A few years ago, the headline of a flyer from a well-known Canadian grocery retailer tucked inside the local paper screamed “Happy Diwali” and below in bold text was written “Diwali Sale.” Clearly, the idea was to woo consumers celebrating Diwali, an important festival for Hindus and Sikhs.

Skimming through the pages revealed something quite horrifying. The store had a special sale on prime cuts of Sirloin steaks as well as types of meat for its Hindu customers.

How was it then that a national brand of repute had zero understanding about its ethnic customers? Had it been a more nuanced cultural or religious taboo (trust us, there are plenty of those), one could have easily overlooked the error. Nevertheless, urging Hindus to buy beef and meat for Diwali was not a faux pau it was a Himalayan blunder.

Similarly, an Ogilvy & Mather TV commercial in China for resale Audi cars struck the wrong note with the Chinese consumers. Have you checked that one? Chances are you will cringe.

The film opens with a shot of a wedding with a smiling couple standing under a beautiful gazebo. Just as the duo are about to exchange “I dos” the mother-in-law comes barrelling into the scene. She stops in front of the bride, grabs her nose, inspects her teeth and finally, signals thumbs up. At this point, a sleek image of an Audi rolls into the screen with a voiceover saying the tagline-“An important decision must be made carefully.”

Oh, we agree, except the agency it appears did not make the all-important decision of ensuring its message did not step on the toes of its target audience.

It’s true, brands want the business of ethnic groups, but making fun or stereotyping their quirks is probably not the way to do so.

So, here are three nuggets of wisdom for brands looking to connect with ethnic consumers.

Advice #1: Hire an agency that knows the pulse of your target audience.

By this, we mean someone who knows and understands the cultural group in question, speak their language and be familiar with it. This “someone” should also know the Canadian market and know how to weave multiple layers of strategy and tactics into a sound marketing plan. Maple Diversity Communications definitely fits the bill.

We understand ethnic marketing is not just anybody’s cup of chai. You can’t have a creative team whose only connection to a minority group is through sitcoms. You need people with lived experiences.

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Glocalization: Not a buzzword

Strategic, hyper-targeting messaging.

Wow, that’s a mouthful, right? but actually, it is a brilliant marketing approach that delivers a brand’s message to a hyperlocal market or to a geographically targeted audience.

Four years ago, at an Internet Summit in Raleigh, N.C., Santosh Subramanyam, an eCommerce manager/user experience executive with Marriott International spoke about his company’s Glocalization (Globalization + Localization) philosophy.

“Eighty percent of behavior is globally the same,” Subramanyam told the audience. “But 20 percent is locally driven, and that’s what counts. This is our 80-20 rule.”

Subramanyam believes brands must consider local influences when trying to gain traction in smaller regions. He cited several examples of how Mariott International taps into cultural distinctions to “Glocalize” its brand. For instance, the hotel’s website in China features dark blue colour, as the colour is associated with luxury there. Makes complete sense, no?

Advice #2: Research the behaviours and needs of the ethnic consumer, don’t just assume.

Diversity marketing is actually quite simple. We, at Maple Diversity Communications, understand this.

According to an article in the Marketing-Schools.Org website, successful, ethnic marketing campaigns need a careful understanding of the objective and include:

• In-culture: where marketing has to resonate with a group’s cultural values

• In-language: here, the idea is not merely to translate a national campaign but to consider visual and as well as auditory communication differences of the target audience

• In-person: where you invest in your customers by interacting socially with their communities.

The key caveat here is: For effectively marketing a product to an ethnic group, you have to adapt the message to the market, instead of adapting the market to the message.

Advice #3: Invest in the targeted communities. Sponsor, celebrate and be part of their festivities.

It so happens, this happens to be one of our many strengths. At Maple Diversity, we don’t just talk, but just so you know, we walk the talk. For more details contact us or even better, drop by for a chat.