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As the general population in the US continues to become more diverse, with ethnic Americans of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent making up 25% of the population, the days of one-size-fits-all marketing are gone forever.

Today, marketers are much more aware of the significant opportunity that the varying demographic groups present. What's more, they realize that they can no longer afford to neglect the combined buying power of ethnic Americans who, according to estimates, make up $1.3 trillion, or 18.5%, of all US buying (www.americanmulticultural.com). To appeal to these highly lucrative and diverse audiences, marketers are abandoning traditional mass-marketing practices in favor of laser-focused, multicultural marketing efforts.

Multicultural marketing is defined as targeting and communicating to ethnic segments based on their own cultural framework. The opportunity cost of not creating a multicultural marketing strategy can translate into staggering losses for businesses, through the misinterpretation of marketing messages, the loss or damage to the brand image or, worse, the risk of customer alienation and defection.

Given that the ethnic diversity in the US is far more reflective of a global landscape, it is even more imperative for marketers to fully understand cultural differences, language treatments and purchase-drivers and to integrate those variations into their everyday marketing strategies and tactics.

While it has always been second nature for marketers to leverage surveys to quantify everything from general product interest to pricing and packaging, these surveys are even more valuable in creating and supporting multicultural marketing efforts. Before engaging in your own initiative, be sure that you understand the following issues—and ensure that you leverage this knowledge to develop strategies that appeal to each unique demographic.

Show me you know me

Multicultural marketing is no different from other marketing in that marketers must research, plan, develop and execute their campaigns based on feedback from their various audiences. After all, what may be appealing to one culture might have the opposite effect on another. To avoid alienating customers, marketers are now applying Web survey technology to pre-test everything from overall messaging to creative layout in order to appeal to a variety of audiences.

However, language is just one part of the overall communication process. To facilitate cultural adaptations, the savvy marketer starts with awareness and understanding—something that can be easily achieved by surveying and pre-testing assumptions to better define and use the right mix of cultural variables.

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Jim is director of research and analytics at Aelera, an Alpharetta, Georgia-based consulting company; reach him at jim.stachura@aelera.com.
Meg Murphy is a vice-president at Inquisite, an Austin, Texas-based provider of online survey technology; reach her at mmurphy@inquisite.com.