Renee Prejean-Motanky

Targeting Afro-American Consumers: don’t over/underestimate the differences

In Communications, marketing on June 3, 2009 at 1:15 am
Advertising on Times Square, New York City
Image via Wikipedia

Marketers and advertisers have for some time been aware that recognizing ethnic and cultural differences when designing a marketing plan for products or services that might be useful to the black community can be valuable. 

Recognizing and acknowledging ethnic and cultural differences, and crafting targeted messages to acknowledge their uniqueness as consumers can lead to new opportunities. The Afro-American market exerts an enormous influence on American culture. The increasing purchasing power of the community, coupled with its rapid growth and visibility, only make this market more valuable and attractive.  According to a study by Packaged Facts, “African-American buying power is expected to exceed $1.1 trillion in 2012.”   The U.S. Census predicts that the single-race African-American population will reach 61.4 million by 2050. 

If your company is considering marketing to Afro-Americans here are 10 distinct factors to consider when designing your marketing plan:

  1. Leave Stereotypes at the Door– A stable family and a solid education were quoted by Afro-American consumers as most important to social standing according to a recent GMI Poll.  Clothes, jewelry and cars were all ranked at the bottom of the list.
  2. Ask Yourself: What’s Black About it?  – Does this advertising depict something Afro-Americans can relate to or identify with, minus stereotypical images?   Does the ad depict something unique that Afro-Americans can relate to or identify with (minus stereotypical images?) It is essential for marketers to understand those subtle differences, so they can craft the right message for the right audience.
  3. Look Beyond the English Language  – The rapid growth of the Hispanic & Latino market has led to decreasing marketing dollars being spent on targeting Afro-Americans.  The absence of a language barrier has become a major rationalization for reduced spending, generic messaging and inadequate market research when attempting to gain awareness, loyalty and purchasing power from Afro-Americans. Too many advertisers and marketers assume Afro-Americans will respond to any message simply because it is delivered in English.
  4. Recognize the Value of the Afro-American Influence– The ability to generate significant influence beyond their own market segmentis truly a distinct quality of Afro-Americans.  As a group, Afro-Americans have been, and continue to be, one of the primary trendsetters of society.  Marketers who consciously establish a relationship with this lucrative yet undeserved market will reap significant long-term rewards from a loyal, influential customer base.  Afro-Americans exert a powerful influence on fashion, music, slang, sports, language and the overall perception of what is cool around the world.  The key is to understand the Afro-Americans as trendsetters and leveraging the value of that influencing power, is an essential step to tailoring ore effective advertising.   Blacks aren’t just more likely than the mainstream to be among the first to set new trends, they also want to be identified as cutting-edge. According to What’s Black About It,34% of Afro-Americans are likely to keep up with changes in trends and fashions (compared with 25% of Caucasians) and 71% say it is important to keep up with the latest technology products and services (compared with 65% of Caucasians.)
  5. Understand Afro-American Living –Most Afro-Americans live, worship and socialize with each other and many do so by choice.  The desire to live black also means that many Afro-Americans read Afro-American newspapers and magazines, visit Afro-American Websites and listen to Afro-American radio programs.  A one-size-fits-all marketing approach signals many Afro-Americans that their lifestyle requires no particular understanding or consideration of their culture or distinct social history.  Some advertisers argue that targeted efforts merely separate consumers and support stereotypes.  The key is to target without stereotyping.
  6. Acknowledge Afro-American Cultural Heritage: you’re not an insider – Most Afro-Americans agree that the opinion of society matters.  So when in public, they conduct themselves in such a way as to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes.  Many Afro-Americans feel that certain situations, stories and expressions shouldn’t be shared outside of their community.  Culturally sensitive, positive and relevant appeals that celebrate the culture rather than reinforce stereotypes are more likely to gain the attention and loyalty of Afro-Americans. 
  7. Build Loyalty Over Time– As with any ethnic group, building brand loyalty takes time, but when Afro-Americans listen to a well-targeted message and then buy, they do it in larger numbers than the general population.
  8. Understand Your Own Internal Challenges  – Many marketers are still confused about multicultural marketing. A recent study conducted for Heidrick & Struggles reports that although 84% of marketers agree that multicultural marketing is critical to their business, nearly 40% say they don’t know how much minority groups contribute to their bottom lines. 
  9. Understand Differences Within the Afro-American Community – Differences in values from class to class are the same among Afro-Americans as they are in the general market.  Aspirational messaging of success, education, career and family can all be used to make products and services appealing for Afro-Americans.  It is essential for marketers to understand those subtle differences, so they can craft the right message for the right audience.
  10. Leverage Online Research– Like any success story, marketing to Afro-Americans should start with diligent market research.  One way to do this is online.   Publication eMarketerexpects Afro-American Internet users in the U.S. to total 21.7 million in 2010.  According to a new report from The Media Audit, 40.6 % of Afro-Americans now shop online compared to 27.1% five years ago.
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