Black Is The New Green: Shedding New Light on Affluent African Americans

There have been books on Black business and Black professionalism in corporate America, like George Fraser’s Click and How To Succeed In Business Without Being White by Black Enterprise founder Earl Graves.  But it is difficult to find great business books that address marketing and the influence of the African American consumer.  This has been an unfortunate oversight.  Until now.

Uptown Media Group (known for Uptown magazine) Co-CEO and group publisher Leonard E. Burnett Jr. and Andrea Hoffman, founder of marketing research firm Diversity Affluence, apply their 40 combined years of experience to examine corporate America’s advertising relationship with African American consumers in Black Is The New Green.

The book focuses on Affluent African Americans (AAA), a group with $87.3 billion in consumer buying power.  Affluent African Americans as a group are expected to grow to $1.1 trillion by 2012.

I asked the authors for a review copy after seeing the catchy title in an ad.  During a few reads while on the New York subways, a few nearby passengers caught sight of the cover and asked about it.  The interest is more than just dust-jacket deep.  Having read a number of books on Black culture for fun and self-discovery throughout my life, I truly can’t recall many that really impressed me so well as this one did.

Corporate Marketing to African American Consumers Gets the Reboot

Black Is The New Green solidly conveys how nuanced today’s African American consumer is, and that the strategy to target consumers must also be nuanced.  I liked the authors’ understanding that links their points to the paradigm shift from traditional views of marketing to the “long tail” thinking of reaching specific audiences. I also liked the acknowledgment that traditional “mainstream” viewpoint among marketers, which has been one-dimensional in past methods, must now show more sophistication towards consumers of color and their specific preferences to gain a branding and economic advantage.

Burnett and Hoffman also gives an overview of black middle class development.  As they put it, New Green is “by no means a history book” but the book’s cultural journey into the past has great “I-didn’t-realize” facts that will reinvigorate a reader’s knowledge base on Black America.  I loved learning about the Black press in Utah, and threading together community, press and business through mentions like the Whip newspaper’s 1929 Chicago store Black boycott and the Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work campaign is undeniably brilliant.

The book goes on to explain the AAA market in full; from the importance of a great consumer-buy to the importance of conveying respect to the AAA consumer and their business.  The chapter “Meet The Royaltons” shows readers the lifestyle qualities of AAAs such as dining, fitness, and the entrepreneurial spirit.  An example of behavior shows a link to effective word-of-mouth marketing:

“AAAs like to be influencers in their social networks … as resources for friends and colleagues on what’s new. Research shows that, positive or negative, word-of-mouth spreads faster among AAAs than within the general market … as they speak to an average of fifty-six people daily – a full 40 percent more people than non-affluent African Americans and 20 percent more than other US influentials.”

The authors identify the typical mistakes that marketers make. For example, marketers are unaware how the AAAs bridge the civil rights generation with the current youth market. Another common mistake is creating too much emphasis on one-dimensional characterizations that do not speak to the aspirations of the group.  As a result, what they get is a negative brand image. The response Victoria’s Secret received for excluding historically Black colleges and universities from its Pink campaign is just one example. And even more disturbing are examples of detrimental marketing, such as targeting youth with unhealthy products:

“A 2003 study by Georgetown University’s Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth found that, of the $333 million in advertising placed by the nation’s alcohol industry that year, ‘Blacks from 12 to 20 years old saw 77 percent more of these ads…than their non-Black peers did.’ “

Black Is The New Green makes a clear case that responsible advertising and knowledgeable marketing are interlinked and show how a brand cares for its customers (as well as its ethics). Knowing how to care is important to niche marketing:

“Progressive marketers, savvy entrepreneurs, brands, and non-profits can take three simple – yet powerful – steps to create loyalty among African American Royaltons: (1) acknowledge them, (2) understand them, and (3) cater to them.”

Burnett and Hoffman make savvy suggestions by incorporating traditional Black media with online sources in its 8 components of 360-degree marketing.  The tone of the solutions translate well into today’s paradoxes of integrating online and offline marketing without excessive jargon.   As for the mentions of the Black press?  Community and local press are an essential part of the 360-marketing, as the authors’ research “shows that while AAAs do consume general market media, they also consume Black media.”

Readers Will Earn Consumer Green by Reading “The New Green”

Marketers who read this book will have a solid primer for understanding niche marketing, as well as a primer for marketing to an ethnic community.  Small businesses can use the basics from this book to develop their marketing plans and note how locality and premium brands play a role in the execution of those plans.  Luxury brands can also benefit, as the book reference examples and mentions how AAAs desire upscale products and services.

As the authors stated best, “Knowing who your customers are and what they are like, and taking care of them is the key for successful niche marketing.”  Any marketer looking for connection with the African American consumer will have gold reading Black Is The New Green.

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.