It takes two to make a baby. And even though I would argue that women carry the majority of the weight (hey, at least for the first 9 months), a child's genetic makeup is inherited from both their mommy and daddy. Why am I telling you this? Because I'm perplexed that major media–and ergo, the public at large–keeps labeling Obama as black.
Fact is, it's simply not the whole story. Which is ironic since major media is not only focused on landing the right story... but also on getting the story right.
Yup, Obama is as white as he is black. And yup, there's a marketing lesson in this post.
Being he has a white mother and a black father, the correct term is biracial–a term that reflects, and respects, the races of both his mother and father. (Multiracial is also an important term as many people can claim more than two unique races in their lineage.) Even in Obama's own "American Story" speech given in March he delivered these powerful words underscoring his diverse background:
"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue scattered across three continents–and for as long as I live I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible."
Indeed it is historical that a biracial man has landed a presidential nomination, and if I were part of his marketing team, I would recommend that this be better (and correctly) communicated. After all, he would be a leader that can uniquely identify with several races--and since the beauty of the country is its diversity, it's apt that our leader inherently understands that.
That said, it would only be one of the messages I would recommend, and certainly not his campaign's core one. Because Obama's racial diversity is not more important than his views, vision and ability to inspire. His platform is based on change, not race.
Even the U.S. government, which we often ridicule for being "behind the times," begun letting respondents check two or more races in their 2000 Census--with results citing that figure at 7.3 million people, of which 43% were under 18. Given the Census Bureau began compiling its data in 1999 that means our government has been getting it right for nearly a decade. But not major media; which we all know greatly influences the public at large.
So, what does this mean for marketers? If you're a consumer marketer and you don't know of the growth and implications of biracial and multiracial markets here in the U.S., then you're behind...like, behind the government (eek!).
In America, Latino markets are on a growth tear; this is news we all know. The news on that front is that the market has grown so large that it's fragmenting into many niches. Asian and Indian markets are poised for healthy growth, too. But watch for biracial and multiracial markets to be growing right alongside them. They'll likely be a focus of yours soon; and they're a very complex (and fascinating) market segment.
Why are multiracial markets complex? Because we marketers have grown so accustomed to giving each market segment one identity, one persona and one profile, it's beyond our traditional scope to understand segments with shared or mixed identities. Don't worry, major media is obviously grappling with it, too. But learn we must. On that note, here are three suggestions:
First: let's start with using appropriate terms. If the media won't, then we savvy marketers can certainly get it right. After all, as marketers it's our core job to know our markets.
Second: begin listening to biracial/multiracial markets. A phenomenal (!) place to start is with this 5-minute video from the NYTimes. Folks, listen to what these multiracial consumers--who've formed a group called Fusion--are telling us; they are explaining: "I am neither one or the other. I am BOTH."
Or the national organization called Swirl whose founder Jen Chau explains, "In 2000, many of us found ourselves having to explain the idea of mixed identity to others. From strangers to our own families, we have had to answer the questions of people who didn't believe or couldn't fathom that we could be "more than one thing" at the same time. We have been asked to choose time and time again – and that's when we were actually presented with the choice – many times, people have chosen for us. Swirl was created in order to challenge the idea that identity is simple – something that can be discussed in black and white terms."
Third: leapfrog your competition by learning how your offerings and communications can serve and delight these markets. Or customize and create altogether new offerings that cater to these consumers. Look at how music is mixing genres, or how the growth of so-called "fusion foods" are crossing culinary boundaries (e.g. Tex Mex, Pan-Asian, the popular "Sushi Samba" restaurant chain that blends Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisines). Even "Si TV," a Latino Cable Network, that features Hispanic-rooted programming but intentionally broadcasts only in English (not Spanish) so as to serve consumers who identify with both cultures.
We need to start respecting the unique way these consumers view the world vs. the way the world has been viewing (and incorrectly labeling) them. Because armed with that knowledge comes powerful new ways to build relationships and brand loyalty. After all, the growth isn't in the mainstream. No longer a mass-market country are we. Now we're a mass of micro-niches--many of which are mixed-race consumers who, just like the Census Bureau realized, no longer fit into one box. Let's hope our media can start thinking outside of the box, too.
PS: Again, I really do encourage you to take 5 minutes and watch this video. Amazing what our markets tell us--when we start listening to them.
Take the first step (it's free).
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