Culture cannot be learned, says Wanla Cheng, president of multicultural marketer Asia Link Consulting Group. It must be absorbed by osmosis.
For example, a non-Chinese marketing expert might know that in Chinese culture the number eight is propitious and four is bad, but he cannot truly understand what a Chinese immigrant wants –- or fears -– from an American bank. Without that understanding, a marketer can't communicate with his client's target audience: Chinese bank customers. And that's why, according to Cheng, it's vital for marketers to be members of their target audience.
Multicultural marketing has arrived. Asian Americans, African Americans, gays and lesbians, and especially -- thanks to their surging numbers and immense buying power -- Hispanic/Latino Americans all represent lucrative and growing markets.
Marketing and Cultural Skills Needed
Does this mean improved job prospects for marketing experts who are multicultural?
"Definitely," says Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, CEO of Enlace Communications, a Hispanic/Latino marketing company. But simply being Hispanic/Latino, Asian, African American or gay does not mean you're a multicultural marketer.
"It's not a birthright," notes Newman-Carrasco. "You have to leverage your culture, heritage, insights and background. You need multicultural and marketing skills."
Vijay Chattha, "chief talker" at marketing agency VSC Consulting, advises multicultural job seekers to consider: "What skills do I bring to the table?" For example, if a prospective employer is expanding in your country of origin, highlight the connection in your cover letter.
"We market a lot to Indians and Pakistanis," Chattha says. "It's important to know that applicants speak, read or write those languages, or have traveled there. Even spending time in ethnic areas of big American cities is good, especially if you've looked at marketing strategies there.
Right now, the multicultural marketing sector needs analysts, researchers, writers, translators and salespeople, says Newman-Carrasco. Multicultural marketers should possess foreign-language skills, particularly Spanish or Asian languages, and the ability to understand other groups from anthropological, sociological and cultural perspectives.
"Many people are 'cultural,' but few are really 'multi,'" Newman-Carrasco notes. "You have to understand the whole spectrum." For example, Mexicans should be able to relate to Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Central Americans. When hiring, Newman Carrasco looks for an understanding of sales and metrics plus a little common sense.
Cheng seeks candidates with marketing experience, preferably "a creative problem-solver who knows about strategic business plans."
Chattha likes strong Internet skills, because "blogs and chat rooms are increasingly important ways to get your marketing message out." He advises job seekers to network through multicultural trade organizations, like the Hispanic Marketing & Communication Association and South Asians in Media Marketing and Entertainment Association (Note: Asian-language site).
Unlike Cheng, Newman-Carrasco says you don't need a multicultural heritage to be a good multicultural marketer and suggests immersing yourself in another culture. Some African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos and Asian Americans prefer not being identified as multicultural marketers, she says. "They fear being siphoned out of the mainstream."
Know the Corporate Culture
Every company treats multicultural marketing differently. "Some use it as a check-off box without really empowering it," says Newman-Carrasco. "Others use it as a way to grow the company, and the people in that department really get noticed." Before taking a multicultural marketing job, she says, ask about the budget and to whom the position reports: community relations or the CEO?
Howard Buford, founder and CEO of multicultural marketing agency Prime Access, agrees with Newman-Carrasco. "We've got people working in Hispanic, African American, and gay and lesbian markets who are not part of those groups," he says. "And when marketing companies were all male, an awful lot of men sold an awful lot of Tampons." However, he admits, "you probably have an edge if you're part of a group. You have a deeper understanding of the consumer's mind-set. Multicultural people probably do have an internal sense of what motivates the consumer, what media they trust, what products they use. It always helps to live the life of your consumer."
Outlook: Continued Growth
Looking ahead, Buford believes the surge in Hispanic/Latino and Spanish-language marketing will continue, particularly in areas like financial services, entertainment, automotive and travel.
Regarding specific job opportunities, Newman-Carrasco sees growth in the consumer insight and innovation areas (new technology, such as podcasts and cellphones), "ethnographies" (lifestyle studies, like living with families as they open cereal boxes and videotaping their breakfast routines) and entrepreneurial opportunities (hiring outside marketers with insights).
There is good money to be made in multicultural marketing with more to come, says Newman-Carrasco. "This is an additional skill set, and companies now recognize its importance."