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One size doesn’t fit all – Post Covid-19 Implications for Marketing Research and Marketing


By Roben Allong,, Patricia Lopez,, Iris Yim, 


COVID-19 has been a jarring wakeup call. While the idea of traditional research on ethnic consumers and their disparate COVID-19 experiences is certainly not a groundbreaking proposition, what clearly will be evident post COVID-19 is one size does not fit all. All COVID-19 experiences are not created equal. Crisis is often a catalyst for innovation and this pandemic is no different. Savvy brands and marketers are already getting out ahead of the “new normal” to innoculate themselves by re-aligning and leading in the best interest in consumers.


As infection numbers and the death toll from the Covid-19 pandemic in the US continue to rise, data with racial breakdown show emerging trends that the pandemic has different impacts on communities of color.


Regardless of whether you do multicultural research or not, the advent of COVID-19 will have a tremendous impact across consumers across all ethnicities and their engagement with brands going forward. According to Nielsen’s most recent Annual Marketing report: The Age of Dissonance, the number one goal of 41% of marketers surveyed was to reach new customers. In the quest for new customers, striking the right tone with brand messaging and communications to broaden audience and reach consumers across all ethnic groups will become increasingly more important. Companies that invest now in better understanding POC (people of color) cultural and social dynamics will come out ahead because of their extensive influence that stretches across every demographic.


This article explores possible contextual and cultural factors behind the pandemic’s impacts specifically on the Hispanic, African American and Asian communities to provide a better understanding and foundation, post COVID-19, for more successful brand interaction and communications, oriented towards these audiences.


African Americans are distrustful of government and fearful of being left further disadvantaged


Photo credit Yana Paskova/Getty Images
Photo credit Yana Paskova/Getty Images


According to recent Associates Press reports, the COVID-19 death rate among African Americans account for more than one third of the virus deaths even though they account for only 14% of the general population. And while medical and healthcare professionals point to income and equality, healthcare and access disparities that lead to susceptibility, one cannot help but wonder if there are other factors, other parts of the African American story that haven’t been told? 


Culturally, most African Americans have been and continue to be mistrustful of messengers that wield large amounts of authority and power over them such as the government, law enforcement, and big business. Based on this, compliance with messages about COVID-19 culturally were not a top priority at the start of the crisis. In fact in a recent Axios poll, more than 63% expressed distrust in President Trump. And less than 60% reported that they trusted the local State Health Department, the National Institute of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO), under indexing compared to other ethnic groups . 


Axios survey trust of NIH

(Source: Axios/SurveyMonkey Poll: Coronavirus and Trust)


Axios survey trust of state's health department

(Source: Axios/SurveyMonkey Poll: Coronavirus and Trust)


In the United States, wearing protective face coverings i.e. masks is neither traditional nor accepted, except for specific jobs that require them and of course, during Halloween. To be frank, masks are stereotypically associated with criminals and attempting to hide one’s identity. African Americans know all too well how quickly they are associated with negative stereotypes and by and large avoid any actions like wearing a face mask that would expose them to further harassment from law enforcement or anybody for that matter.


Contextually, and more importantly, because of urban housing conditions and a preponderance of employment in essential front line, low paying jobs from grocery clerks to delivery people to public transportation and safety workers often in close quarters with others, not only do African Americans not have the luxury of working from their homes, they are forced to unknowingly interact with infected and asymptomatic members of the public.  That inability to practice social distancing because of their livelihood leaves them more open and susceptible to becoming infected with the virus.  


Lower penetration of laptops and Wifi to continue schooling at home places African American children at a unique disadvantage when school does resume, time and learning lost, a setback that may not be recoverable for some time.  The COVID-19 experiences of African Americans are, without a question, quite different from other groups. 



The old Sophocles adage of killing the messenger (or the brand in this case) because you don’t like the message still holds true today.  The lack of trust, common across all generations of African Americans, also extends to big business and brands that have not been/are not authentically engaged with them during this trying time. African Americans, now with more access and influence than ever before on Social Media, can digitally “kill” a brand’s bottom line on megaphones like Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, if they feel its message is tone deaf. And they will do it quickly and indiscriminately. No brand is safe. Just ask… Gucci, Prada, H&M, or Adidas. 


Research among African Americans in the new normal post COVID-19 is going to be pivotal going forward to increase audience and sales to avoid costly communication and messaging cleanups. Because African Americans are a very diverse group whose influence spans every demographic and socio-economic segment of the population, tone deaf, inauthentic brand messages that do not acknowledge their COVID experiences decrease engagement, motivation, and ultimately, erode brand currency. Powering up on research among this segment to obtain a deeper understanding of the culture code as they create a new normal is a wise investment to gain valuable new consumers as the marketing fight for consumer dollars looms.


Asian Americans are concerned about discrimination and safety on top of health and finances


Depending on data available and the region where the data is pulled, the infection and death rates among Asian Americans are on par with or slightly lower than the general population.


