Marketing to Ethnic Groups Online

Whether your market is around the block or around the globe, marketing to ethnic or country-specific communities is not much different from marketing to any other segment. There is no magic bullet.

In marketing to an ethnic audience, there are specific issues of cultural sensitivity, native language hurdles and authentic product offerings. However, integrating the basics of marketing with these nuances will optimize your efforts and the ever-shrinking dot-com budgets.

As the business of the Internet matures, marketing professionals can now do Monday morning quarterbacking — not just on their own plays, but also by learning from the heaps on the field that once were their frontline competitors. Six months ago marked the beginning of the end of wild marketing spending in a massive land grab for eyeballs. As marketers acknowledged limits on how far marketing dollars could carry them, they were forced to re-evaluate branding initiatives and to become savvier with their intellectual resources. One thing became certain: Spending big bucks does not validate your existence nor help move your audience closer to your brand.

So what is the next step? It’s branding through building community. A focus on a more vertical marketplace, whether a general market or a more international niche, can allow you to be efficient as well as effective in your marketing.

Remember Marketing 101 and apply the basics to engage your audience — mentally, socially and emotionally. Leverage print ads, highly selective banner advertising, online events, opt-in e-mail campaigns, premiums, contests and promotions, interactive services, e-mail, bulletin boards, chat, grass-roots communication with community-based organizations and joint partnerships (beyond affiliate marketing).

Grass-roots marketing is critical with certain ethnic audiences, where churches and organizations often play a central role. These tactics are the tools in your arsenal that, when incorporated into your strategic marketing plan, will catapult you ahead of your competition.

Sounds too simple? Not if you’ve identified your objective. What are you trying to achieve? Customers? Traffic? Awareness? Loyalty? Repeat traffic? Remember that the message is key. Building community requires your messages to be relative to your objective while remaining relevant to your audience. This is especially true when marketing to ethnic and country-specific communities.

But how do you develop the appropriate message? Communities need focus, relevance and a human connection. The message opens doors in your community and is often more important than the product. Consumers will buy anything that emotionally engages them (e.g., Beanie Babies). Making messaging decisions requires a balanced mix of research, statistics and, most importantly, a marketer’s intuition.

Aside from Harley-Davidson, it is difficult to find many retailers that have built their own community. But try to think about the broad definition of “community” in Internet terms: community equals brand loyalty.

If your focus is aggressively growing community membership, remember: Building community takes time. Harley-Davidson’s image has taken more than two decades to evolve — that’s a millennium in Internet time. When you remove the “dot-com,” you’re still a business. No bricks-and-mortar company would dream of getting massive numbers of customers through massive amounts of advertising.

So how do you do this on a next-to-nothing budget? Start with your core audience — engage the evangelists. Build an infrastructure of viral marketers –your biggest fans. Viral marketing is the buzz on the street that gets your brand into the hearts and minds of your market. Nothing is more inexpensive yet more powerful than your grass-roots champions. And if your market happens to be ethnic or country-specific communities, rejoice! Underserved niches are ripe for viral marketing. Get involved in the community and you’ll get the community involved.

Here are some points to remember:

• Identify your objective: driving traffic, building awareness, etc.

• Go beyond research to understand the nuances of your market. Act locally.

• Use clear, simple messaging.

• Engage everyday people as your alternate sales force to champion your brand.

• Be creative. Mix your approaches — hard sell with soft, humor paired with a more conservative approach.

• Post-game analysis of your campaigns and promotions.

Here’s one final piece of advice: Celebrate your audiences’ differences. After all, once you build awareness among ethnic audiences about your marketplace, remember that sales and retention are often the next steps to success. Speak and sell to them in the language they understand. Not all ethnic audiences, especially in the United States, speak non-English languages, but studies demonstrate that multilingual marketing can actually increases sales. Research the target communities. Find out which use credit cards and which rely more on cash, for example. This will tell you where to market and where not to waste your resources, and how your target spends money.

So is it really tougher to market to ethnic communities? Not really. Respect their differences but practice the basics of marketing, and you will succeed in attracting the audience.

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