6 Experts Answer: How Can Multicultural Marketing Insights Make General Campaigns More Effective?

What: Members of Portada's Agency Star Committee discussed how multicultural marketing can make total market campaigns more effective, during this year's Portada New York conference. Even though the awareness of the business opportunity multicultural marketing presents has increased, there's still a lack of knowledge around how it should integrate with general initiatives.
Why it matters: José Bello (Total Market, Senior Director, Hearts & Science), Dana Bonkowski (SVP, Multicultural Lead, Starcom), Darcy Bowe (SVP, Media Director, Starcom USA), Cynthia Dickson, David Queamante (SVP, Client Business Partner, UM Worldwide), and Jessica Román (VP, Media Director, Publicis Media) are agency executives with decades of experience in marketing and advertising. Their insights are a valuable light in this moment of uncertainty around how to best approach multicultural marketing.

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As the diversity of the consumer market keeps increasing, more and more brands realize that establishing real connections with multicultural consumers is no longer an option, but a must. Everyone has seen the numbers: minority buying power in the U.S. is growing more quickly than the white consumer market, to the extent that the white population in America will constitute only 44% of the total population by 2060, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 29% will be Hispanics.

However, even though businesses are more aware than before of the importance of tapping into this segment, and even though we have more access to data and tools than ever, there is still a long way to go to erase the ever-present lack of information around best practices when marketing to multicultural audiences. Luckily for brands, agencies can help them understand what to do and what not to do to leverage this opportunity. That is why Portada invited members of the Agency Star Committee to have a conversation at this year's New York summit about how multicultural insights can make general market campaigns more effective. Around the table were José Bello (Total Market, Senior Director,Hearts & Science), Dana Bonkowski (SVP, Multicultural Lead, Starcom), Darcy Bowe (SVP, Media Director, Starcom USA), Cynthia Dickson, David Queamante (SVP, Client Business Partner, UM Worldwide), and Jessica Román (VP, Media Director, Publicis Media).


For an opportunity to attend thought-provoking sessions and meet top-notch brand and agency executives like these, join us at the 2019 Portada Events. For more information, click here.


1. Time to Go to Back to Basics

The first step towards integrating multicultural marketing into your business shouldn't be asking if there's an opportunity there (which is clear), but rather to understand what that opportunity is. "The business-building power of multicultural America is the strongest it’s ever been," pointed out Starcom's Dana Bonkowski, "but it’s also the hardest time right now." In spite of the technologies and tools available, times are hard for our industry. How can we keep consumers' attention? How can we keep up with new platforms and devices? What to do in the face of algorithm changes, brand safety concerns, and on top of it all, how to establish an emotional connection through all the clutter with a population that's more diverse each day?

Starcom's Dana Bonkowski

According to Dana Bonkowski, multicultural should be included from the very first brief. If the client doesn't talk about it, make them, and keep in mind that doing so is not a mere tactic or a checked box. "Multicultural is a group of people. It’s not a tactic or a box; it’s a group of individuals that could very possibly solve whatever business challenge you might be faced with, so as a collective, we want to make sure that we’re helping partners do that." And this is precisely what needs to be done: agencies are faced with the task of re-educating clients on what this business opportunity means.


 Not taking the time is a disservice to our partners and a disservice to the community, because you don’t really understand what is driving your business.

Publicis Media's Jessica Román

“Given the evolving landscape, it’s an interesting time in our marketplace, in which we may need to take a step back and assist clients in identifying the business opportunity that the multicultural segment represents for them and within their category," explained Publicis Media's Jessica Román. "For some clients, it just may be a re-education of this segment and a reminder of among other things, the amazing buying power that it represents”.

Cynthia Dickson

For Cynthia Dickson, this effort to "go back in time" has to do with remembering what agencies used to do when the industry wasn't so specialized in niches and an agency was expected to do everything. "Something that we did at a full-service agency was focus groups. We really took the time to understand your consumer base," she told. "Not taking the time nowadays is a disservice to our partners, and a disservice to the community because you don’t really understand what is driving your business". Further, she suggests to really go back to basics and do some introspection work. Before even researching the market, assess your own positioning: "Start first with your product and your company. Really do the research there, start at the basics, and that’s really going to help your partners understand your business and drive it forward." 

2. Start at the Beginning

Hearts & Science's José Bello

As Hearts & Science's José Bello explained, still in 2018 it is possible to hear clients saying that they want to test whether multicultural would help their brand grow. "That's not what we should be testing," he declared. "We know for sure and all the numbers show that most businesses will increase and will be impacted. We should be testing for the best tactics and the best creatives". However, it's not that easy to make brands understand where the testing efforts need to go. For better or for worse, part of an agency's job is saying "no" if a test is not funded appropriately or the design is flawed, and education is a big part of the equation.

We're pretty fortunate that we have quite a bit of data, then we actually crunch it and tell the story, which is actually the biggest challenge.

UM's David Queamante

The next possible first step could be getting the data, but then the question always tends to be how much data is enough to start. As the wheels of retail move more and more quickly; getting data is not in the least as difficult as what happens next. "We’re pretty fortunate that we have quite a bit of data. Processing all of it, and boiling it down to useful insights, can actually be the biggest challenge," pointed out UM Worldwide's David Queamante. "Sometimes you have to start with tactic tests and then refine your tactic strategy as more data comes in. Because there is a lag in the data, sometimes we have to make the best decisions we can before all the data is in." Most times, agrees Starcom USA's Darcy Bowe, you just have to start talking to that audience you weren't paying attention to. "We may not have time to do qualitative research to get deep insights," she says, "we can just use quantitative research and say “Hey, you’re not even talking to some people”.