Majority of Asian Americans are foreign born and have close ties to home countries in Asian. Since the pandemic first broke out in Asia at the end of January, Asian Americans have been watching closely what was happening in Asia and are better informed with the danger of coronavirus and what measures are more effective for self protection and keeping the virus from spreading widely. While the rest of the country are slowly learning to cope with changes to daily life brought by Covid-19 precautions, Asian Americans, were early adopters of social distancing and wearing masks, changes that have been a reality since late January and early February in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of Asia. While cultural traditions and experiences have played a tremendous role influencing the level of compliance and consequently, COVID exposure, they have not prepared this segment for the sudden onset of discrimination.


Recently Western countries have encouraged citizens to wear face masks as part of containment measures. While wearing a mask is perceived to be associated with criminology in the West, it’s commonly seen in East Asia. People who live in metropolitan areas with air pollution, frequently wear face masks to keep their faces clean and also filter the air they breathe in. Wearing face masks became an essential component in virus containment during the SARS outbreak in the region in 2002-2003 and has been further integrated into daily life afterwards. When the Covid-19 outbreak first happened in Asia, Asian governments encouraged wearing face masks early on. In Taiwan, despite its close distance and ties with China, so far the island has avoided close down and people in the territory have been able to maintain a normal life. At the writing of this article (04/11/2020), Taiwan had 385 cases and 6 deaths. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the government has made sure that face masks are available to all residents. Residents can purchase a limited number of masks with ID from local post offices. The Ministry of Education also distributed masks to all schools for all students and teachers for emergency situations.


Taiwan distributes face masks to school children

(Source: Taiwan’s Ministry of Education to distribute 6.45 million face masks to schools for use in emergencies when anyone in the school who displays coronavirus symptoms.) 


In addition to being informed of the pandemic’s development in Asia, wearing masks, cultural factors such as being group-oriented may also affect compliance and therefore the outcome of the pandemic’s impact on Asian Americans. Culturally Asian Americans tend to be group oriented, more willing to sacrifice individual rights for the greater good of the community. Conversely, non-compliance of virus containment measures is seen as a threat to public health. According to Judy Yuen-man Siu, a medical anthropologist at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, wearing a mask in Hong Kong during an epidemic is considered a civil responsibility and people not wearing a mask will be stigmatized and discriminated against. In China, a Chinese Australian female who went out jogging without wearing a mask in Beijing was reported by netizen and the incident report quickly went viral on social media in China, drawing ire of the entire country. She was fired from her job as a result. 


The Covid-19’s notable plight inflicted on Asian Americans is not reflected on the infection numbers and death toll, but rather psychological and emotional. Since the pandemic first broke out in central China, overseas Chinese and East Asians in general (mistaken to be Chinese) have experienced a tremendous rise in xenophobia and discrimination.



Data source: Megafone (



Data source: Megafone (



Data source: Megafone (


There were spikes in mentions of “discrimination against Chinese” on WeChat, the most popular social media in China and among Chinese overseas. Within the first week since Stop AAPI Hate’s launch on March 19, 2020, the reporting platform received over 650 reports of discrimination incidence related to Covid-19. New York State Attorney General Letitia James launched a hotline for reports of hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans on March 23, 2020.


Widespread xenophobia against Chinese prompted social media campaigns such as #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus, kickstarted by the French Chinese community to highlight the xenophobia they experienced.  In the U.S., two campaigns that stand out,  #WashtheHate and Racism Is Contagious, were launched as a response to discrimination against Asian Americans. The #WashtheHate campaign was created by multicultural ad agency IW Group and instantly resonated and gained support from Asian American influencers including Celia Au (Wu Assassins) and Tzi Ma (Mulan, The Man in the High Castle) who personally experienced harassment. Racism is Contagious was spearheaded by Asian American media outlet Nextshark and multicultural ad agency Admerasia and other allied groups and features an interactive map of reported incidences of discrimination from reliable news outlets.  


Interestingly, fear for hate crimes and concerns about safety also drove gun sales among Asian Americans in some areas. There have been news reports in Washington and California where the outbreaks of the virus first happened that there was an increase in gun purchase among Asian Americans, driven by fear of xenophobia and racist violence. On WeChat, there are also local support groups for racist violence alerts. 



Asian American as a consumer segment traditionally has been underrepresented and misrepresented in mainstream media. Brand messaging that conveys a united stand on important issues such as discrimination during times of crisis is more apt to be looked on favorably and get more traction in the community. Brands can also highlight the positive by thanking healthcare workers on the frontlines since Asian Americans are overrepresented in this field.


Increasing awareness of the issue of discrimination and showing support for Asian Americans translates beyond building a connection with Asian American consumers in the US and will also help brands build rapport with a much broader consumer base in Asia given the reach of social media and internet. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, brands have been pivoting messaging to show support for employees and consumers and how they contribute to the fight against Covid-19. Contribution marketing is important. However, it’s equally important to contribute to the emotional health of consumers. Crisis brings out the good and bad in human nature. The Together, Let’s #Do Good campaign from Prudential Singapore is a good example of how a brand can take a stand against discrimination and encourage positive emotions and behaviors during times of crisis.


