“Black Still Matters In Marketing” is a Journey to Understand Diversity

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black marketingConsumer goods manufacturers have coveted the African American consumer base.   But the landscape of the African American community is changing.

The author of Black Still Matters in Marketing starts off the book by examining the changes in the past five years, and asks two questions: Is Black consumer behavior much different from Whites? Is it now time to stop labeling, and perhaps limiting ourselves with race?

After acknowledging the many changes, she concludes:  “Black still matters in marketing.”  And then she goes on to explain that the book is not about “targeting” blacks in marketing, but rather about offering solutions to  help marketers understand African Americans and comfortably frame messages to Black America.

Pepper Miller is the author of “Black Still Matters In Marketing: Why Increasing Your Cultural IQ about Black America is Critical to Your Company and Your Brand.” The author’s background lists several significant accolades. She is a regular Advertising Age contributor.  She is Founder of the Ruth C. Hunter Market Research Scholarship Fund, a program to increase market research awareness among Black American Students.  And she heads up her own marketing research group, The Hunter-Miller Group.

Her experiences infuse a terrific sensibility into this book, one that can help businesses frame insightful personas associated with today’s African American consumer segments.

The topic of marketing nuances among African American consumers has been raised over the last few years, such as its treatment in the book “Black Is The New Green.” Miller builds on the topic by examining urban segments that have “come-of-age” economically, such as the multiracial demographic and the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) community.

This examination is a powerful suggestion, given the geographic shifts in where the Black middle class lives. Such significance is highlighted in the book “Our Black Year“and in the post-civil rights generation now mobilized in the U.S. workforce, also featured in the professional development books “Black Faces White Places“and “Black Business Secrets.”

I found the thesis of Black Still Matters to be well supported and explained. The book unquestionably extends the cultural dialog into the topics businesses need to focus upon. It first outlines what marketers must understand about the changing preferences and responses of Black men and women.  Businesses should:

  • Understand the importance and impact of portraying Black men in a positive light, and the power of showing Black men as role models in the Black community.
  • Recognize the growing power and influence of Black social networks and the Black blogosphere, and how and why engaging Blacks in cyberspace can have a profound positive impact on marketers’ bottom lines.
  • Realize how young, single and accomplished childless Black women break the stereotypes about young Black women, and the benefit of looking beyond these stereotypes.

Add to these points an examination of LGBT and multiracial consumers. Both groups appreciate the historic treatment of Black consumers, but bring unique needs that businesses must acknowledge.  Check out this quote as an example of attitudes towards multiracial consumers of personal care products:

“Some companies and products target multiracial people directly or with appropriate cultural cues.  New hair-care products, Miss Jessies’s and Mixed Chicks, launched within the past few years, were specifically targeted to Black biracial women to help tame their naturally curly locks. The products attracted many African Americans who also choose to wear their hair naturally.  Today, these multi-million dollar brands have inspired the launch of other “me too” brands and collectively, these products have become one of the new standards of hair care products within the $9 billion Black hair-care industry. At the same time, expanded racial classifications like Black biracials also present challenges with respect to policies, social programs and marketing. Therefore distinct values and experience must be understood to develop appropriate appeals.”

Another wonderful highlight is the examination Miller offers on Black immigrant consumers.  Economic statistics are punctuated with the successful marketing engagements, such as Publix’s plan in connecting to West Indian consumers.  African American-centric marketing in relationship to the ecological/green movement is also a savvy topic addition.

Black Still Matters In Marketing details some of the issues advertising agencies can face.  Businesses may not be agencies, but they can learn when some actions are too patronizing and can turn off consumers.  The following quote notes how partnerships meant to address strategy can be mismanaged:

“Another practice…is the inclusion of ethnic advertising agency partners in the marketing strategy discussions early and often, recognizing the agencies as full partners during the process. “Partner” is the key word here….Few ethnic agencies have the opportunity to sit down and collectively work on the multicultural strategy. They are not even given the opportunity to work on or share their thoughts on the mainstream advertising. Instead, ethnic marketers are given “assignments”—not “the account”—and are often asked to adapt the general-market strategy to ethnic audiences.”

