Considerations for an ethnic-specific campaign – Diversity Marketing as Strategy

Last time, we talked about how we can segment immigrants of various tenures in Canada.  Now that we understand behaviours of immigrants, let’s examine the value of ethnic-specific marketing campaigns.


In addition to basic ethnicity or country of origin of the target audience, there are many complex issues that marketers need to understand.  To truly connect with New Canadians, we must understand nuances of a culture, such as:

    • Language (written text & dialect)
    • Family size & structure
    • Political beliefs
    • Religious beliefs & practices
    • Sensitive or taboo topics
    • Core values
    • And many more…

An ethnic specific marketing campaign is much more than simply translating an English ad and putting it in an ethnic newspaper.  The context is completely lost if you don’t have an understanding of the audience, their cultural beliefs, or their values.  It’d be like watching a silent black-and-white movie in slow motion – the images are there, you sort-of understand what is going on, but it bores you and is completely irrelevant compared to a ‘big screen, big sound’  IMAX experience.  Such a campaign will be dismissed quickly, and your marketing investments will be lost.

In order to be relevant to your ethnic customers, ask yourself if you have:

    • the product or service that caters to their needs?
    • the infrastructure (eg. sales staff with language skills and an understanding of their needs) to serve these customers if they came through the door?
    • the reputation within that community to encourage word-of-mouth?
    • the ability to follow through with a brand promise?

If your answer ‘yes’ to all of the above, you’re ready to consider an ethnic specific campaign.  If not, you should get your business ready BEFORE you spend a single marketing dollar, because without the right support, your marketing investment will not go very far.

Once you’re ready for an ethnic-specific marketing campaign, try to understand your customer through research.  Though many business owners have fantastic instincts about their customers, market research is still crucial.  All you have to ask is the 45% of businesses that failed within their first three years!

The type of research depends on many things, but for small businesses, it often boils down to your budget.

    • No budget: Personal interaction/networking – you may be able to find your target customer and talk to them – ask questions about needs, how to sway  purchasing decisions, etc.
      • The pitfall is: 1) It’s difficult to find enough people of a specific group (eg. Chinese immigrants who have been in Canada for less than a year) for you to get meaningful insight; and 2) It’s often difficult to get a completely honest answer from someone you know.
    • Around $3-5k: Hire a market research firm to help conduct a survey on people who fit your criteria.  Keep in mind that you’ll need to be clear about what you want to learn from this research project.  Is this meant to be exploratory?  Are you trying to be as specific as you can, so your marketing campaign will have a pre-determined return?
      • Surveys are better at helping you get quantitative responses, such as, “How much did you spend on laundry detergent in the last year?” and are not as good for qualitative responses — “Tell me how you feel about brand X.”
    • Over $5k: Hire a market research firm to help conduct a focus group or individual interviews on your target group.  This forum allows for qualitative or “why” questions, and typically the insights gained from these sessions allow you to truly connect with these customers.

While understanding your customers is always important, it’s imperative that you understand your ethnic customer base, as they have concerns of which you may not be aware.  Once you understand their needs and show you can deliver on their expectations, you’ve built a long-lasting relationship.

See our next article in two weeks for ways to target specific ethnic groups.

Bernice Cheung

Bernice Cheung

Bernice Cheung is the Senior Consultant of Altus Strategy Group, a consulting firm that helps businesses solve their marketing and strategy issues.  She leads the Ethnic Marketing practice – helping clients understand and target this lucrative population through listening to the consumer’s authentic voice.  She received her MBA from Richard Ivey School of Business, and an Honours B Commerce degree from DeGroote School of Business.

E-mail: Bernice.Cheung@AltusStrategy.com

Website: www.AltusStrategy.com

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