Hispanics during COVID-19 are dealing with more than just the fear of the virus itself.


Among Hispanics, the financial weight of depending on their weekly paycheck to survive has become a heavier stress point due to the fact that their jobs have come to a halt since shelter-in-place came into effect.  Similar to many African American consumers, Hispanics tend to be hourly employees who do not reap the benefits of the salaried workers with extended pay and benefits. According to a recent Pew Research poll, more Hispanics than the general population reported someone in their household had lost a job or had to take a pay cut due to Covid-19.


The coronavirus outbreak has made their job even more precarious; risking their lives to save their livelihood.  While many employers have stepped up and provided them with safety gear such as masks and gloves, those who work in construction or as gardeners/landscapers for example are relying on their own means to stay safe.  


As part of their story, one of the greatest challenges Hispanics face is adapting their behavior to comply with social distancing guidelines. Culturally, family and gatherings are vital to this community.  How is it that adult children can’t visit their parents? Or that grandparents can’t celebrate their grandchildren’s birthdays? That all planned festivities and celebrations now have to be cancelled or postponed.  That NO ONE can attend a family members funeral/burial services – for them, this is insane and inhumane!! Their biggest challenge is understanding that even immediate family is a risk to health and welfare. 


Furthermore, Hispanics are culturally programmed to shop for groceries on a daily basis in their countries of origin. In the United States,  it has become a weekly or bi-weekly activity that tends to coincide with pay day, and usually makes for a family experience. Shopping to cover large periods of time i.e. shelter in place, is not possible because their budgets are still designed to cover shorter periods of time.  Therefore, it’s business as usual even with warnings/restrictions of going into grocery stores. Supermarkets that cater to this segment have done a great job of adjusting to the new regulations in order to keep their stores open and stocked for these consumers. Northgate, a Mexican owned chain of supermarkets, for example was the first to implement plexiglass barriers for their cashiers and first to designate special shopping hours for seniors.  They are doing everything they can to keep their customers safe, given that not all are complying with new regulations. Nonetheless, there are still entire families shopping at the store, not everyone wears masks and some still struggle with the 6’ feet social distancing guidelines, even with markers on the floor. 


Northgate 1

(Picture taken at Northgate Market La Habra store on April 11, 2020)


Northgate 3

(Picture taken at Northgate Market La Habra store on April 11, 2020)


Change is difficult for everyone, but especially for a segment that thrives on family time and family interaction. Perhaps it’s part of the fatalistic mentality that Hispanics are known for and is an important part of the overall culture; it’s all in God’s hands/God will protect us from evil.  Or simply the fact that they must continue to risk what needs to be risked in order to continue to provide for their families and for their mental/social well-being.  



While government directives around COVID-19 are still evolving at the time of writing of this article, one key element that will continue to help address the stay at home ordinance is to continue to provide the Hispanic community with factual information in terms and situations they can understand and relate to. This is critical to overcoming both cultural and language barriers and ensuring greater compliance. Univision and Telemundo have done a great job of having their talent featured on PSAs and local news personalities provide PSA segments throughout their daily programing – stay home, don’t visit family and friends, wash your hands, wear a mask, addressing dangers of cross contamination when wearing gloves, etc. to connect with and motivate the community. For most Hispanics, like other ethnicities, being left in even more tenuous situations post COVID, unpredictable and uncertain economic effects is their lingering concern. 


In summation, implications across these ethnicities presented suggest that it will not be business as usual because of their diverse experiences. Resuming the same way of thinking and business among people of color pre-COVID is probably not the smartest option for brand and business growth. While we don’t have the answers today and brands will have to make decisions as they go, it’s clear that these disparate COVID experiences will help dictate the future. Brands that stay relevant by investing now in more targeted consumer-centric perspectives, cultural understanding to connect and engage more deeply as consumers navigate the “new” normal will earn their respect and patronage. The COVID crisis is still fluid. Frankly, it’s a rough time and some brands will disappear. Those that survive will need to be even more agile and relevant in their communications and messaging to win in the decade ahead. Ensuring that people of color are emotionally and physically engaged across multiple channels is needed more than ever. 

How to effectively implement total market strategy – taking a chapter from the Pixar new film “Coco”





The marketing industry has been dominated by the idea of Total Market in the past few years. While the definition of Total Market is still being debated, the gist of the argument goes like this: With the changing demographics (minority consumers becoming the majority in the not-so-distant future), marketers should look at the market as a whole and employ an integrated strategy instead of segmented (by ethnicity) approach in marketing strategy development and implementation.