3. Multicultural vs Total Market: a Matter of Balance

How can brands solve the issue of targeting multicultural audiences? To what an extent should they segment their target? Ultimately, where's the balance between total market initiatives and multicultural ones? In 2014, AHAA defined the total market concept as "A marketing approach [...] which proactively integrates diverse segment considerations [...] with the goal of enhancing value and growth effectiveness." Having one overarching strategy could have seemed a good idea a few years ago, but it just doesn't coincide with reality anymore.

Image by Jcomp

For José Bello, this is one of the worst things that have happened to marketing in the last few years. "I think we all understand the total market philosophy but, unfortunately, it got lost in translation among non-multicultural agency teams and clients and it hurt us all. So perhaps it would be more clear if we go back to multicultural, going back to U.S. Hispanics, African-American, etc, instead of the total market bucket, I think that’s where we all need to push," he reflected. In the end, it's not that the total market concept doesn't work, but rather that we may have asked too much from it. As Jessica Román asserted, “I don’t believe the Total Market concept will go away; however, the pendulum may have been swung too far and we may need to bring it back in order to find what that optimal balance is. There are times when you have to pause, analyze and tweak what’s before you. In some cases, you even may have to take a step or two back, before you can fully move forward with a truly successful total market approach.”

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Another matter of balance is the issue of segmentation. It might sound complicated, but again it is a matter of understanding your position. In the first place, we need to understand that consumers are groups of people, and since it is impossible to target each one of them separately, we have to appeal to them as humans, using universal attributes as much as possible. For agencies, the real issue isn't here. "Sometimes it's easy to find challenges that are not grave enough to make agencies feel like they’re not doing a good enough job," commented Dana Bonkowski. "We all have proprietary rules and research that are at our disposal. Sometimes clients are interested in seeing them, sometimes they’re not. So the sooner that we can remind our clients to really empower themselves, to set them off for success, that’s what we’re going after."

 If you're going to focus on the white half of the population, you're going to miss the mark, period. If you're not incorporating a multicultural media mix, you're trying to move the needle but you're only pushing on half of the audience.

Therefore, trust your agency, as they know how much segmentation you actually have to do. However, as Cynthia Dickson explained, you need to understand your position before expecting your partners to be able to help. "Maybe your product is for a specific generation of consumers, or they’re bilingual consumers, because that’s your platform or your product. Without you understanding the basic marketing position of your brand, it’s really hard for your partners to help you succeed. That’s really what’s gonna help us make those decisions and put your dollar in front of the person that’s gonna purchase your product."

4. Creative Is Important, Collaboration Even More So

So far we have seen that multicultural marketing is necessary, and we need to take a step back to reassess what we're doing right and where we have gone in the wrong direction. As mentioned above, we should be testing the best creatives, but what's the best way to produce good creative, to begin with? Not only should we include multicultural in the brief, but we must also have multicultural people in every meeting. "Not having multicultural voices and eyes at the table is a miss," asserted José Bello. "That’s what all clients need to do: don’t start meeting if you don’t have multicultural eyes there. It’s the client’s autonomy to ask, 'Where is the multicultural team? Where is my multicultural media person and my multicultural creative person?' If there isn’t one, don’t start the meeting and ask to get them or postpone the meeting until they can be there because that meeting would yield incomplete results."

Starcom USA's Darcy Bowe

Once you have a skilled and diverse team, it's time to use it to really create a connection with the targets you have identified as your consumers. "We should be talking to them individually because they have value for our brand and we need to express what value the brand can bring to that audience," said Darcy Bowe. "If we don’t expand our creative capabilities and have more than one message to talk to more than one audience, we’re really doing a disservice, we’re just trying to shove our message down everyone’s throats because we identify them as a potential customer, but we’re not really talking to them."

The more individuals we can get comfortable talking about multicultural, the better chance we have to succeed. 

In the end, the crucial part is being willing to work together. "It’s so important for us to always keep in mind, whether it’s media partners, whether it’s clients, agencies, or creative agencies that are so important, that this collaborative process of wanting to move this marketplace forward, of wanting to move the businesses forward, should always be at the forefront," declared Jessica Román. "It shouldn’t be 'us against them', we should all be ready to embark on this process together."

On September 25, Agency Star Committee Members granted Gallegos United the Portada Award to the Top Multicultural Campaign Driven by Multicultural Insights for its Toma Leche/El Chavo campaign in California. By using a strong Hispanic insight, the campaign generated total market success.

As a conclusion, then, multicultural insights are essential for success. "The buyer out there is multicultural, there's no way around it," declared David Queamante. "If you're going to focus on the non-ethnic half of the population, you're going to miss the mark, period. If you're not incorporating a multicultural media mix, you're trying to move the needle but you're only pushing on half of the audience." 

The main takeaway from the panel seems to be that brands need to really think about self-evaluation, inclusion, and collaboration. Willingness to go back a few steps in order to go forward. A commitment to creating real connections with real people: the groups of individuals that constitute our market and our society. "This isn’t a secret," shared Dana Bonkowski. "The one thing we have in common is that we’re nimble. We’re here to serve our clients. There are different paths to success, but the key thing is that the more individuals we can get comfortable talking about multicultural, the better chance we have to succeed."

Janet Grynberg @grynberg_janet

Janet has worked as editor and translator since 2013. After graduating with honors when receiving her Bachelor's Degree in English literature, she began working as a book reviewer for Expansión, the leading business magazine in Mexico. She has also worked as editor of young adult literature for publishing houses like Planeta and Penguin, and she's the author of a book of short stories. She's in the process of getting her MA in English at McGill University. Her interests include arts, good food, and her 8 pets.


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