Monday, December 6, 2010

Diversity with Dignity: A Celebration of Distinction

Much has been written about multicultural marketing and rightfully so. Nationwide, the minority population is steadily rising and now makes up to 35 percent of the United States with Latinos making up the majority of that percentage.

The rise in the minority population is due to recent sharp increases in minority births, especially among Hispanics, who accounted for more than half of total U.S. population gains last year. There are now roughly 9 births for every 1 death among Latinos, compared to a roughly one-to-one ratio for whites.

Ethnic lifestyle sensibility is not a luxury, it is a requirement for executives of any consumer brand, these days. But unlocking the code to brand loyalty and relevancy across multiple cultures is not a politically correct conversation. Rather, it is a brave and fearless one not everyone is equipped to handle, especially if your attitude toward diversity is biased, convoluted or less than dignified. You have to know what you are talking about and not just be a minority yourself. You have to put ego aside and be open to different ways of looking at the world.

For instance, ignorance is lazy and prone to generalization. Urban is not the same as ghetto, and vice versa. Not all Latinos are Mexican, and not all Mexicans are here illegally to take our jobs, and crowd our streets. Not every Asian is a restaurant owner. These are just stereotypes, but must be broken if we are to reach the core of what resonates across cultural boundaries.

This pertains to creative as well. I've seen well meaning designers and art directors perpetuate stereotypes of their own. Too much of what passes for multicultural is just a nod to an impoverished, tacky, or otherwise disadvantaged aesthetic. But this is a horrible disservice. It takes more than a spicy splash of color or festive border to command credibility. To build and maintain relationships that gain market share and customer loyalty with a diversity of audiences, requires a deeper commitment beyond kitsch and cliche.

Multicultural marketers should never go ghetto, and by ghetto I'm not referring to a place, but a standard. It's just distasteful and undeserving of what diversity affords us by it's very definition.

Diversity is dynamic, spirited, lively and forceful. It challenges us to embrace our differences; to be extraordinary–and extraordinary transcends race, gender, and socio-economic status. My grandmother was a hard working and inspirational immigrant who understood this principal. She knew how to call forth value from deep within herself.

"Speak well. Look great, and be intelligent", I've heard Tyra Banks say once or twice to her contestants. That's an old school concept, but one that made her excellent throughout her career as a model, and today as an entrepreneur and prominent media personality. Excellence is devoid of any prejudice. It is culturally impartial, but like polish, adds luster to what lies underneath, enabling every color to shine in all its brilliance. Honoring excellence is one thing. Honoring culture is another. But what I'm talking about is honoring excellence throughout culture and that should be something we all can celebrate.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Is Conversational Marketing Worth Talking About?

In light of the challenges brands face in the digital landscape, conversational marketing has become a popular strategy employed by social marketers. But it also depends on who you talk to. As most would acknowledge, conversational marketing evolved from The Cluetrain Manifesto's assertion that markets are nothing more than conversations, and that marketers need to reconsider conventional one-way communication with consumers. At least, that's what I got out of it – and I don't disagree, in theory. But how do you have conversations with people with the intent of promoting a product or service? Not an exact science, is it? And then there's the whole internet thing and its transformation of the marketplace. The whole dynamic keeps changing.

When it comes to social media, I am certainly no expert. No one is. But I'm always looking at the big picture. For those who didn't see it coming, social media is like the big gorilla in the room that no one invited but you also can't ignore.

Sure recent studies suggest that social media has no significant impact on direct sales, but it does on brand equity. Perception is everything when it comes to branding, and to ignore that fact, would be short sighted to say the least. The brand that endures is the brand that wins. To some degree, social media activity is imperative, but itself is no magic bullet, as some would hype.

For instance, not all companies are convinced that tweeting is a necessity, even ones that believe in social media. Quantitative executives focused on ROI are still trying to figure out it's value. As a channel for one-on-one customer conversations, I believe Twitter is a great way to find out what people want from you as a brand.

Conversational marketing is gaining traction in the blogosphere but it's not a new concept. Despite what some may think, social media is not all that different from traditional marketing as long as your philosophy is the same. Stop talking at consumers and focus more on building relationships and starting conversations; even if that conversation begins first in someone's head. That much you can control, at least subliminally. Plant a seed and watch it grow.

Sure, the internet has changed the way people connect, but the rules have not changed. Conversational marketing should be a fundamental shift in thinking and approach; not just a term to describe the notion of connecting directly to the marketplace online. It's more than viral or word-of-mouth, but rather an effective and rather inexpensive research tool driven by social media and its various communication channels.

Unparalleled in potential and unlimited in scope, cyberspace has a taken on a life of its own and social media offers many ways to interact and participate. So stay relevant and stay in the conversation but don't try to control the conversation. That will just backfire. The more you let consumers in and make them a part of the process, the more they will connect with your brand emotionally and give you a leg up on the competition.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Frozen by Fear

I read in a blog the other day how a recent neuroscience study showed that fear drives us more than we ever would care to admit. Makes sense. I don't think that comes as a shock to anyone. In fact, in this economy, everyone is in survival mode these days, for fear of losing everything they have worked so hard to obtain. Needless to say, this is not the best time to take risks.

Or is it?

Especially in business during economic downturns, those who learn to manage their fear have been able to turn lemons into some rather tasty lemonade, as it were. But those who do not, become paralyzed to do anything to promote their business.

When it comes to building businesses and brands, it's all about solutions and meeting needs. Everyone would agree the recession has changed society and culture to the point we can no longer look at the world the same way or go about doing about business as usual. That's just the nature of change and when things change, we all have to adjust.

This certainly opens the door for innovation, but not everyone will walk through it. Only the strong survive and I'm not just talking no guts, no glory here. No, this isn't merely about courage. This is about character. Character that says, if I truly have something to offer that's of any value, then discounting my brand is the last thing I should be doing right now. Character that says, everyone else is freaking out, but I'm going to stand strong knowing that this is just a test, and if I pass, I'll reap a reward for years to come, because my brand never stopped being relevant. If it did, then that's a discussion for another time, but the point I'm trying to make for everyone else is this: Failure seems to always follow its best friend, fear.

Business has always been about sowing and reaping and right now many are seeing the field as ripe unto harvest. So staff up and send your sales force out knowing that your return on investment is imminently at hand.