Personally, I think the segmented approach and total market approach can be summarized as follows:


Traditional total market strategy



In the past, companies that conduct various degrees of multicultural marketing would have their General Market agency develop a strategy and positioning, and then agencies with different cultural expertise would be brought in to adapt that General Market positioning for various multicultural segments (Hispanic, African American, Asian American).


Ideal total market strategy


For Total Market, ideally, cultural insights would be incorporated in the research stage and all the agencies and client team will work on the strategy plan and positioning together, then integrated or segmented execution will be created based on business and marketing objectives.


Pixar’s much acclaimed film Coco serves as a perfect example for the second approach. Coco tells the story of Miguel Rivera, a 12-year-old Mexican who dreams of becoming a famous troubadour like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. From early on, the film creators sought input on character design and story from cultural advisors and made field trips to Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guanajuato between 2011 and 2013. The film opened to No.1 spot over the Thanksgiving weekend, grossing $71 million domestically. It became the fourth-highest-grossing Thanksgiving opener of all time, behind its Disney predecessors Frozen ($94 million), Moana ($82 million) and Toy Story 3 ($80 million). In spite of the fact that the Pixar writer and director Lee Unkrich himself doesn’t have any firm connections to Mexico and its traditions, the film won praises from the Hispanic community for its authentic storytelling.


For consumer marketing, the Coco production process for cultural accurateness would translate into


Market research: make sure the sample is representative, not just including token multicultural consumers. Over-sample a certain multicultural segment if needed based on business and marketing objectives. Hire research suppliers or consultants who are well versed in the culture and implications for target segments.


Create cultural awareness through cultural training: periodically conduct cultural training sessions or immersion sessions so that different functional teams will keep cultural relevance in mind in strategy execution.


Seek input from cultural experts throughout the process: establish a mechanism to gather cultural input throughout the process of strategy development and implementation. This can be employees, consultants, consumer advisors, agency partners, etc. Having a mechanism like this in place will avoid blunders like the Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner ad that was pulled.


In addition to primary consumer research, Sparkle Insights provides cultural training services. Please contact us for details

Asian American growth in the South – A reflection on the election of Hongbin Guo as Chapel Hill city council member


News coverage of this November elections has focused on how Democrats fared in the first tests of Trump’s impact. Something else close to home also caught my attention. Hongbin Gu, a UNC associate professor and immigrant from China, was elected as a Chapel Hill town council member with the highest number of votes among the candidates (6116 votes). In fact, more than 50% of those who voted casted a vote for her (voter turnout was 10193, as reported in Her election was a surprise to me, to her, and all her supporters as well. Although Chapel Hill is a college town, it is after all part of the South which is more socially conservative than the rest of the country. Chinese residents account for a mere 2.8% of the Orange County population (3905 out of 138644). Estimate of eligible voters of Chinese origin are 1103 (3905 * 0.73 [% of Orange County population who are adults] *0.79 [% of adult Asians who are foreign born] * 0.49 [% of Asian residents who are naturalized] = 1103). So Hongbin Gu couldn’t have been elected with Chinese voters’ support alone. When I saw her signs while driving, I wondered how voters would embrace a candidate with a foreign sounding name. My concern was apparently not necessary. And Orange County voters proved that they are more open-minded than I thought.


For me, Hongbin Gu’s election exemplifies two things: One, the awakening of Asian Americans and their increasing participation in public affairs and advocacy; and secondly, the growing numbers and influence of Asian Americans in the south.


For Hongbin Gu’s campaign, the entire Chinese community in Chapel Hill was mobilized to raise funds, distribute flyers door to door, and staff event booths and ballot stops on election day. A WeChat group was created for the campaign to coordinate volunteers. Based on my casual observation, Hongbin Gu’s campaign was more organized and better staffed than other candidates. In addition to her own leadership and capability, I think another very important reason for her win is that Asian Americans increasingly realized the importance of civic participation and having a voice in public affairs, and they threw all their support behind someone who can represent them. Nationwide, AAPI Data counted over 30 AAPI candidates that were newly elected or re-elected to office in this election.


Regarding population trends, North Carolina is one of the states with the fastest growth of Asian Americans. Asian population in the state grew 85% from 2000 to 2010. Hmart opened its first NC store in Cary at the end of 2016. In the beginning of 2017, the First Chapel Hill LIGHTUP Lantern Festival drew close to 10,000 in attendance at University Place, a mall at the heart of Chapel Hill. Due to the overwhelming reception of the event, the event is moving to a larger venue, Friday Center, for 2018. Raleigh also saw its first Korean festival at the beginning of 2017.



Here are a few thoughts for marketers interested in the Asian American market:


Asian American marketing should go beyond traditional markets such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. While these markets still have the highest concentration of Asian Americans, they only account for part of the Asian American market.


Digital media can be leveraged to geo-target Asian Americans wherever they are. Mainstream platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and more niche platforms such as WeChat (particularly popular among Chinese) and Whatsapp (particularly popular among Indians) offer great opportunities for display ads and content marketing to increase awareness and build relationships. While digital media are powerful platforms, great care needs to be taken in ad placement. I have seen Spanish ads placed in the middle of Chinese language drama on YouTube, which is clearly a waste of money.


