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

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 [1].” 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 [2].” 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 [3]“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 [4]“and “Black Business Secrets [5].”

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:

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.