communities.

For instance, we have a client, Telepizza, in Madrid. We observed the customers and found out that a lot of people buying pizza found the call-in process was not good enough. We helped the company develop a beautiful way to make your own pizza through your cell phones. You can order the pizza bigger, smaller, add double cheese, put on the tomatoes—whatever. It became a new channel of sales because we observed how customers behaved.

What advice would you give specifically to small and midsize businesses?

If I were a small company with a small budget, I would do little events and promotions that capitalize on word of mouth. The Latin American and African American cultures are strongly connected through networks of family and friends. If we can understand how those networks work and how their use of social media works, we have an amazing opportunity to reach them.

For instance, instead of giving out 300 flyers in the street, connect with 10 or 12 customers and give them real value. They're going to spread the news. And when one recommends your company to another, it's a strong recommendation.

The "minority customer" is such an amorphous target. How do you narrow it down?

Even if you had all the money in the world, you have to choose someplace to start. And it's important to understand you are not going to be able to reach everybody. Decide what is the group you are going to reach out to first. It's easier to get that first one and then go after other groups with higher value.

You can move fast and make a 100 percent commitment to this process, but you have to keep working and keep fighting until you get results. It's not going to happen in three minutes.

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