When it comes to marketing, African American consumers are an integral part of the consumer dynamic. According to the US Census, 54% of the US population is projected to be multicultural by 2030, and African Americans in particular currently make up 30.7% of the same pie. More surprisingly, in some cases, African Americans represent more than 50% of the US’s overall spending in key product categories, such as the beauty industry. The African American community represents an ethnic background with powerful opportunities for marketers to embrace.
Not only does the African American consumer comprise a big percent of the overall US market, but they also play an influential role in setting trends for the mainstream market. In fact, they are increasingly influencing the general culture in the US across a number of sectors including fashion, social media, television, and music.
To illustrate, consider African American women and their power on social media. 43% of African American women say they like to share their opinions about products and services by posting reviews and ratings online, and 47% agree that people often come to them for advice before making a purchase. As a result, it is a key time for companies to build and sustain deeper, more meaningful connections with African American consumers.
Many marketers set goals around representation in advertising and communications, a movement that gained more attention following the rise in interest in the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd. Yet the reality is that such incomprehensive, surface-level strategy is only one part of the story when it comes to achieving cultural relevance and meaningful connections with the African American consumer. In order to drive deep engagement and loyalty within this audience, marketers must move beyond surface skin level and widen their view and understanding of this segment.
Knowing what we know, the natural question we should all be asking is: How can brands create powerful connections while driving engagement with this untapped market? The answer is simple, yet profound: through authenticity.
Building Authentic Relationships with African American Consumers
As I talked to academics and marketers leading the way in appealing to multicultural consumers, I learned that African American consumers seek out authenticity and want transparency on how brands are communicating and engaging with their customers. Brand values, therefore, play a pivotal role in influencing African American consumers’ purchase decisions. It is of paramount importance for brands appealing to the African American community, therefore, to align what they preach with what they do.
At the same time, it’s no longer enough for brands to speak up about multicultural backgrounds and social issues revolving around ethnicity when it’s convenient for them. Relationships built with communities need to be authentic. For instance, it’s not enough for companies to create social media posts or ads relevant to Black Lives Matter, expecting to create a good relationship with the African American consumer. Just as in real life, business relationship and loyalty do not rely on one-time occurrences. Instead, brands should actively and consistently engage with multicultural communities – building and sustaining their relationship for the long term.
Authentic relationships are based on trust, long-term commitments, and a deep understanding of the consumer. Yet a research study conducted by AIMM revealed that brands are still failing to achieve authenticity and relevance in their marketing efforts. Companies are often negligent about the cultural differences that their customer segments represent. Untargeted and generic messages and communication strategies are therefore failing to deliver value in the mind of multicultural consumers, such as African Americans.
As such we identified three meaningful ways in which brands can build authentic relationships with the African American communities that drive engagement, loyalty, and ultimately grow the companies’ strategic and financial performance.
Anchoring Consumer Truths
As mentioned, building a strong relationship with the African American consumer relies on more than surface-level approaches such as casting or one-size-fits-all strategies. African American consumers are loyal to brands that successfully reflect their background and nuances, as well as go beyond stereotypical portrayals of the world. They want companies to understand their history, what makes them special, and the struggles they have to overcome. Therefore, it is not enough for brands to simply include African American actors and actresses in their ads. Authentic communication starts with a deep understanding of who your consumer is, what they value, and why they do what they do.
An example of a company that has been successful at doing this is Tide and its “Hygenic Clean Big Day” commercial aired in 2020. In the commercial, a girl runs up to her dad all dirty from being under the porch, but the dad trusts Tide Hygienic Clean to get the stains out. The ad was successful beyond anyone’s expectations because it tapped into the stereotype that African American dads do not spend time with their children. P&G’s success is attributed in part to its investment in consumer insight, as it showcased an occasion that African Americans were lacking in their daily lives and the media.
