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The changing consumer base: marketing to ethnic populations.

The Changing Consumer Base

The image of the typical "American" has changed dramatically in the past few decades in marketing. Back in the 1950s, commercials and ads were dominated by middle-class white women in dresses who cooed over cars, laundry detergent, or cosmetics. In the '80s, the women wore suits, armed with a babe on one arm and a brief case in another. And the men? They always seem perennial in a business suit with a tasteful tie and kerchief in the pocket. What do the '90s seem to hold and the early decades of the coming century?

Look at the "United Colors of Benetton" ad; at the models who grace New York runways - you'll still see the blue-eyed, blonde beauty from next door and the white CEO. But next to them, striding confidently along, you'll also see African-American women with dark, doe eyes and sleek features; oriental women with black hair draped across their shoulders and slanted eyes drawing you into the ad; African-American men in business suits and hornrimmed glasses. And you may have seen the life-style magazines or catalogs marketing products to ethnic populations.

The contemporary image of America is one of many types of beauty and cultures - a reflection of the changing make-up of the U.S. population and our increasingly global market. According to the 1990 U.S. Census Bureau figures, almost 25 percent of the U.S. population is comprised of various ethnic minorities. That's a 5 percent increase, in the ethnic make-up of our country, just since 1980.

In comparison, Utah's ethnic minority population has increased 37 percent during the same time period. These ethnic groups include blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, Asians and Pacific Islanders. Why are these figures important to Utah businesses? They transfer into potential markets and thus potential dollars.

The Language Barrier

"American businesses must address the issue of language to compete domestically and internationally, insisted Janeen Costa, assistant professor of marketing, department of marketing, at the University of Utah. "Too often our companies are xenophobic. For example, last year while I was attending a World Trade Association meeting, I listened to a discussion about the Canadian Free Trade agreement. A woman in the audience asked why she should bother to translate any of her literature into French the way it's required in Quebec. |Do they really speak French there?' she inquired. Her comment and question were not only insulting to the people who were there from Canada, to imply |You really aren't that important,' but it was also naive of her not to understand that a large portion of the world speaks French."

American companies cannot afford to be ethnocentric. That is, we cannot continue to think that English is the language that is spoken here and American products don't have to be modified for foreign markets. Considering that the Hispanic population is the fastest growing ethnic population in our country, Americans can no longer afford to be ethnocentric within their own borders. How prevalent is this ethnocentric thinking?

It's much too prevalent according to Dr. Ralph Barney, professor in the department of communications at Brigham Young University. He feels that since WWII, America has been the power in the world and as such, Americans haven't been required, until recently, to take into consideration other systems or languages. "We tend to have a cultural arrogance of language usage. English has been the language of commerce for many years. With power (that your language is the language of commerce) tends to come a certain arrogance that leads to little consideration for others. It's manifested in the reasoning that if you're going to play our game you need to learn our language."

"Domestically, we see this same thinking occurring in discussions of single-language states. California is in the process of trying to say we will only have a single language - English - so everyone must learn our language," Barney added. "Internationally, along comes a country like Japan that begins to dilute some of our economic influence and suddenly we have a fear that we are going to have to learn Japanese. It's disturbing for most Americans to think our power is diluted to the extent that we will have to learn another language. It used to be that I could go anywhere in the world and insist that other people speak English, but now it's becoming more likely that a Japanese person can go anywhere in the world and insist that people speak Japanese. He has, in a relevant sense, a relatively greater amount or volume of goods to offer."

Both Costa and Barney cite the automobile industry as a prime example of how a language deficit can influence business. American car manufacturers refuse to build cars with the steering columns on the right side of the car and thus are losing out on a huge market for their products. "It's no longer a seller's market when it comes to foreign car sales. We have to learn the language and needs of the people and market where we want to sell our products," Barney concluded.

A Need in Utah

Traditionally, businesses haven't given much attention to ethnic minority groups and thus are overlooking successful, well-developed markets. "Everyone should have access to products. If companies aren't trying to figure out how to reach ethnic minority populations, then they're doing a disservice to those populations, both abroad and at home," said Costa.

In Utah, considering the 37 percent rise in our ethnic minority population, is there a need for companies to be ethnically sensitive? That depends on who you ask. Certainly the individuals in these ethnic categories feel there is a definite need. But on the other hand, the reality of the census figures concludes that Utah's ethnic minority population still only makes up less than 9 percent of the state's total population. So less than one in ten consumers in any given market is an ethnic minority. As far as Utah is concerned, Barney theorized that there's no need to be ethnically sensitive.

"There is evidence that Utah's minority population and their impact on the community is growing," admitted Barney. "But generally these groups tend to be quietistic and take what is given to them. Because of this and other factors, Utah businesses seem to have acquired an immunity to the ethnic community. It comes back to the dominant social system making the rules. That's not a religious thing, it's just a human characteristic that |when I can, without being challenged, I make the rules. Then I make everyone play by my rules. When I do that I'm not likely to be sensitive to people who are different from myself.' I have certainly seen evidence of this arrogance in Utah. It outrages people, but these individuals are still enough of a minority that they find it difficult to assert themselves."

