For companies looking to create social impact, multicultural consumers are a "must-engage" audience - but are marketers ready?
By Sarah Cahan
Part of the Consumer Perspectives: Turning Insights into Action series
Companies have long embraced corporate support of social and environmental issues to build brand relevance and consumer support; but today, marketers must evaluate new audiences as part of their efforts to create meaningful social impact. Among those new audiences are multicultural consumers – particularly Hispanics and African Americans, who, according to the 2013 Cone Communications Social Impact Study, are the driving forces behind the evolution of cause to more robust social impact.
More than 90 percent of the U.S. population growth since 2000 is attributed to minorities, many of whom identify as African American or Hispanic. According to Nielsen’s reports on the State of the African American Consumer and Hispanic Consumer, these populations represent a combined buying power estimated to reach $2.3 trillion by 2015. Growing not only in numbers but in cultural and economic influence, African Americans and Hispanics are undeniable forces.
Hispanics represent one of the most actively-engaged population segments to-date and exhibit stronger inclinations to purchase cause-related products as well as participate in corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts:
- 94 percent of Hispanics are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause (versus 89 percent of the general U.S. population)
- 62 percent has bought a product with a social or environmental benefit in the past 12 months (vs. 54 percent)
- 82 percent would volunteer if given the opportunity (versus 76 percent)
- 70 percent has already donated to causes this year (versus 65 percent)
A company’s support of social and environmental issues appears top-of-mind when Hispanics make a variety of important decisions. Not only do they consider CSR when deciding what to buy (86 percent versus 82 percent national average), but also where to work (80 percent versus 71 percent national average) and where to invest (70 percent versus 60 percent).
CSR is particularly influential among African Americans, as well. They are more steadfast in their conviction to shop with a conscience, and slightly more optimistic about individuals’ and companies’ ability to effect positive change:
- 42 percent of African Americans are “very likely” to switch brands to one associated with a good cause (versus 37 percent national average)
- 33 percent believes individuals can have significant positive impact on social issues through their purchasing decisions (versus 25 percent)
- 20 percent feels companies have made significant impact on critical issues (versus 16 percent)
Representing a more connected CSR consumer population, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than the national average to leverage social media to engage with companies around critical social and environmental issues:
- 62 percent Hispanics and 55 percent African Americans report using social media to engage with companies around social and environmental issues (versus 51 percent national average)
- 31 percent Hispanics and 33 percent African Americans use these channels to champion corporate efforts and initiatives (versus 27 percent)
- 23 percent Hispanics and 19 percent African Americans acknowledge using social channels to share negative information about companies and issues (versus 20 percent)
As companies respond to consumer demand for proof of purpose, multicultural consumers represent must-engage audiences who stand ready to participate in and advocate on behalf of corporate efforts.
But despite the tremendous opportunity for marketers, programs specifically designed to rally these consumers are few and far between. Are marketers prepared to collaborate with multicultural consumers? Perhaps not quite yet.
Multicultural CSR engagement initiatives that have hit the market are primarily focused around health and education, including Avon’s breast cancer screenings for minority women and Clorox’s scholarship programs. Not only are multicultural cause initiatives hard to come by – few seem to represent long-term corporate commitments to the issue or the audience. More often than not, these programs are short-lived or one-off’s.
Turning Insights into Action: Tips for Engaging Multicultural Audiences
1. Honor diversity.
Within each population of Hispanics and African Americans, distinct sub-groups exist with diverse and unique characteristics. Marketers know well the adage to “know thy audience,” but this is particularly true of multicultural audiences. Hispanic consumers’ attitudes, behaviors and motivations vary based not only on countries of origin but current geography. African Americans are equally diverse, with region and socioeconomic factors weighing heavily in their decision-making processes.
2. Ensure authenticity.
From business practices, to partners, to messages, authenticity is paramount to earn the trust of these brand-loyal consumer groups. Corporate efforts to engage these audiences must be backed up by deep commitments to the populations themselves. From strong diversity and inclusion policies, to a demonstrated dedication to working with minority-lead organizations, companies should go beyond one-off initiatives designed to check a box.
Companies must also make sure their marketing messages are authentic, and steer clear of making African Americans or Hispanics feel overly targeted or stereotyped. For example, although the church is incredibly influential in many African Americans’ lives, companies should tread carefully so as not to exploit their religiosity.
3. Use social.
According to Cone’s research, Hispanic and African American consumers are significantly more likely to use social media to engage with companies around social and environmental issues (62 percent and 55 percent, respectively, versus 51 percent national average). They’re also more likely to use these channels to champion corporate efforts and initiatives (31 percent Hispanics and 33 percent African Americans, versus 27 percent national average). Marketers must infuse social strategies in their communications mix to reach these dynamic consumers and potential brand advocates where they are – online and on their smartphones.
4. Seek collaboration.
Given their higher-than-average passion for CSR, multicultural consumers are primed to work with companies to address and solve social and environmental challenges. Harness their propensity to engage by seeking their partnership and input. These are consumers more apt to advocate on behalf of companies they feel good about; investing them in the process will build deeper, stronger relationships with powerful brand advocates.
We’ll take a look at the evolution of corporate giving practices and how global consumer demands are pushing companies to focus for impact.
About the Author:
As Cone Communications’ Research & Insights senior insights supervisor, Sarah Cahan drives the creation and execution of industry-leading corporate social responsibility research and analysis, including the 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study and the 2012 Cone Communications Corporate Social Return Trend Tracker. Her team produces the award-winning Prove Your Purpose CSR newsletter and blog, which offer cutting-edge trends and real-world best practices to hundreds of Fortune 500 and nonprofit executives every week. With nearly a decade of communications and CSR experience, Sarah brings forward-thinking consumer insights and corporate implications to life for clients and thought leaders alike.