Growing Opportunity of the Total Market Approach

By Philip McKenzie Publicis Media Archives

The advertising industry is often at the center of conversations regarding diversity and inclusion.  Marketers, brands and agencies are held to the high standard of ensuring their communication and branding speak to customers in ways that are reflective of the broad spectrum of backgrounds and perspectives.  The industry has long relied on a multicultural approach to reach audiences that lived outside of so-called “general market.”  Hiring specialists or agencies whose sole focus was to reach African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, etc. was the norm.  In recent years, the total market approach has picked up adherents and gained momentum in the advertising world.  As a result, it is becoming increasingly relevant in how marketers choose to speak to multicultural audiences.  Facing the dual challenge of the desire on behalf of marketers to ensure they are reaching multicultural audiences and shifts in messaging and resources, how does one craft a winning strategy?  Stephen Paez (pictured above), Senior Vice President/Multicultural Lead, Spark Foundry, is well positioned to offer a unique perspective on how these strategies evolve and weigh in on multicultural versus total market strategy philosophy.

Varying perspectives on the multicultural experience are very much in line with the immigrant story of the United States.  Assimilation was once the standard by which many immigrant groups judged themselves and found their place in the country.  Paez understands that old way of thinking is giving way to a more inclusive process.  “There is a process of retro acculturation, meaning you reabsorb and re-immerse in the culture of your heritage," he says.

Acculturation vs. assimilation is the new normal and operates in the background of any conversation regarding the total market approach and multiculturalism.  “Acculturation ultimately comes down to culture and being culturally fluid,” notes Paez.  Understanding the total market approach runs in concert with that shift in culture and the ensuing role it plays in multicultural.  The total market approach can be defined in several ways, as it does not lend itself to “one size fits all” thinking.  Spark Foundry, however, has managed to develop a concise working definition that informs their position in the market.

“Total market is a purposeful, thoughtful integration of relevant cultural nuances and insights that leverage the design of inclusive and universal marketing communication initiatives,” explains Paez.  “Total marketing isn’t just a play on being more efficient when it comes to delivering against a specific audience.  That is why purposeful and thoughtful are so important to understanding our approach and have to be taken into consideration.”

Maintaining a high commitment to purpose and thoughtfulness are key points of differentiation in activating a successful total market strategy.  That strategy must not only deliver a brand message, but it must do so in a way that strikes a delicate balance between integrating key insights while not making them invisible to the consumer.  “If you’re doing this right, you should be able to incorporate cultural insights through a total market approach that will drive both your communication and media strategy," Paez says.  "Total market must deliver results against your specific multicultural campaign in order to be effective to an audience that is more astute and discerning than ever.”

The opportunities to activate the specific insights garnered through a total market approach are only becoming more plentiful.  Both the African American and Hispanic markets are fairly mature when it comes multicultural strategies, but new markets are opening up and providing fertile ground.  The Asian consumer segment comes to mind and includes both the Far Asian community as well as the fast-growing South Asian community.  Unearthing those opportunities is a direct result of a commitment to research.

“At Spark Foundry we have proprietary studies called Beyond Demographics," Paez explains.  "These are designed to go deeper into understanding consumers and media and what makes them interact with brands, what is happening in different segments, even if they are niche as compared to the African American and Hispanic market.”

A greater commitment to research is where the total market approach to multicultural marketing offers key distinctions that in turn lead to recognizing smaller populations that might have otherwise gotten less attention in a traditional marketing environment. Unlocking these new markets and speaking to them authentically is a powerful industry opportunity.

Perhaps one of the most important things the total market approach has done is to give marketers the chance to see their insights practices are actually a conversation.  “What we are seeing is that all of these groups tend to be drivers of new traditions and we are discovering how much their perspective influences the mainstream,” Paez says.  "There are powerful dynamics driving music, food and sports just to name a few where multicultural is providing a deeper understanding of trends present in the general population.  What we stress at Spark Foundry is, we must stay in front of larger consumer trends driven by multicultural and in turn understand how that impacts products and ultimately our clients.”

There is little doubt that it is crucial as a core part of any marketing strategy to understand the role that multicultural plays in the overall media landscape.  It no longer serves the long-term business interest to view multicultural as a default of casting decisions.  Much like younger consumers and Millennials it is not sufficient to be blind to cultural awareness.  Marketers using a total market approach should aspire to being culturally aware.

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