Multicultural Marketing: A Marketer’s Guide


For marketers, authentic audience connection is essential, no matter the industry. And the best way to make that connection is to truly understand the people you are targeting—to empathize with them, understand their challenges and speak to them in a way that makes them feel heard. But how can you understand someone without first considering their culture? That’s where multicultural marketing comes in. 

Although people within the same geographical area may have similar needs, different cultural groups can vary greatly in their values and beliefs, specific struggles, and how they would like to be spoken to. By keeping in mind the rules of multicultural marketing, marketers will have an effective outline for ensuring that they can understand and empathize with cultural audiences, and mitigate the risks associated with getting it wrong.


What is multicultural marketing?

Multicultural marketing is any form of marketing that is targeted towards a specific cultural or ethnic group that is a subset of a brand’s total audience (general market). It isn’t as simple as translating ads into different languages; instead, it connects on a deeper level of audience relatability—addressing the specific needs of a cultural group and speaking to their unique aspirations and motivations. By validating the differences of cultural subgroups brands have the opportunity to make their marketing stick in the hearts and minds of multicultural consumers. 

Multicultural marketing should also not be confused with inclusive marketing, a tactic designed to emphasize diversity and resonate with people of all backgrounds. Although multicultural campaigns often borrow elements of inclusive marketing, its purpose is to target a specific cultural group, whereas inclusive marketing may focus on representation of a variety of cultures, ensuring not one group feels left behind. 

Making the case for multicultural marketing 

The demographics of North America are changing: Roughly 75% of Canada’s population growth comes from immigration and by 2036, immigrants will represent up to 30% of Canada’s population, compared with 20.7% in 2011 (Source: Government of Canada).

In the US, multicultural segments (all ethnic segments except White Non-Hispanics), currently make up 40% of the U.S. population and are expected to only increase while the White Non-Hispanic population continues the downward trend (Source: United States Census Bureau).

Although it may be tempting for marketers to simply cast a wider net with their marketing efforts through inclusive marketing, they risk alienating audience sub segments and watering down their message when they try to talk to everyone at once. For instance, 50% of Spanish-dominant and 24% of English-dominant Hispanics declared themselves “much more loyal toward companies that show appreciation for [their] culture” (source: eMarketer), meaning that organizations that take the time to cater to specific audiences could see a higher return on their marketing investments.


How to do multicultural advertising the right way

Here are some best practices to keep in mind as you build your multicultural marketing campaigns:

1. Meet your audience where they are

Multicultural marketing should always start with proper research. It’s important to ask questions like: 

  • What are the concerns and aspirations of my cultural audience? 
  • Have there been any recent events that could affect them? 
  • Does my business fulfill the same need for this audience as it does for others? 
  • What emotional triggers separate this group from others? 
  • What channels best reach this multicultural segment?

Asking questions like these may seem obvious, but it is important to go through this process every time you begin a multicultural marketing campaign.

2. Examine cultural context, not just language

Although language is an important part of any given culture, an understanding of language is not enough to form effective multicultural marketing campaigns. Imagine that you are a new immigrant to North America, and you have studied English for many years and are well-versed in the language. You still would not know that it is culturally inappropriate to talk about politics at the dinner table, or ask someone how much money they make. These cultural details may seem obvious to those who grew up around them, but failing to comprehend them can have disastrous consequences⁠—especially when it comes to marketing campaigns. 

3. Consider the individualism-collectivism spectrum

Different cultures can be drastically different regarding how much value they place on individual versus collective priorities. For instance, American culture focuses heavily on individual rights and freedoms and emphasizes personal achievement and success, while in many Asian cultures, collectivism and unity are seen as far more important. Determining where the culture you are marketing to sits on this spectrum will go a long way towards understanding how to position your next in-culture marketing campaign. 

4. Be aware that visuals can be interpreted differently

Marketing campaigns that are mostly visual as opposed to being text-heavy are usually seen to be internationally applicable because there is no translation necessary—but the danger of a misunderstanding is still present. For instance, in the western countries a white flag is a mutually agreed upon symbol of surrender, but white is the color of mourning in Buddhist countries, taking on a completely different meaning. Symbols can also vary in their cultural representation, it is best to make sure you don’t take them for granted in your next multicultural marketing campaign.


5. Ensure representation in the review and decision-making process

Your review process should always include representation from the group you are trying to target. You might even choose to test your campaigns with a targeted focus group before public release. Due diligence from the review side will ensure you don’t miss anything that could be interpreted badly. 

Although it’s a complex topic, there has never been a better time to get started on a multicultural marketing campaign. If you can speak to multicultural audiences correctly and relate to them on a more personal level, you will win customer loyalty in a way that broad, one-size-fits all marketing can’t.

Multicultural Representation in Marketing

Start your multicultural marketing today

illumin can help you target, engage and convert online multicultural audiences like never before. Our connected journey means that you can add in multiple multicultural segments and create unique journeys for each, ensuring your message never gets water-downed down and helping you form meaningful connections.  

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