Ultimately, in doing so, Tide won by creating engagement and trust within the segment. “It was so authentic, it was so respectful, it was so real, and it portrayed an image that from an African American perspective, we wanted to see more of,” shared one of our respondents.
It is critical for brands to immerse themselves in all aspects of the culture and history of the African American consumer, as well as to dive into the consumer insight. Once brands are able to do the latter, they will be able to reap the benefits and a competitive advantage from a better understanding of the African American consumer – driving engagement, loyalty, and prestige. Ultimately, marketing to the African American customer specifically, rather than focusing on the general market, is not just a good thing to do, it is a business mandate.
Diversity Comes From Within
In order to represent African American consumers through a complete lens, marketers must be more alert to the corporation’s internal representation. Especially in this generation, consumers are holding companies accountable for their actions, and their workplace practices are no exception when they are evaluating whether a company is all lip service. As a result, brands must start looking at hiring practices and internal initiatives to be more holistic and comprehensive of what voices it is promoting. Hiring and retention can no longer solely focus on internal matters but should take on a more consumer-facing role.
Organizations should ensure that their workforce effectively represents the diverse environment in which they operate. Their focus should be on building a workforce that embodies and celebrates the voices of all backgrounds. On the one hand, organizations should be responsible for hiring a more diverse workforce. On the other, however, it should also assume responsibility in supporting inclusion within their workforce by making sure all voices, stories, and backgrounds are equally valued and represented.
African American representation in the workforce is critical. After all, the consumer truth cannot be told through the words of someone who doesn’t fully understand it. No one knows the African American community better than the African American employee. Hiring diverse talent is critical. Giving African Americans a seat at the table, making sure their voices are being heard, and improving their retention rates through inclusion programs is how companies can authentically show they appreciate and value them.
Walk The Talk
Authentic relationships entail more than showing you understand the consumer and have an internal representation of the segment. Companies must make impactful strides to support the African American community. According to AdAge, this segment, more than other segments in the US, is highly driven by values and corporate social responsibility. They are increasingly aware of what companies are doing to support society. Therefore, it is important for companies to take strides to support the community they are trying to sell to through authentic and genuine efforts. Some great examples of commitments towards the African American community include that of Goldman Sachs, Target, Netflix, and Nintendo.
Goldman Sachs has recently announced that they will be investing more than $100 million towards philanthropic support to address the disproportionate gender and racial biases that African American women had been subject to for the past generations. Efforts like these signal that Goldman Sachs is not only preaching, but actually taking action over their authentic interest in supporting the African American Community.
Similarly, Target has recently announced that will be spending more than $2 billion in Black-owned businesses by 2025. The retail giants will not only be adding new Black-owned brands to their retail stores, but they will also be hiring Black-owned both advertising and construction companies. Such an effort has captured the attention and interest of African Americans across the US.
Netflix has also shown a keen interest in the African American community. In an effort to uplift diversity, Netflix has announced that it will be investing $100 million to improve the racial representation within its films and shows.
While these examples convey financial support, there are smaller and more tangible ways every company can “walk the talk.” For example, Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing” added more inclusive hairstyles for BIPOC players who did not see themselves reflected in the game. The game announced that it added six more hair options, including looks for Black and people of color. Players can now choose to give their avatars dreadlocks, afros, and fades, along with a new natural curly hair option, little puffs, or the choice to go completely bald.
The African American community represents an untapped, unexplored market for some companies. By better understanding their background, needs, and struggles, companies will be able to forge a fruitful relationship with them. Given how little marketing expenditure has been invested towards the African American community and the opportunity behind the segment, it’s clear that there will be a lot of initiatives targeting this community in the near future. Yet, for the efforts to be truly impactful, they must be authentic and sincere at all levels – both inside and outside the company.
Given how much multicultural representation is growing within the US population, now is the time for companies to start building relationships with the African American consumer (if they’re not already). Generic, untargeted messages will no longer suffice. It’s time for marketers to tailor their messages in a genuine and authentic way while working alongside other departments to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
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