Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Multicultural Center of Excellence

During this recession, corporations are likely reevaluating the personnel they appoint to manage their multicultural efforts. Efficiencies influence whether a company designates an internal diversity marketing professional or integrates those duties within the general market. Businesses who value their sales performance should avoid the perils of the latter option.

Employing sophisticated, fully integrated and effective marketing efforts against multicultural consumers requires a center of excellence. A center of excellence (COE) is a person (or team) armed with consumer and cultural insights. The COE understands the benefits that his/her company provides multicultural audiences and can translate those benefits in terms the audience can comprehend. The COE does not translate or adapt general market work exclusively for the sake of integration. He/she does so because that work contains universal truths that transcend culture. And when that work does not translate pan-culturally, the COE makes a case for the development of relevant work. The COE has the power and stature within the organization to influence change. The COE also treats his multicultural agency like a partner and empowers them to do good work; supporting their efforts within his organization. The COE does these things not to stroke his/her own ego, but because it’s right for the business.

Marketers without a multicultural center of excellence will often fail to understand the difference between ethno-centricity/stereotypes and cultural relevance. Bogged down with other priorities, these “integrated” efforts result in a flowchart where diversity is a line item. Creative assets are adapted to minimize resources regardless of whether the creative works or not. Cultural relevance? Who cares, so long as these consumers know the price is $9.99. If creative targeted to these ethnic segments is required by senior management, the marketer responsible for these efforts evaluates the cultural relevance based on the number of stereotypes inserted in a :30 spot. Family with abuelita – check. Sombrero – check. Fast salsa music – check. As for reaching acculturating Hispanics or African Americans – why bother? They are already covered by your general market plans. Who cares if you can customize these efforts to be more persuasive? As for multicultural agencies - they are just annoying vendors. Life would be easier if you only had to work with one agency, right?

No doubt there are companies who hire dedicated multicultural marketing professionals who do bad work. They hired the wrong person. And I’m sure that there are companies out there who do good work without a center of excellence. They got lucky! But by and large, I continue to believe that companies who invest in true multicultural expertise and develop a center of excellence are those who are most successful. Make an assessment of your company or your client’s company. Who manages their multicultural efforts? Is it a center of excellence or is it “integrated?”

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