Marketers look closer at black consumers and find segmentation opportunities within

President Obama is making his mark with large spending bills and a unique approach to leadership, but he’s also creating subtler effects in the world of marketing by bring­ing African-Americans into the spotlight as a consumer segment. Lexus, for example, has started targeting black women with ads for its luxury hybrids, and Amtrak recently launched an Acela Express campaign aimed at blacks and Latinos.

“Since the election of President Obama, there is more curiosity about the African American consumer and their behavior on behalf of marketers,” says Esther Franklin, EVP, director of cultural identities for Star­com MediaVest Group (SMG)’s multicul­tural unit, SMG Multicultural.

“The whole Obama phenomenon should make it easier for marketers to embrace multicultural and diversity in advertising,” adds Sonya Grier, associate professor of marketing at American University.

Of course, Obama can’t be held solely responsible for this renewed interest in marketing specifically to black consum­ers. The tight economy — which is driving marketers to target more tightly — combined with improvements in the data and analyt­ics space also may be playing a role in this increased focus on a particular segment of the population.

“It is part of the trend towards segmented targeted marketing to all identifiable con­sumer groups,” explains Sid Liebenson, EVP, director of marketing, Draftfcb. “The Afri­can-American market is not a small or insig­nificant market in most product categories, so it behooves marketers to understand the marketplace better and look at more relevant ways to connect with the community.”

Even with more data coming in, getting to know African-Americans as a consumer group is a difficult process. The group, which makes up approximately 14% of the US population, is certainly not homogenous. To reach diverse groups within the community, marketers need to research carefully.

“One of the biggest things is to under­stand the consumer and make sure that the value proposition is relevant,” Grier points out. “Marketers may use stereotypes based on what they believe these consumers want, but it’s not a monolithic market. Segmenting within the group may prove to be more suc­cessful. Hip hop [might appeal to] a certain age group or psychographic group, but it’s not all African-Americans.”

In-depth segmentation of African-Ameri­cans is sprouting up, like with SMG’s Beyond Demographics initiative. Launched in 2007, Beyond Demographics has done extensive research into the black population, segment­ing the group into 12 psychographic divisions with names like “buppies,” “nomads” and “activists.” Lattimer Communications, too, has created six psychographic profiles for black women, including “achievers,” “tra­ditionals” and “cynics.”

However, Lattimer also released a study in February revealing that 86% of African-American women still feel that advertisers do not know how to speak to them.

“A majority of blacks fall within the middle class, and we often forget them, and they often feel that advertisers are not talking to them,” says Leylha Ahuile, senior multicultural expert for research company Mintel. “Targeting advertising to blacks is not about using black people in your ad, it’s about the cultural understanding. What is the message or trigger point?”

As African-American and other minority populations grow, it is essential for mar­keters to understand these cultural trigger points and build relationships with diverse consumer groups. Ahuile says that in 2050 about half the US population will be “mul­ticultural,” and the buying power of African American consumers is projected to reach $1.2 trillion by the year 2012.

“There’s a lot more understanding that needs to happen,” Franklin said. “The power of the African American consumer dollar is only growing, and we all know our country is growing more multicultural as we speak. Multicultural influences have huge impacts on society in general, and for that reason it’s important for advertisers to have a more complete understanding of what the implications are for their brands and services.”

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