Costa adds that she is hopeful that Utahn and American businesses can acquire an ethnic sensitivity if they will just recognize that the market is there and go for it. "It can be extremely beneficial for both the consumer and the business involved. The ethnic minority market is a big growing area," Costa concluded.

Even if a company has little or no reason to market to Utah's ethnic populations, chances are it cannot afford to ignore the ethnic make-up of the national and international markets.

Local Business Sensitivity

One Utah-based company, Scopes-Garcia-Carlisle Advertising, has found that the ethnic minority population in Utah is significant enough to require their attention.

"In Utah alone, the Hispanic population is five percent of the total," said William Garcia, director, Scopes-Garcia-Carlisle. "Since our agency services the Intermountain region, we must be conscious of this all-important segment as well as the black, Asian, and American Indian populations throughout the western states. Effectively marketing to an ethnically diverse population is a simple issue. If you don't speak to someone in their own language and within their cultural boundaries, you're not going to be able to sell your products to them."

"One of our goals as an agency is to be sure that Scopes-Garcia-Carlisle clients are sensitive to the diverse population make-up," added Garcia. "We are a full-service advertising, marketing, and public relations company with a distinct group of clients including Coca-Cola, Lagoon, Garff Auto Plazas, Solitude, Walt Disney Pictures, K98.7 Radio, and the Salt Lake Hilton Hotel. Fortunately, the companies we work for are sensitive to the growing ethnic diversity. It does pay off in the long run."

The image held by Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, and other phenomenally popular meia superstars is being use more and more by advertisers to market and sell products to blacks. Specially designed end aisle displays are produced for supermarkets to tap into the Hispanic markets. These displays usually revolve around specific Latino holidays and are written in Spanish.

Some companies such as Salt Lake City-based Wasatch Education Systems, develop their products with an ethnically diverse consumer or end-user in mind. "We develop and provide technology-based products and services that focus on thinking and creativity in learners, and that result in acquiring skills and knowledge traditionally found in the core K-12 curriculum," explained Joanne Weiss, executive vice president of business operations for Wasatch Education Systems. "Our users are students from every ethnic background. We want to provide equal access to high-quality education for all Americans."

"It also makes good sense, in a country that has a growing ethnic minority population, and therefore future workforce, to tailor products and services with a diverse ethnic population in mind," Weiss stated. "About 95 percent of our business or sales is outside of Utah. Just because of the nature of our business, we use a variety of ethnic writers and researchers to establish accuracy in the ethnic diversity represented in our literature passages," Weiss added.

Another major company, US West, has pinpointed some ethnic requirements of its own. "We don't market to specific ethnic populations," explained Bob McGinnis, director of marketing in Phoenix for US West, "but our research has revealed |ethnic requirements' in certain areas. These requirements include bilingual operators or service representatives, and advertising in Spanish or an Asian dialect. We go about identifying customer needs and if it is somehow unique to an ethnic need, then we go about attacking it that way."

"Our customer base is diverse enough that our employees are sensitive to these ethnic issues," McGinnis continued. "We have a pluralistic mix among our employee base which represents the various communities we service. It's also just smart business to have an ethnically diverse staff."

WICAT Systems, in Orem, which develops an on-line curriculum which supplements education, has to be sensitive to the various populations using its software. "We can't pick out one particular population versus another population to market our product to," said Garrett Lyman, public relations manager of WICAT. "However, as we develop our curriculum, we are aware that we have to meet the needs of all students. If we aren't sensitive to the various ethnic populations throughout the country, the needs of hundreds of thousands of students will be ignored."

WordPerfect, the word-processing software developer, faces language barriers instead of any other type of marketing barrier because of ethnic diversity. "We don't spend time marketing to ethnic populations within the U.S., but then we don't spend a great deal to market our product anywhere," said Corey Freebairn, manager of expansion operations with WordPerfect. "We are a support-based company so almost from our inception, we have maintained free customer-support lines. Via these lines we have learned how to improve our software, but this has never been because of any ethnic needs, outside of an ethnic language need."

"Somewhere along the line, we have become a world standard. We have developed our software, or language modules, in various languages including Arabic and Russian. Being sensitive to various ethnic cultures, we realized we needed specific language packages or modules. In Arabic, for example, we needed a language module that allowed for right to left text editing, which was a complete departure from all our other text editing which is left to right."

Ethnic Marketing

Across the country and locally, American businesses are increasing their ethnic sensitivity. While some large companies such as American Express and Discover Card have such a generic product that they claim they don't have to market to specific populations, they are becoming more the exception than the rule. Ethnic language and culture affects at least one quarter of our U.S. population and dramatically more of the foreign populations we do business with. More businesses will soon discover that to stay ahead, they will need to become more sensitive to ethinc diversity.

PHOTO : A slide from one of Wasatch Education's reading courses designed for Black Americans.

Based in Salt Lake City, Jerri A. Harwell is a freelance writer/editor who specializes in business communications.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Utah's growing ethnic diversity requires diverse marketing strategies
Author:Harwell, Jerri A.
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Previous Article:Black Diamond: leaving California for the mountains of Utah.
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