Guest post by Colleen O’Day, a digital marketing manager and supports community outreach for 2U Inc.’s social work, mental health and K-12 education programs. Find her on Twitter @ColleenMODay.
For decades, the faces of cosmetic giant CoverGirl were exclusively white and invariably blonde: Cheryl Tiegs, Cybill Shepherd and, for 25 years, Christie Brinkley.
Then, in 1992, the company made a historic foray into diversity marketing when it signed Lana Ogilvie, its first black model. But that hire now seems as quaint as feathered bangs. CoverGirl’s current crop of “boundary breaking” ambassadors includes Ellen DeGeneres, who became a spokesmodel at age 55, and Ayesha Curry, who hosts a cooking show on the Food Network (and is married to NBA star Stephen Curry). Another trailblazer, James Charles, is the first male CoverGirl.
A CoverGirl executive told HuffPost that the roster reflects the brand’s philosophy of inclusion.
“We love to celebrate what makes each of us unique,” Senior Vice President Ukonwa Ojo said.
Marketing experts say Ojo’s remark offers an essential formula for how companies can expand beyond their traditional customers. Firms too often frame diversity only through the prism of race and ethnicity. But consumer pocketbooks are united by more than just skin color or family origin — and sometimes not at all.
To succeed, businesses need to look past the obvious markers of diversity. And they need to break through stereotypes to truly understand which marketing messages will sway a group.
Why bother with diversity? For one thing, consider our demographical destiny: Just three out of five Americans today are non-Latino whites, and minority babies make up a slim majority of all newborns.
For another, homogeneity in any form is just bad business. Witness Silicon Valley’s endemic sexism and dearth of female executives and employees, both factors in the ouster of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
- Education level
- Household income
- Veteran status
Kelly McDonald, author of How to Market to People Not Like You, says consumer segments can be carved by any common denominator. Vegetarians, for instance, share similar values and needs that can transcend their creed, color or even zip codes. So do carless New Yorkers or people who live in rural areas, home school their children or belong to the Democratic party.
Forge New Markets
Diversity marketing certainly isn’t a cure-all.
A decade ago, flagging motorcycle sales spurred Harley-Davidson to pursue a novel target: female riders. Trouble was, few women knew how to actually ride a motorcycle. So, the company created its own market by offering training clinics at its dealerships, taught by female instructors.
Harley-Davidson now is grappling with a different headwind. Aging riders are putting their chaps away in greater numbers than millennials are taking to the roads, despite the company’s lineup of smaller, more affordable motorcycles. Harley-Davidson recently warned of a sales slump and is laying off workers.
Selling to a fragmented market means more work and expense, something that smaller businesses in particular may feel they can’t afford. But they may not have a choice. Consumers have grown more diverse in their demographic makeup and in their tastes, and competitors are more numerous than ever.
In the mid 1980s, a typical grocery store carried 15,000 items. Today, driven by broadening palates and a proliferation of specialty vendors, an average supermarket stocks 39,500 items.
In uninformed hands, niche marketing can turn into a landmine. In her book, McDonald recounts her conversation with an executive from an unnamed wireless company whose Cinco de Mayo campaign to woo Miami’s Hispanic market fizzled big time. McDonald told the baffled executive, “Maybe the Cubans don’t give a flip about the Mexican holidays.”
Her point: “Understanding someone is understanding their life.”
“When you tap into someone’s values, you also tap into their hearts, their minds and, ultimately, their wallet,” McDonald once stated at an industry event.
In the end, however, concepts like multicultural or diversity marketing boil down to pinpointing demand. Companies often go astray when they confuse the two, argues Eddie Yoon, a director with the consulting firm The Cambridge Group, in a Harvard Business Review article. For instance, hip hop music promoters will be mistaken if they view young, urban black Americans as their primary customers. In fact, 80 percent of the demand comes from suburban white men.
Another example: A big chunk of salsa’s popularity leap over ketchup sales is driven by white, not Hispanic, purchasers. Some 5 million white households are salsa super-consumers – the top 10 percent of salsa lovers who buy 50 percent of salsa.
As Yoon notes, culture is a choice, not a birthright. And diversity comes in many guises. Any marketer who fails to grasp those lessons risks leaving money on the table.