It doesn’t take a visionary to know that the world is different from the way it was only a decade ago. And it will be even more different a decade from now. It’s the pace and complexity of the cultural shifts that has brought on the degree of change that is shaking up society as we see it today. Walk through any retail store or business office today, and you will see how “we” is getting trickier to define in terms of image, race, ethnicity, lifestyle and culture.
Image by definition means a representation of the external form of a person or thing – the opinion or concept of something that is held by the public. When you think of an Asian, Muslim, Hispanic or African American person or customer, what images come to mind? What type of stereotypes, biases and prejudices are holding you and your organizations back from relating and engaging cross-culturally?
When I was a CMO, I was an Iranian woman at an American company. I had tattoos and multi-colored hair. Sure, I wore my Prada suits, and dressed differently at work than at the beach or a visit to an ashram. But I projected an image that traditional business wasn’t comfortable with. And guess what? I drove five consecutive years of sales growth, something that more conventional CMOs in that role had never done. People ask me how I did it. Simple. I brought forth my passion, built a great team of multi-and-cross-cultural talent, and looked inside the multicultural target customers. I avoided all stereotypes.
The new millennium has marked a change from traditional business practices and stereotypical views of gender and ethnic roles in a society. More and more everyday, companies and agencies are aiming cross-cultural marketing towards general market. The automotive industry, as an example, has done a great job in multicultural branding. But despite dollars and efforts spent, a study showed that a multicultural customer going to a car dealer is kept waiting 27% longer. How many times does a sales person judge what the customers can spend just by looking at them? Isn’t everyone looking for value these days?
Yes, I am an evangelist for 3 major macro trends: Women, Youth and Multi-and-Cross-Cultural. But by no means do I intend to imply that it should be a woman’s world where White or older men should not be valued. I believe in an androgynous mind and a color blind society – a world where performance and ethical values meet. As Seth Godin puts it, companies we think of as ethical got that way because ethical people made it so.
Next time you are re-evaluating your Value Proposition, and conducting marketing research, don’t get lost in the pile of facts and data. Consider tapping into internal motivators and values, and communicate your marketing messages accordingly. More importantly, make sure your customer experience delivers on your brand promise. You must be willing to forsake all your past biases and prejudices to succeed in the New World Marketplace. And it is time to market and engage customers from their inside, not their outside image.