New Canadian Media

Multicultural Marketing: Tokenism Won’t Cut It

Written by  New Canadian Media Saturday, 27 September 2014 11:32
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Immigrants to Canada are more confident about expressing and displaying what makes them different, according to Robin Brown and Kathy Cheng.
Immigrants to Canada are more confident about expressing and displaying what makes them different, according to Robin Brown and Kathy Cheng. Photo credit: Environics Research Group

by Gautam Nath (@GautamNath)

“Multiculturalism is Canada,” says Michael Adams in his foreword to Migration Nation: A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Globalized Canada. Adams is the founder of Environics Research and Communications Group, which released the book earlier this year, and an active commentator on social values and social change in North America.

This book, written by his colleagues Robin Brown and Kathy Cheng, is intended as a resource for Canadian marketers, communications professionals, fundraisers, and businesspeople interested in reaching Canada’s multicultural and newcomer markets. Both Brown and Cheng are immigrants themselves. Brown is a U.K.-native, but his work in marketing research has taken him all over the world. After more than a decade working in Asia, he relocated to Canada in 2003, and is currently a Senior Vice President with Environics. Cheng moved to Canada from her native China more than a decade ago and, as Environics’ Vice President of Cultural Markets, she is a leading researcher in Canada's multicultural and newcomer markets. Their shared expertise makes Migration Nation a valuable resource and worth reading more than once.

I have worked with both of the authors in the past, and I had the opportunity to speak to them about the experience of putting Migration Nation together. They spoke of the synergies between global marketing and multicultural marketing, and recognized that global marketing, as an established discipline, offers useful lessons to those crafting multicultural marketing strategies in Canada. No marketer in Canada today can survive without incorporating visible minorities into their business and strategic plans; their buying power is simply too great to be ignored.

According to Brown and Cheng, $21 out of every $100 spent in Canada comes from someone who was not born here. While total consumer spending in Canada has grown 21 per cent in the last five years, the rate for South Asian Canadians has been a whopping 76 per cent, with Chinese Canadians not far behind at 40 per cent. In Canada’s major urban centers, first generation Canadians make up a significant proportion of the population: 46 per cent in Toronto, 40 per cent in Vancouver, and 26 per cent in Calgary. They represent important markets for Canadian businesses, and marketers need to understand how to reach them.

No marketer in Canada today can survive without incorporating visible minorities into their business and strategic plans; their buying power is simply too great to be ignored.

Evolution of multicultural marketing

Brown and Cheng begin by showing us how multicultural marketing has evolved in a variety of ways. In the past, it was enough for a company to translate a brochure or other marketing collateral into non-official languages. Today, they have learned to go further, incorporating relevant visuals, copy, and creative rendition to appeal to more diverse audiences. This means not merely including token images of ethnic communities, but ensuring that those images are relevant to the brand and the messaging and that they reflect a greater understanding of those communities.

The authors argue that effective multicultural marketing is more than merely targeting ethnic segments, but engaging in truly meaningful communication with them. Effective marketers understand that “mainstream” and “ethnic” don’t exist as discrete audiences in Canada, but are woven together in the fabric of society and, therefore, must also be woven into an overall marketing strategy. “Today,” Brown and Cheng assert, “immigrants and ‘the mainstream’ influence each other – not only because immigrants in Canada are so numerous … but also because they are more confident about expressing and displaying what makes them different.” Marketers can no longer address a community as though it exists in its own ethnic silo, but must acknowledge the role that these “differences” play within Canada’s multicultural whole.

Migration Nation introduces the concept of the Cultural Lens, which affects how people view products, services, or brands in the Canadian landscape. The Cultural Lens is shaped by one’s ethnic culture, pre-migration experiences with products and brands, and post-migration experiences of acculturation. Together, all those factors influence one’s habits and attitudes towards retailing, service style, and service conventions.

Our tastes and preferences are shaped by the language, cultural, religion, values, and habits from our countries of origin. Brown and Cheng provide the example of Chinese Canadians who, they say, may like orange juice, but “tend not to drink it in the mornings, unlike the mainstream, as they find it too cold and acidic, and therefore prefer something hot for breakfast.”

Yet, while such practices may trend culturally, they also vary by individual, particularly post-migration. Many immigrants experience a period of disorientation as they scramble to get their ducks in a row, but over a few years, a greater sense of belonging and ease develops as they acculturate, and although they never really forget or lose their cultural roots, a sense of independence begins to balance their earlier cultural practices.

“The settlement journey as we conceive it is not a linear process of leaving one’s ethnic culture behind and adopting something else,” the authors write. They very simply and meaningfully explain the stages of disorientation, orientation, belonging, and independence that characterize the immigrant’s settlement journey. It makes for interesting reading for any marketer, but perhaps especially for those not born overseas or who have not lived in another country. Understanding the settlement journey will help marketers to better understand their consumers and the need to communicate with them in a more relevant and actionable manner.

“The settlement journey as we conceive it is not a linear process of leaving one’s ethnic culture behind and adopting something else,” the authors write.

Putting words into action

Once Brown and Cheng have described the new Canadian consumer’s background and mindset, they turn their attention to how their Cultural Lens concept can be applied to your business strategy. They address a wide array of product categories, ranging from food and consumer-packaged goods to grocery, retail, financial management, and automotive sectors. Brands such as Loblaw’s, Cadbury, Unilever, Kraft, and T & T serve as valuable examples of how Canadian businesses have leveraged a greater understanding of the immigrant consumer to boost their bottom lines.

Finally, Migration Nation touches upon one of the most important instruments to success in marketing to these communities: picking the right vehicle to carry your message. Selecting appropriate media and ad placement is key to reaching an increasingly diverse customer base. A total market approach, engaging a combination of mainstream and ethnic media, is the best way to reach immigrant communities, and marketers need to think creatively about how to combine English copy with in-language text to make their message both accessible and inclusive.

“The sense of urgency of being recognized can diminish as groups achieve numbers, success and cultural confidence in Canada,” they write. “But we are all human beings with social needs, so the desire to be viewed positively never goes away entirely.” Migration Nation explores many facets of how to reach new Canadian consumers, but in the end, the need to be “recognized” is what prevails.

Gautam Nath is Vice President at Balmoral Multicultural Marketing, based in Toronto. He is a renowned speaker and advocate of multicultural marketing and the founder of the Multicultural Marketing Society of Canada. He is also on several boards and committees. He may be contacted at gautam@balmoralmkt.com

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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