Hey white boy, what you doin’ uptown? Why ethnic strategies might be out of date—and so might your marketing

  • Tinker Taylor
  • July 31, 2015
  • Dean Taylor
Hey white boy, what you doin’ uptown? Why ethnic strategies might be out of date—and so might your marketing

In my last article we explored generational differences and what implications they can have. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how the ethnic mix is rapidly evolving, and how this is changing the business landscape.

No wonder this is a hot topic for chief executives. The latest statistics report that New Zealand has more ethnicities than there are countries in the world. It’s time to do some serious planning on how our industry will connect and communicate to this ever-changing nation.

Sometimes multiculturalism seems limited to deciding whether to choose Indian or Chinese on Dominion Road. That’s because it’s human nature to surround yourself with your own ethnic group. Odds are, your dinner party guests are around the same age, live in the same neighbourhood and have the same childhood experiences. You’re all Mancunian immigrants like me too right?

Let’s take a look at what New Zealand is really like. Imagine if we had a board of 12 shareholders that accurately represented New Zealand right now. Four of them would have been born abroad, at least one would be from India and another would come from the Middle East. Chances are you’d find the surnames Wang, Li, Chen and Liu there too. The reason you’ve got to imagine it is because there are not many boards like that in the country.

The Economist points out that healthy immigration is vital for an economy to grow. In fact, a place’s openness to different cultures, religions and sexual orientation suggests a key to success. It shines a light on an emerging way for societies and individuals to benefit from.

76 percent of New Zealanders think diversity is a good thing, so they’d be happy with our evolution. So then, why do only five percent of the country’s major firms have Asian directors on their boards?

It’s time to look at ourselves and accept that most of our decision makers are not representative and might feel disconnected from the new everyday New Zealander. So, how do we ensure our marketing can talk to all these different ethnicities in a genuine and authentic way?

'So team, what’s our ‘ethnic’ strategy?'

The old way of looking at it is, slap some Chinese on one version and you’re covered. With the ease of digital targeting, you could even stretch to doing a Hindi version too.

In the article 5 secrets to more effective multicultural marketing, the author questions whether it is worth putting in precious time and resources to reach niche markets. General marketing campaigns should appeal to everyone if the human insight is right and you’ve understood your audience.

This all means changing the lens through which we judge the consumer and being much more ambitious with our analysis. We need to to look at new mindsets that go beyond looking for differences and instead look for harmonies.

Windows’ strategy was perfect … the execution not so much.

In essence, we are looking at how a multi-cultural society evolves and becomes more dynamic. We should celebrate the common truths, whilst respecting obvious cultural nuances. With the NZ Census predicting white New Zealand will be in the minority in the not too distant future, shouldn’t we at least try?

From                                                            To

Ethnic stereotypes                                        Family lifestage choices

Racial epithets                                              Emotional commonality

Misinformation                                              Embracing the business opportunity

Same-same, but different?

Pepsi has taken this further by referring to the new skillset needed as ‘cultural fluency’. Marketers need to stop being passive observers of culture and try to be a vital part of how consumers are creating it. Time to get out of our comfort zone.

This campaign from P&G brand Always appeals to all women, transcending age, ethnicity and social class. This challenges both males and females. The outcome is bringing us all together.

However, this can’t be an act. If we don’t do the necessary research and analysis we risk not merely being dad at the disco but the very silly white dude in the wrong nightclub.

We have a unique opportunity for cultural fluency and business success in New Zealand. That’s because we traditionally look outward for cues on how we feel about the world (trying explaining this one to an American). On top of this, there is the wonderful institution of the OE. Done the right way, you’ll earn yourself a PHD in a balanced world view. Much more fun and far more useful in business than a real one.

There was a recent Fast Company article that looked at how experience of a second culture can have an impact on people and organisations and the results were fascinating:

  1. You increase your overall openness to new experiences and this openness often leads to more creative ideas.
  2. You recognise that everything in the world can be viewed in different ways.

People who have these experiences are inherently more creative because they are willing to see alternatives to the way things are done. Moreover they see objects, people and situations from multiple perspectives. Now that is a key advantage.

There are some simple, actionable, outline rules we can apply to this thinking. These need applying across all marketing, not just reserved for an ethnic strategy:

  1. Look for commonalities, not differences
  2. Target family size and wellbeing (not colour or race)
  3. Be open to a third way (when cultures collide amazing things happen)
  4. Immigration brings ambition, colour and contrast. How can you celebrate diversity and the new reality?

Finally, relax with your hang-ups. We’re all living in an accelerated culture. So, time to stop hiding in our comfort zone and find our way together.

Old Spice showed boys' aspirations to be a man and their aspirations to be admired using a brand of humour that makes it completely cross cultural.

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