Multicultural Marketing

Decoding Culture from the 3AF 2017 Asian Marketing Summit

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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 https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/meet-consumers-where-multicultural-marketing-kathy-cheng)

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. https://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/negotiate-like-an-indian-how-to-negotiate-a-salary-increase-video/

 

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 (http://www.3af.org/research/index.html) 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

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A band performs during the Ritmo Latino Festival in Cary’s Fred G. Bond Metro Park in 2010. Source of image http://www.newsobserver.com/latest-news/81b690/picture7143794/ALTERNATES/FREE_960/beaU8.So.156.jpeg
A band performs during the Ritmo Latino Festival in Cary’s Fred G. Bond Metro Park in 2010. Source of image http://www.newsobserver.com/latest-news/81b690/picture7143794/ALTERNATES/FREE_960/beaU8.So.156.jpeg

 

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

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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