How to reach today's multicultural shopper

Ethnic Consumer Insights conference looks at best practices when it comes to marketing to the ethnic consumer

Retailers, manufacturers and marketers alike came together Tuesday for the Ethnic Consumer Insights conference — a joint venture between Canadian Grocer and Marketing magazine.

While speakers and panel participants agreed the ethnic consumer represents a huge growth opportunity for retailers, companies continue to wrestle with the challenge of adjusting their messaging for the ethnic consumer and access this untapped market.

The day-long conference touched upon a wide range of topics including digital marketing strategy, connecting to ethnic consumers using store formats and retail environments, and ethnic advertising across the world. Panel discussions and case studies took a deeper look at specific groups of ethnic consumers — Pearl Strategy focused on the South Asian consumer base, Dairy Farmers of Ontario and Maple Leaf explained the specifics of how they market their products to the ethnic community, and Marion Chan of TrendSpotter Consulting shed light onto the ever-growing group of Ethnic Millenials.

GALLERY: See photos from the conference

Digital marketing and social media became a key point of discussion throughout the day.

Laura Lee, head of entertainment partnerships at Google, highlighted how some brands are using engaging content on YouTube to connect with multicultural consumers. Canadian watch on average about 41 hours of online video per month, with YouTube leading the pack in terms of content consumption. “If Canada is a mosaic of culture, YouTube is a mosaic of content,” said Lee.  The ethnic consumer will use YouTube to connect with the world around them — it’s a conduit for companies to tell their story.

Judy Chang and Perry Hassen of Nielsen provided the backup data to show the ongoing growth of the ethnic consumer.

Visible minorities will bring an additional $5-billion to Canadian manufacturers by 2017, according to Nielsen. And by 2031, while the number of caucasions in Canada will grown by only 10%, the number of visible minorities will double.

To prepare for this, it is essential your company have a strategy to reach the ethnic consumer. Understanding the motivations, opportunities, and reactions of an ethnic consumer is the best way to start this. For example, Nielsen identified taste, health and sharing being the primary motivations for some ethnic consumer portions, giving opportunity to the chow mein noodle and specialty rice category.

Ultimately, Nielsen left the audience with a few key practices to access the opportunity, including defining the consumer, make the case, build an ample plan, and be ready to continue to edit your plan as you go forward.

“Aim big but start small,” suggested Hassen.

John Chan, managing director of Pearl Strategy and Innovation Design Inc. took an in-depth look at brands and categories that resonate with South Asian consumers. He compared the shopping strategies of new immigrants against those who have been in the country for five or more years.

South Asian women will first rely go to their families and children for shopping ideas, relying on their internal network. They also tend to use flyers to decide where to go, what to get, and to learn about new products.

After five years, studies found they tend to rely more on media or their own physicians — relationships they’ve developed. Chan was also pointed out convenience is a new category they discover in Canada.

The morning portion of the event was capped off by an ethnic retail panel discussion, where participants discussed connecting and marketing to ethnic consumers through their products, store formats and retail environment.

One of the biggest challenges the retailers addressed was serving the needs of the first-generation ethnic consumer, while continuing to evolve with the new generation of ethnic consumer. Siraj China, managing director of Bombay Bazaar and Michelle Park, marketing manager for H-Mart, agreed their primary goal was to serve the needs of their community community, and having an active role in the choosing of each product on the shelves gives their customers a sense of comfort.

The panel agreed today’s ethnic shopper has a very difference sense of what they want than their parents did ten or twenty years ago — they know exactly what they want, have a more sophisticated taste, and more disposable income.

“Mom and pop shops need to change and adapt to the new generation of consumers,” said China.

But Sangeetha Chandru, VP corporate strategy at Sobeys, noted mom and pop stores still have a place for the ethnic consumer. “You need to make the consumer feel culturally relevant when they walk into a store,” she said. “Mom and pop stores tend to do that well — moreso than larger retailers.”

Promotional styles also differed between the retailers — while Park and China continue to use flyers as a main source of advocacy, Choi and Chandru used flyers more as a tool to advocate pricing, relying on modern media such as television and radio to do the majority of their promotion. Larger retailers are continuing to learn how to use digital media to their advantage, but it’s a work in progress. All panelists agreed retailers should not ignore the power of a well-designed display.

The afternoon session began with a spirited talk from Gavin Barrett, Creative Director of Barrett and Welsh, who took the audience for a trip around the world while presenting some of the best ads from different countries. Brands such as Heineken, Lifebuoy and Penguin Canada were all used as examples of ways companies are able to target consumers no matter the geographic region.

A panel discussion that followed touch upon the role social media can play when marketing to ethnic consumers.

“Ethnic groups tend to come together in geoclusters — the same goes for social media,” explained Bobby Sahrini, partner of the ethnicity multicultural marketing strategists and moderator of the event. No matter the audience, a developed content strategy is integral to the success of any marketing campaign. When it comes to social media, a company cannot get away with a one-off event — resources need to be used.

The keynote presentation of the day was an analysis of the Ethnic Millennial by Marion Chan, principal of Trendspotter Consulting.

“The number one thing a millennial wants is to fit in,” Chan said. “They want to assimilate faster — be Canadian faster.” While in most households the parent will have the purchasing power, often buying certain brands they’re familiar with, the Ethnic Canadian is learning everything from scratch. Therefore, it is often the eager ethnic millennial that looks for more “Canadian brands” to pass on to their families.

So, how can a company tap into the millennial market? The key, Chan says, is to be connected. About 77% of ethnic millennials will log into social media between one and five times per day, and 44% will follow a brand on Facebook. To be at the front of an ethnic millennial’s mind (or any millennial’s mind for that matter) companies need to constantly invent themselves online and make their face known.

But attracting a consumer with an online message is only half the battle — 58% of ethnic millennials are open to another brand, even if they find one they like. This means companies have to be prepared to constantly work to capture the attention of the ethnic millennial.

Chan added all all millennials, not just ethnic millennials, want to feel special — like the company cares about their interests.

"Give them to the information to help them boost their confidence," Chan said in regards to their buying decisions.

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