Lastly, traditional media still important. According to Reaching the Fastest Growing Consumer in a Digital World by the Asian American Advertising Federation (3AF), 80% of Asian Americans watch TV and 52% listen to radio on a daily basis. Newspaper is an importance source for local news. Asian Americans often pick up free in-language newspapers at Asian supermarkets and read in-language news on mobile apps or the Internet.


Hongbin Gu announcing her campaign

Challenges and opportunities in Asian American media – a reflection of the 3AF media roundtable discussion


I recently had the opportunity to attend a media roundtable discussion hosted by the Asian American Advertising Federation and sponsored by AARP at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles on Nov. 2, 2017. Going into the roundtable discussion with the news of the closing of New American Media (a multimedia ethnic news media and a coalition of ethnic media founded in 1996 by the nonprofit Pacific News Service) and the cancellation of international format by LA Channel 18 earlier this year, I was not expecting much. The discussion of challenges facing the Asian American marketing industry reflected broader trends in media and advertising.  These include the decrease in spending in traditional media; ethnic media’s struggle to attract younger, U.S.-born users while at the same time retaining their core first generation immigrant audience; the challenge to fight never ending piracy in video content; and a lack of understanding of the climate of Asian American marketing at the brand level.


However, there are some bright spots. Saavn, a digital distributor of Indian music globally, has successfully switched from a free service to a paid subscription service and is now available on iTunes and Alexa. Apple Daily, a Hong Kong-based newspaper which expanded to the United States in recent years, is able to garner 20 million unique users and 80 million page views on a daily basis. It distributes news digitally via geo-targeting apps, leveraging on content produced in Hong Kong and Taiwan. It also has a U.S.-based team generating unique domestic content. Thirdly, traditional radio is experiencing a renaissance in the Vietnamese community, so much so that Viet TV recently launched a 24/7 radio station in Houston. Their success suggests that there are opportunities for ethnic media to prosper when they find the right niche and deliver content on an appropriate platform for the target audience.


The discussion also touched on the challenge of a lack of standard measurement for Asian media. Only a handful of Asian media subscribe to the Nielsen rating service or can afford an audit. I agree that it would be beneficial to have standard measures to help marketers measure campaign effectiveness and ROI. However, I think it’s only meaningful to a certain extent. Marketers certainly need media measurement to make a business case for their spending. But numbers don’t tell the entire story. I reflect on my own media usage. I use mostly mainstream media such as the Wall Street Journal and Business Week. News from Asia for me comes primarily from Facebook and WeChat forwards and commentary from friends. I only pick up a Chinese newspaper when I visit the local Asian supermarket once or twice a month. Entertainment is a mixed bag of Asian and mainstream content from Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube. For me, the use of ethnic media is not about frequency, it’s about emotional and cultural connection.  That’s perhaps why Danny Wong, a Chinese American born in the U.S., decided to launch Sky Link TV (a 24/7 Chinese satellite TV station in the US) in 2015. He said at the media roundtable that although he is a U.S. native, he wants to see programming that reflects his cultural background. That said, further research is needed to evaluate the role of ethnic media and effectiveness of advertising among Asian Americans.

3AF 2017 media roundtable group selfie


3AF 2017 media roundtable

Decoding Culture from the 3AF 2017 Asian Marketing Summit


During the past few years, there has been a lot of debate on various approaches to marketing to today’s multicultural, minority-majority consumers, namely, whether a segmented/targeted approach or a Total Market approach would be more effective. At the heart of the debate is the role of culture and its influence on consumer behaviors. One of the main themes from this year’s Asian Marketing Summit by the Asian American Advertising Federation is culture and its role in marketing. I thought I would share my key takeaways from these insightful presentations.


Culture is a very broad term. A Google search of definition of culture yields the following: The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. So it can be anything, be it based on age, gender, generation, era, ethnic background, etc. For the purpose of discussion in this blog, culture referrals to one’s upbringing, and for immigrants, cultural background and identity pertaining to their countries of origin.


In Kathy Cheng’s presentation Culture: A Pathway to Unstated Consumer Preferences, she provides ample examples to illustrate cultural DNA of interdependence in Asian culture being the key driver for Asian consumers’ predisposition to seek one-stop shopping or package deals. One of the examples she presented is the comparison between travel site apps Ctrip (a popular Chinese travel app) and Priceline. The Ctrip app includes more than two dozen functions from air fare, lodging to travel visa to local restaurants and 24/7 customer service. In contrast, the Priceline app sports a clean and clear look with three primary functions – hotels, flights and rental cars. (For more information about Kathy’s presentation on cultural DNA, please refer to

Comparison of Priceline and Ctrip by Kathy Cheng

(Illustration from Kathy Cheng’s presentation at the 3AF 2017 Asian Marketing Summit)


Culture no doubt plays an important role in consumer behaviors. The next question becomes as immigrants and their descendants acculturate, how much of that cultural DNA is retained.


