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.