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Looking Beyond Cultural Festivals in Ethnic Marketing

Looking Beyond Cultural Festivals in Ethnic Marketing

In his now famous book, The Culture Code, Clotaire Rapaille explains how Nestlé used his help to start selling coffee in Japan. They contacted this French-American psychoanalyst and marketing consultant when Nestle was unsuccessful in making the Japanese buy coffee. Rapaille soon discovered that the Japanese had no emotional connections to coffee. This led to the introduction of coffee flavored desserts, so the Japanese developed a relationship with coffee. Rapaille explains that like autistic children who can’t learn due to lack of emotions, consumers also have trouble picking up new consumption habits without proper wiring in their brains.

Ethnic marketing gurus across the world are aware of this problem. So they regularly use cultural festivals to develop an emotional bond between a product and the ethnic community or communities that celebrate a festival. In North America, the Chinese New Year and Diwali (South Asian Hindu Festival of Lights) are dominant examples. While festival based marketing does create preliminary brand associations, I would argue that there is a need to go much deeper into the minds of the ethnic consumer.

cultural imprinting

Cultural Imprinting

Rapaille’s work is a proof of this need, because his research centers around a phenomenon known as cultural imprinting. Without going into a formal definition, cultural imprinting can be understood as the process of getting influenced by cultural practices. This influence creates an imprint on our mind, so we see the world in a certain way. Cultural imprinting is particularly relevant for understanding the ethnic consumer, because many ethnic consumers grow up in Culture A and then move to work in Culture B as immigrants or expats. And cultural festivals play a big role here.
If someone is selling their product in Culture B, they should try to understand the cultural imprint of Culture A on the consumers who have moved from that culture. So while targeting Chinese immigrants in North America, it is important to decode the imprint of Chinese culture. Once again, using Rapaille’s work a car seller should ask the question: what is the cultural code for a car according to the imprint of Chinese culture?

Usage and Socialization

Apart from cultural imprinting, it is important to conduct research on the ethnic consumer for various other reasons as well.

  1. Usage norms in a product category may have been very different where the ethnic consumer came from. Chauffeur driven cars are quite common in South Asia, for example, due to cheap labour.
  2. In a product category consumers may have been socialized differently based on the ethnic group that they belong to. Certain ethnic consumers might be the first in their family to get socialized to North American music and sports, for example. Third, consumer perception regarding products can differ across regions of the world. Fast food of the McDonalds kind has a far higher status in South Asia and the Middle East, for example, than in sections of Europe and North America.

Research Methods

Although cultural understanding is often approached through the lens of qualitative research, survey research followed by quantitative analysis can also be used to understand the ethnic consumer. In fact, sociologist Geert Hofstede’s well known work on cultural dimensions was primarily quantitative. Among qualitative research methods, ethnography is well suited to understanding the cultural context of the ethnic consumer and their purchase or usage habits. Focus groups are ideal for testing communication concepts, while interviews work well for discussing personal consumption norms and preferences.

A better understanding of the ethnic consumer is ultimately likely to lead to long term gain.

With a 20% foreign born population in Canada, nearly 28% in Australia and more than 10% in the United Kingdom and United States (https://data.oecd.org/migration/foreign-born-population.htm), thorough research on the ethnic consumer is a marketing need. A revised sales and marketing strategy based on primary research can help you reach and build strong relationships with ethnic consumers.

Photo Credit: Veeo

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