In the Asian American Market Report created by Phoenix Marketing International in partnership with ISA, majority of Asian Americans maintain their cultural connection through food, music, TV programming and attending community events regardless of acculturation level.

AAMR cultural connection by acculturation

(Asian American Market Report by Phoenix Marketing International)


Ramit Sethi, a New York Times best-selling author of I will Teach You To Be Rich, in fact takes pride in his cultural background in some of his personal/business growth advice.


Asian American’s connection to cultural roots is noteworthy because the influence of one’s identity, culture and passionate points can be amplified effectively in this digital age and have an impact on broader consumer groups.


Edwin Wong, VP of Research and Insights of Buzzfeed, in his presentation Decoding Culture elaborated on the end of demographics, segmentation and targeting and the power of one in consumer influence in culture, movement and ultimately purchase behavior.

Edwin Wong at 3AF 2017 Summit

(Edwin Wong, VP of Research and Insights Buzzfeed, speaking at the 2017 3AF Asian Marketing Summit)
Indeed, Markio Carpenter, VP of Strategic Community Alliances at Nielsen, shared in her presentation on the influence of digitally savvy and trendsetting Asian American women whose passion for Korean beauty products has introduced General Market female consumers to a whole new world of beauty products and skincare regimen.

Mariko Carpenter at 3AF 2017 Summit

(Mariko Carpenter, VP of Strategic Community Aliances at Nielsen, speaking at the 3AF 2017 Asian Marketing Summit)


The latest 3AF media consumption study ( sheds lights on a consumer group that’s bicultural, bilingual and digital savvy. They use mainstream media for information and entertainment but also utilize niche media to stay connected to their cultural roots, the community and their home countries. Technology also makes contents in all forms, whether produced in the U.S. or in home countries, more accessible than ever. Technology tools and Asian American’s digital savviness make it easier to share their passion, authentic stories and amplify their influence as a consumer group.

3AF Asian American media consumption study

(Cover of 3AF’s Asian American media consumption study) 


Culture takes many forms, part of it is ingrained, part of it is acquired and may shift based on social norms, trends, education, information and interactions with others.

My husband who is Danish, fluent in Mandarin, well versed in Chinese culture and history once joked with me that he was more Asian American than most of the U.S. born Asian Americans. I posted a quiz about whether my Danish husband, who has obviously acquired a lot of Asian culture and knowledge, can be considered “Asian American” on my Facebook and most of my Asian American friends said “no.” I take that they considered being Asian American a right or identify by birth, not something that can be acquired. And there is pride in that cultural identity.

Uffe Bergeton talking to 2nd graders about Chinese culture

(Dr. Uffe Bergeton, Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at UNC, Chapel Hill, talking to 2nd graders about his Chinese seal collection)


There are many ways that each of us chooses to identify ourselves be it gender, ideology, religion, or social economics. But at the end of the day, it’s the ingrained cultural DNA, one’s upbringing and cultural roots that plays the most important role in shaping one’s identity. And that’s where marketers can meet consumers where they are, on an emotional level.


How Segmented Marketing in the Southeastern US May Be an Advantage

A band performs during the Ritmo Latino Festival in Cary’s Fred G. Bond Metro Park in 2010. Source of image
A band performs during the Ritmo Latino Festival in Cary’s Fred G. Bond Metro Park in 2010. Source of image


Over the past two decades, multicultural marketing discussions and strategy have evolved in many aspects.  This can be observed in the US, where marketing has shifted from a segmented approach targeting specifically either the Hispanic, African American, Asian American or General Caucasian populations to what is now labeled a Total Market Approach. The definition of Total Market is loosely defined as an integrated approach that is inclusive and covers all segments of a geographic population.  This shift in marketing strategy was evident in the latest Retail 360 and ANA Multicultural conferences.  Of course, whether a company takes a segmented or integrated approach depends heavily on its products, business strategies and target customers.  However, it is this writer’s belief that certain segments and geographic regions still merit a segmented approach.


An example of this is marketing to Hispanics in the Southeastern US.


Historically speaking, concentrated populations of Hispanics in the Southeastern US are a relatively new phenomenon. When comparing Hispanics in the southeast to the national statistics, they tend to be foreign born (50% vs. 33%) with less educational background and expendable income. However, there is a growing Hispanic middle class who built flourishing businesses providing products and services to Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities alike.  Examples are witnessed everywhere — supermarkets, restaurants, cleaning services, housekeeping, and credit unions.  Affluence continues to grow as the second generation of bilingual Hispanics acquire higher education levels and better paying job opportunities.  In addition, US born Hispanics from other regions of the country are attracted to the southeast as this ethnic population becomes more established in urban, university and high technology areas.


An implication of this socioeconomic shift is that there are business growth opportunities, which can be leveraged through a segmented culturally relevant marketing strategy and targeted advertising.  In other words, as the Hispanic population grows, companies who start building relationships with this community will also enjoy business growth and success.


