Saad Sharaf: are the UK’s marketers trying hard enough to target ethnic groups?

Saad Saraf is CEO of diversity marketing communications agency Mediareach and chair of the IPA’s Ethnic Diversity Forum. The IPA Diversity Forum works to develop industry programmes on ‘Ethnic Diversity’, intended to raise the profile of the issues surrounding ethnic minorities in the worlds of marketing, advertising and media.

He explains why UK agencies and marketers still need to raise their game.

The ad industry is making strides in capturing the attention of the UK ethnic market and connecting with a demographic of multicultural consumers that responds to brands that speak its language and embodies its culture.

The industry’s trade body the IPA through its Ethnic Diversity Forum is helping agencies to become more representative of the community at large. For example many agencies have signed up to the IPA Diversity Access Scheme – an initiative in partnership with SEO London, aiming to educate and engage with undergraduates from multicultural backgrounds. This is an ongoing programme which aims to increase ethnic diversity at junior levels, in order to shape agency culture for the future and be more representative of the ethnic mix in London and the rest of the UK.

But there is more than can be done. As any marketer who doesn’t recognise the value of this consumer is missing a great opportunity. The ethnic population in the UK is a well-educated audience and a very loyal one. If the industry can reach out to them and show them the relevancy of a brand’s products and services they will stick with that brand through thick and thin. If marketers have the right insight, a strong message and an effective plan to communicate they can have a very positive impact on this audience, however it is crucial that there is a diligent planning process in place, rather than simply checking off a list of media strategies under ‘ethnic’ campaign.

Companies should consider whether they need to reach english or multicultural consumers and the geographic location and country of origin. It’s also important to factor in the bi-cultural population – consumers who navigate comfortably between their culture and the general market. It is simply not enough to translate a general market message. Brands should understand and respect the market’s cultural and geographic diversity and precisely identify the target consumer.

Consider the example of an Asian family consisting of a 35-year-old male married to a 28-year-old female with two young children. They wake up in the morning speaking Hindustani or Punjabi, eating Asian foods and listening to Asian radio or watching Asian TV. They dress in Asian clothes at the weekend and take their children to the temple or mosque to attend language and cultural classes to absorb their culture. When they go into the workplace, the UK culture begins to dominate. But if mum is shopping for food or clothing for her family, the Asian cultural triggers become very important.

Most importantly, it’s critical to think about the different ethnic cultures and adjust your message accordingly.

And commercially speaking, targeting specific communities with specific products could greatly increase your profit margins without increasing your marketing budget. An example of this is the fact that most Afro-Caribbean and African women residing in Britain spend an average of six times the amount of money on hair and beauty products than their mainstream peers and yet very few beauty and hair product campaigns effectively reach out to this audience.

If the product suited the market and marketing budget was redistributed across this market segment this could mean higher ROI for brands.

Targeting ethnic media should have the same rigour as that seen for the mainstream and should be a result of the insights we have observed through tried and tested methods, constantly questioning and understanding better the needs of the target audience. Whether it’s focus groups, pounding the streets for information, geographic and demographic statistics, to create campaigns that are targeted, effective, engaging and deliver ROI.

That is why specialist agencies are beginning to spring up. At Mediareach we specialise in helping clients and brands target multicultural and international consumers . Being a pioneer in ethnic marketing we possess in-depth knowledge and understanding of the ethnic media to enable planning and developing of innovative media properties, and viewing preferences of all ethnic communities by age and demographic.

And a recent ‘trends analysis’ survey carried out by our agency showed that advertisers in ethnic media get better ROI when compared with mainstream campaigns. But ultimately both agencies and our clients need to be sure that their messages reflect the culture they are targeting so that the consumer feels “this brand cares about me”.

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