Miller writes clear recommendations for successful campaigns. The takeaways are meant to be easily imagined, an augment to the wealth of stats Miller provides. Take Miller’s point about connection, using a scene from the movie The Break Up to illustrate the point about recognizing culture and the nuances that can come with it (which is a favorite move of mine, I’ll admit):

“There is a scene in the 2006 movie The Break Up starring Vince Vaughn as Gary and Jennifer Aniston as Brooke, where we see the couple arguing. Gary won’t help Brooke with the dishes following a dinner party in which Brooke did all of the work. After several selfish reasons and snarky comments as to why he shouldn’t do the dishes, Gary reluctantly gives in. But Brooke backs up and declines his help and tells him, ‘I want you to want to do the dishes.’ I love that line and totally get it! It’s the same with connecting with Black America. No group wants to force another group to appreciate their culture and who they are—they simply want that group to want to appreciate it. Just like Brooke in the movie, it is a matter of respect more than actually doing.”

Read Black Still Matters In Marketing and begin a journey to understand diversity and the nuances that come along with acknowledging ethnic consumer perspective.

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Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.

10 Reactions
  1. Anita Campbell

    Hi Pierre,

    Thanks for sharing this and for confronting head-on the question I’ve often thought of, which is: are we doing anyone in the Black community a favor by treating them differently for marketing purposes?

    And I can definitely see the point that it’s not so much about targeting Blacks, but rather gaining a better understanding of racial diversity. (And other types of diversity, for that matter.) When we do that, we allow fewer unconscious assumptions to flow out of our own lack of knowledge of other groups we’re not a part of.

    – Anita

  2. Thank you Pierre for the wonderful review. I really appreciate the time that you took to address the many insights in this work.
    No matter how you slice it, Black folks are different from mainstream and today more different from each other in meaningful ways than ever before. Yet society and marketers tend to penalize those who talk about race, ethnicity and differences. We believe success comes from learning and embracing the differences as well as the similarities. It just makes sense. If we are not judging and embracing the differences, as a marketer, we can develop messages that help bring us closer to those who are different from us. If our brands are connecting better with customers, they are bound to develop loyal customers. If they are developing loyal customers, we are most likely to see a positive effect on the bottom line.

    Thanks again. I am humbled and very appreciative.

  3. Deborah B. Smith


    Congratulations! And, you’re absolutely right, Black Still Matters in Marketing, it’s a part of our every behavior. So, why would it not? Thank you tor reminding marketers, ad agencies, all all target segment professionals to not deny blackness! I cannot wait to read!

    All the best,

  4. I think the article has a typo; I’m pretty sure the Black hair care industry generates $9 billion dollars in annual revenue, not $9 million


    • Hi Shona, the quote in the article states $9 billion from my mark (9:27am CST) – not sure if it was corrected before my reply. Either way, thank you so much for taking the time to read it and sharing the comment (and link!)

      • Not a problem. That number just jumped out at me; I have a background that includes accounting…so I know that $9 million is an annual number for one company perhaps, but not an entire industry 🙂

      • I was reviewing comments this morning, saw it, and fixed it, Pierre! 🙂

    • Thank you, Shona, you are absolutely correct. I fixed it. We try very hard to be accurate and not have typos. But quotes like this are usually transcribed manually from the books, and errors can occur. Our site editorial team is good at picking up obvious misspellings in these reviews, but something like “million” for “billion” can easily slip through because the copy editor doesn’t know the actual number.

      In a way, the typo is a contrarian indicator of quality. That’s how you know the reviewer actually read and reviewed the book and didn’t simply copy and regurgitate a press release, as so many of what pass for “book reviews” today now do.

      – Anita Campbell, Publisher of Small Business Trends