Some variables you may want to consider when thinking through your business, branding and marketing strategy for the southeastern US:


In-language communication – given the higher percentage of foreign-born Hispanics in this region, in-language communication can ease the burden of translation for potential customers especially when it comes to financial services and healthcare.


Values – many Hispanics are very group oriented and family centric. Children often are the focus of the family that means a lot of decision making is based on this consideration.


Leverage passion points such as sports, food and music

Soccer is to Hispanics what football is to Americans and Cricket is to Indians Watching a soccer game is an event for family and friends to get together.

Hispanic’s take their cooking seriously. They create their food with love, taking particular attention to the consideration of flavors.

Music is an essential to Hispanics socially. Where there are Hispanics, there is music. According to Nielsen, the average Hispanic spends $135 on music a year, more than the General Market who spends $105 a year.


Establish a consistent presence in the Hispanic community – Hispanics can become loyal customers and appreciate companies that reach out and build positive relationships with their community. Examples of this are having a presence at social events such as fairs and festivals with high Hispanic attendance or visibly initiating / supporting social initiatives such as scholarships and sports/music camps for Hispanic children and young adults.  There are many positive means for outreach; the key is consistency in your presence and offerings.


Moon Lovers – Scarlet Heart Ryeo: A Case study of Transcreation


Korean drama Scarlet Heart Ryeo


In my career as a market researcher, I have tested many concepts and taglines transcreated (The process of adapting a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context) for multicultural audiences. Most of the time, the respondents’ reactions are lukewarm and they bluntedly point out that it’s something translated from English and doesn’t really flow. Admittedly, transcreating a creative concept is a lot more challenging than creating an original concept. It needs to convey the same message as the original concept while at the same time is unique, creative, culturally relevant and authentic in its own way.


When I saw Korean drama Scarlet Heart Ryeo recently, I thought it was an excellent sample of transcreation and there are some lessons that could be drawn for agencies that practice the art of transcreating creative concepts for multicultural consumers.


Scarlet Heart Ryeo drew my attention because it is the remake of a popular Chinese drama Scarlet Heart (a first for Korean drama). It was recently aired in Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and can be viewed by the rest of world on the video streaming website DramaFever. Having watched the original Scarlet Heart series, I was impressed by the creative adaptation of the Korean version that remained true to the spirit of the original story yet reflected Korean authenticity.


Both the original and transcreated versions reflect a creative interpretation of history. The storyline is based on a young 21st century woman being transported back in time where she meets princes of the ruling family. The heroine’s strong character, spirit of freedom and kindness wins her friendship from all of the princes.  She eventually falls in love with the 8th prince and later the 4th prince and finds herself entangled in a power struggle for the throne.


Four key elements, which demonstrate this, are described below:


Cultural elements

The Korean version is set in Goryeo Dynasty and incorporates many cultural elements and customs of the time.  Scenes depicting the sword dance and ceremony to chase evil spirits from the palace, bathhouses and the rain ritual after a long drought are examples of authentic cultural elements.


Creative adaptation of the story

The story is also adapted to be closer to Korean history.  The power struggle comes from the ruling family’s relationship with powerful clans that the king relies on — instead of a struggle within the palace as in the original version.  Another example is how the relationship between the brothers and their roles are depicted.


Creative adaptation of main characters

There are also considerable adaptations made to the main characters. Heroine Hae Soo, unlike Zhang Xiao who is well versed in Chinese history, has difficulty remembering historical facts.  She also is portrayed as illiterate since she has not studied the Chinese characters which are used by aristocrats at the time.  However, her expertise in makeup application enables her to cover Wang Soo’s (the 4th prince) facial scar – this ultimately changes his fate.  Wang Soo is also portrayed much more charismatic compared to the cold and calculating 4th prince ,Yin Zhen, in the Chinese version.  Further adaptations are observed by the use of more fight scenes for Wang Soo.  This variation is utilized because the story is set during the medieval period where fighting skills was one of the critical qualities of a capable prince and leader.


Korean drama style

The original Chinese period drama is serious and melancholy due to its theme of a royal power struggle and tragic ending.  The Korean version, while still serious in tone, has more light-hearted moments  –exemplifying a key characteristic of Korean story telling.


So what does a Korean drama have to do with marketing to multicultural consumers in the U.S.? Advertising agencies are often given the assignment of adapting a General Market concept for various multicultural consumer targets – Hispanic, Asian, and African American. Agencies have taking various approaches, from simply translating the copy, to casting multicultural actors while keeping the English to creatively adapting the concept for their target revamping everything including copy, casting, and production in the process.


