Marketing Multicultural National

Soto: My Multicultural Marketing Isn’t Working—Why?

Multicultural marketing

by Terry Soto/CEO, About Marketing Solutions Inc.

I hear growing concerns from retailers who say they just aren’t seeing the results from their multicultural marketing efforts. It seems retailers are baffled by failed attempts to attract, satisfy and retain diverse customers in their trade areas.

However, upon closer examination, the common denominator among many retailers facing this dilemma are poor efforts to get to know their shoppers, minimal upfront planning and implementation efforts which are often unrelated to what these shoppers need and want.

It seems that some retailers rush into driving demand through advertising and promotions before they’ve done the upfront learning to enable them to organize strategically around the needs of a diverse shopper set.

In today’s shopper climate where customer experience expectations are high and is THE differentiator, retailers must consider whether the experience they aim to provide benefits all their shoppers. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to sit up and pay attention to demographic changes in your trade areas. It’s time to organize and align operations so a seamless store experience can be felt across touchpoints by all shoppers.

I’m not saying change the business model, I’m saying pay attention to the change happening around and in your stores, and identify the operational adjustments and optimization work necessary to align with existing shopper profiles and shopping needs.

Let me share some scenarios facing retailers across the country. The retailer advertises its offers. An interested Hispanic shopper might respond by calling the local store or a customer service number to ask questions, but there is no bilingual automated system in place to help direct the shopper to the right area, so the shopper hangs up. Result. No sale.

When there are Spanish language prompts, the shopper is connected to a live representative, but they don’t speak Spanish and they insist on speaking English rather than finding someone who can help. So, the caller hangs up. Result. No sale.

Maybe the shopper goes to the store, but she can’t find someone to help her in Spanish because there are no bilingual employees or because the four or five Hispanics on shift don’t speak a work of Spanish or their Spanish is so broken they can’t form a coherent sentence. Result. No sale.

The experience these shoppers have is one of frustration. So, they go to the competition or decide not to buy at all. This shopper is acting no differently than any other, but unlike English-speaking shoppers, has no access to the store’s otherwise great customer experience. Now, imagine if you were the shopper in these scenarios how likely would you be to come back or recommend this store.

How do I know this? I’ve experienced these scenarios firsthand through hundreds of store mystery shopping visits and phone call experiences at retailers all over the country, including the retail clients who hire me to assess them and their competition.

Some retailers explain that they outsource call center services to India and the Philippines, which do not provide service in Spanish or Chinese or Arabic and so on. The lesson learned here is to look for and hire operational partners with capabilities that match the needs of all shoppers being served by your stores.

What about special financing, warranties and rebates? Many retailers build entire campaigns around these features; campaigns which are often translated into other languages and which air on channels that reach diverse audiences. However, the communication problem is heightened when shoppers require information about more complex offers. And even when retailers print leaflets or take ones to provide details, they’re often only in English. Again. Understand your shopper base so your messages are accessible in-store.

It is easy to see how a strong offer and a strong message can be undermined by poor in store execution. One electronics retail client knew that special financing offers resonate strongly among multicultural shoppers, but through a series of interviews with diverse shoppers, they understood that the absence of multilingual capabilities to communicate financing terms and contract details hindered what could have been a very lucrative sales activity. The retailer quickly decided to create these capabilities and saw an immediate increase in financing activity.

Another retailer knew that multicultural shoppers are more likely to buy extended warranty coverage, but because these shoppers often buy these programs without fully understanding them, there was often tremendous confusion and dissatisfaction when an item needed repair, which was intensified by the language barrier in warranty departments.

Retailers also tell me that multicultural shoppers are often confused about how rebates work and frustrated by the lack of access to in-language customer support. Retailers receive calls to complain that they have not received their rebate checks. When they’re able to finally speak to someone in their language, they find out that mailing the UPC code is a requirement. Retailers have wrongly assumed all shoppers understand how rebates work and now recognize that the rebate claim processes must be explained at point of sale. This implies having a multilingual staff at the point of sale who must be trained to explain the rebate claim process, including showing the customer what a UPC code is.

Some retailers are beginning to get the picture. Operational alignment that considers a store’s diverse shopper base is critical to producing positive marketing outcomes. It’s important to recognize that advertising and promotions are effective only when the advertiser can follow through and implement relevantly in store. Yes. This is stating the obvious, but for some reason, many retailers fail to carry this logic through even when they know they are marketing to a diverse shopper base. Marketing won’t deliver a seamless customer experience in store.

I know it’s easy to become excited about attracting new shoppers or even keeping existing ones, so many retailers dive into the advertising deep end prematurely. Yes. The multicultural market is large and continues to grow at a fast pace. Yes. Their buying power is $3.8 trillion dollars as of 2019, but you must know how shopper profiles have changed around your stores to understand the sales potential.

Demographics are not enough. A thorough market assessment should include the populations’ profile in terms of language and acculturation, countries of origin, food staples, shopping behavior and attitudes and the store’s and its competition’s in-store execution across touch points. Ask yourself the following questions and then take the required action so your stores can attract your fair share of sales in this lucrative marketplace:

  • Do we understand our shopper base and their needs in our trading areas?
  • Are we jumping into advertising prematurely?
  • Are we setting realistic sales goals and are the right metrics in place? and
  • Are we covering our bases operationally to deliver on our advertising messages?

Terry Soto is the CEO of About Marketing Solutions Inc. and is one of the country’s foremost experts on top line growth in new cultural markets and has advised a myriad of Fortune 500 executives in the U.S. and Internationally on how to accelerate growth and gain competitive advantage in multicultural markets. Soto’s newest book, “The 3.5 Trillion Advantage—A Marketer’s Guide to Revenue Growth In Today’s America,”— shows executives in charge of topline growth how to “quick start” or “step up” success in the most economically viable consumer market of the 21st century. Soto is also a member of the Forbes Business Council and is a regular contributor on and Forbes’ expert panels. She can be reached at 310-713-0241 or [email protected]

1 Comment

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  • That’s a great point. It’s too hard to reach people who speak another languge but We must do. Thank you for your help. It’s so mean for me

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