Alma AdAge 2020

Why brands need a culture-forward approach to connect with multicultural communities: by Angela A. Rodriquez, June 02, 2020


Standing with these groups in hard times will pay dividends long after they’ve gone back to shopping as usual.

Despite recent initiatives, our industry isn’t the best at diversity and inclusion—not among ourselves and not in the work we do for our clients. That’s why at alma we have not been surprised at the lack of data about the impact of COVID-19 on multicultural communities. It’s also why we set out to fill the gap in understanding how Hispanics and African Americans are coping.

It might sound trite, but it is indisputable that not everyone is weathering coronavirus in the same ways, or with the same resources. Hispanic and African American communities are experiencing heightened financial and emotional distress, and their culture plays a critical role in the way they feel, think and make decisions. Just how different is the topic of alma’s latest research report: “Lives Changed: The Impact of a Pandemic on Hispanics and African Americans.”

Culture matters more than ever.
We confirmed that people’s experiences are not singular—and identified a significant driver. Hispanics and African Americans are being impacted by health and financial implications shared by almost everyone—underscoring the need for messaging about price and value and access to the goods and services they need. But they are being impacted even more by what they have had to give up: their support systems, each other, their regular social gatherings—the human connections that make their sometimes difficult lives run smoothly.

Staying home is not difficult, but the loss of the things Hispanics and African Americans value most, including family support, is hardest to overcome. These groups are leaning on their culture more than ever, even while it’s the very fabric of their culture that they’ve had to give up. It’s a sacrifice they are willing to make because it will protect the people they are so desperate to see. To cope, they are turning to religion and culture even more than in the past. This is in contrast to non-Hispanic whites, who report a greater concern with social distancing measures and mobility restrictions.

That’s why a message of “getting back to normal” might not strike the right chord for multicultural consumers who haven’t stopped working because they are essential workers; experienced loss because their communities have greater death rates; or are worried about the significant health risk to their family members.

When the going gets tough, the tough shop for their favorite brands.
In a bit of good news for marketers, the study found that all consumers want to hear from brands, especially what they are doing to help. This presents a remarkable opportunity to connect by taking active roles of support.

Education is an evergreen opportunity for marketers. But in a moment of financial, technical and educational disruption a program like McDonald’s long-standing HACER scholarship for Hispanic students can be even more consequential to families.

Another example is P&G’s outreach to multicultural consumers. It is among the few corporations getting it right with dedicated outreach across segments. Through Old Spice, P&G helped raise money to provide financial, educational and community support to fight COVID-19 in black communities. And it helped raise money for Hispanic farm workers and other Hispanic groups through its support of the Estamos Unidos Initiative and upcoming month of action. These are dedicated initiatives for these segments, above and beyond P&G’s global and national relief efforts.

Even more encouraging, the study also found that, despite the economic hardships of the moment, even the most hard-hit among Hispanics and African Americans expect to remain loyal to the brands they love and trust through this moment and afterward.

Brands have an opportunity to show empathy and connect with multicultural communities every day. But standing with these communities in hard times will pay dividends long after they’ve gone back to shopping as usual.

In-culture is still the new in-language (and Spanish matters).
An unintended finding from the Lives Changed Study is embodied in alma’s CID segmentation model, which moves entirely away from language and focuses uniquely on cultural identity. Each data cut confirmed and validated this culture-forward approach and the distinctiveness of the largest and growing group of Hispanics, the most culturally engaged. We also saw that when comprehension truly matters, Spanish language is essential.

New normal, same best practices.
The strategies and actions that brands choose to employ now will determine how they fare with these growing populations in the future. Hispanics and African Americans are experiencing heightened financial and emotional distress, and their culture plays a critical role in the way they feel, think and make decisions.

Now more than ever, brands have the opportunity to be relevant, lead with empathy and adopt a nuanced approach that drives saliency through specificity.