Under the pressure of maximizing efficiency and profit, it’s tempting to have one creative concept and branding platform and then translating it into different languages with minimal adaptation. But as we can see from the Scarlet Heart Ryeo example above, while one can have an integrated approach, there is room for transcreation to tailor your canpaign story for specific targets. And a transcreation that is orginal and well thought out can have a cross cultural appleal. It was a hit in China (acculmulated more than 1.7 billion views on Chinese streaming site Youku) and the second most popular drama on DramaFever in North and South America.


In case you’re interested, the show is available on DramaFever and Viki with English subtitles. Be warned, you may catch the infectious drama fever.


Special thanks to Edward Chang of APartnership and Jay Kim of AAAZA for their feedback and input.


Chinese drama Scarlet Heart 2011

Asian American business owners represent significant opportunities for business service providers



According to the newly released inaugural annual survey of entrepreneurs by the Census, more than half of the minority-owned firms with paid employees were Asian-owned.


This represents great opportunities for companies that provide services to business owners such as financial institutions, shipping, software/cloud, etc.


The proposed EB6 startup visa, if passed, will likely accelerate growth of immigration and business ownership for this particular population given that China and India send the highest number of international students to the U.S. annually.


A few things that marketers should keep in mind when reaching out to Asian American business owners:

1) 2/3 of Asian Americans are foreign born, they face unique challenges in language barrier, navigating through regulations and healthcare systems, and having credit history to obtain credit lines or loans.

2) Asian Americans are highly concentrated in a few states and metro areas, where share of business ownership exceeds share of population.

3) Asian Americans are relationship oriented, particularly when it comes to business. Marketers need to take the time to understand the target’s unique needs and build relationship with them.

Size + Influence = Power


The Line Hotel


In her presentation about the many dimensions of the South Asian population in the U.S., Esther “ET” Franklin, Head of Americas Experience Strategy, Publicis Media, had a slide titled “size + influence = power.”  This is not only the theme of her presentation, but also the theme of the 3AF 2016 Asian Marketing Summit which just concluded on June 3, 2016 in Los Angeles.  Asian American consumers as a group has not only drawn attention from Fortune 500 marketers, but also flexed its power in entertainment and politics.


The fact that Google included Asian American in its multicultural reach and began to provide metrics and services targeting this audience at the request of its customers is a manifestation of the power yielded by Asian American consumers.


For years, marketers hesitate to venture into Asian marketing citing the small size of the population and fragmented market. Given recent immigration chance, this will no longer be the case in 50 years.  According to the Pew Research Center, currently at 6%, Asian Americans are projected to be 14% of the total population, slightly more than the African American population, by 2065.


Asian Americans are also exerting influence in culture much bigger than its population size.  Take for example, 85% of DramaFever’s subscribers are non-Asians.  Suk Park, founder of DramaFever, shared his vision of Korean pop culture at the 3AF 2016 Asian Marketing Summit, that Korean drama will become mainstream and is “a content class that has the ability to be consumed globally.”  Warner Brother apparently shared that vision and acquired DramaFever earlier this year for undisclosed terms.


There is no doubt that the segment is a tough nut to crack given its diversity.  However, marketers and their agency partners have used innovative approaches and multiple platforms to reach the different sub-segments in a cost effective way.  In some cases, the story board can also be used for non-Asian targets.  For example, Western Union partnered Saavn to launch Direct from Bollywood to modernize its brand image and connect with South Asian consumers on digital channels.  Chase connects with Asian Americans culturally in a campaign that features masters in different fields in English.  Verizon successfully drove traffic to stores with its KCON artist collectible card campaign while connecting with millennial consumers on their passion for K pop.  East West Bank leveraged on the passion point of hot sauce and featured the creator of Sriracha sauce, an East West Bank customer, in a commercial that has English and Chinese versions.


Tight budget and higher expectations for return have motivated marketers and agencies target Asian American consumers to be innovative, flexible and create campaigns that are effective in targeting multiple consumer segments in a cost effective way while at the same aligned with the brand’s overarching messaging.  Total Market marketers will benefit from taking a chapter from the Asian American marketing playbook because Total Market has been practiced by these marketers since the beginning.

Differences between the East and the West


Chinese designer Liu Yang used images to illustrate the differences between the East and the West in her book “Differences between the East and the West” after living 13 years in China and in Germany respectively.  I thought these illustrations are very insightful and explain the cultural differences in a concise and humorous way and are helpful for those of us who are in the space of multicultural/cross-cultural marketing.



Self Image

Self image

Impression of the Other

Impression of the other

Perception of Beauty

Perception of beauty

Attitudes towards Something New

Attitudes towards something new

Impact of Weather on Mood

Impact of weather

Anger Management

Anger management



Communication of Opinions

Communication of opinions

Communication of Ideas

Communication of ideas


Family and Relationship





Senior’s Life

Senior's life





Problem Solving

Problem solving




Life style

Get Together

Get together

In a Restaurant

In a restaurant

Street Scene on the Weekend

Street scene on the weekend






The Sun

Shower Time

Shower time



When They Travel

When they travel

Relationship with Animals (Companion or Food)

Relationship with animals (companion or food)