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Finding the cultural pulse

Multicultural marketing is changing business communication, writes Jehan Casinader.

IIn a competitive marketplace, organisations often struggle to find fresh ways to tap into new market segments. Multicultural marketing, which has proved big business across the Tasman, is now presenting opportunities to businesses here.

New Zealand has an increasingly diverse population. It makes more sense than ever to talk to customers in a language they will understand, and not just literally. Multicultural marketing creates a wider market, community awareness, and in some cases a stepping stone to foreign markets. But making use of the medium takes more than just talk.

Multicultural marketing is a must now, says Grant Croad of Niche Media. Many seem to be blind to it at the moment; it is in the too-hard basket because they [businesses] are not educated about how huge the ethnic markets are. Some are indeed being receptive but really arent doing enough; theyre fairly set in their ways.

Australia has a more varied ethnic mix than New Zealand, with larger European and Middle Eastern communities. But a number of Kiwi direct marketing specialists, who have found more demand for their skills in Australia, work in Australian multicultural marketing.

In central Sydney, evidence of this relatively new form of marketing is hard to ignore; its on street corners, on billboards, and in print. Organisations like the award-winning Loud Marketing are helping businesses realise the needs of their communities; in a sprawling city in which a third of homes contain speakers of other languages.

But this is about more than communicating in a language other than English; it is about presenting ideas in a relevant context to ethnic groups.

People think multicultural marketing is just about translations, says Lou Tetrolo, an account manager at Loud. In fact, its one of the few areas that have potential in marketing right now. Ethnic communities are highly organised; in Sydney, they are geographically spread out, like micro-markets. Companies must spend morethan spare cash in their marketing budgets on this.

There is now debate on whether cultural integration removes the need for multicultural marketing. But many argue that even though an ethnic consumer may be English-speaking and have the skills to live and work here, their lifestyle and spending habits may be quite unique.

They may listen to Indian station Radio Tarana rather than Newstalk ZB, read a community newspaper rather than the Herald, and shop at an ethnic food market instead of Woolworths. New Zealand consumers rarely barter or bargain, while it is common practice overseas.

But multicultural marketing is not limited to business. Early examples of the approach in New Zealand include political campaigns in diverse electorates at the last election. But Grant Croad would like to see the Government utilise multicultural marketing more often.

Government messages must reach these very large markets. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but if a major message is only put out through mainstream media, many of these ethnic groups will, in fact, be ignorant. Now, some areas of Government are beginning to take notice.

The simple fact that a large part of a community is ethnic does not provide sufficient reason to launch an ethnic marketing strategy. Businesses must evaluate the benefits, which depend on the nature of their output and also the locale. According to a recent report on the issue by the University of Newcastle, ethnic groups targeted must be unique, measurable and stable.

It is one thing to convince businesses that multicultural marketing can bring them more than financial benefits, including social and professional connections with businesses and individuals around the world. But it is another task entirely to convince ethnic consumers that there is something in it for them; that businesses are serious about having dialogue with them.

No matter how recently a community came to New Zealand, there are some things they seek from arrival onwards; money management, mortgages and job opportunities, for example. Banks and communication companies in particular have been active in researching these needs.

But multicultural marketing is not pitched only at recent arrivals. Auckland-based Nativeworks specialises in communicating with Maori and Pacific people, and for MD Glenn McGahan, it really is a different ballgame.

Maori and Pacific groups are often bunched together; you have to be careful when using a broad brush. They are hugely variant and while there may be some commonalities with other cultures, especially with values, it is a fallacy that mainstream advertising caters for all. What many businesses here are doing is not working; their parent companies overseas are all looking at multicultural marketing. It doesnt help that proper data on ethnic markets is not available here.

Those who have travelled or lived in non-English-speaking countries are all too aware of how difficult it is to understand a society and its information when it is not in their language. Ethnic minorities here are seeking information that is accessible and familiar to their culture, and as multicultural marketing grows, it is conceivable that businesses will be able to offer them just that.

Freelance journalist Jehan Casinader reported from Sydney courtesy of Flight Centre.   NZB

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