Seeking Opportunity in Our Multicultural Market

Businesses focus on engaging with minorities
by Joe Bardin

Multicultural-MarketThe multicultural marketplace in the Phoenix area is a rapidly growing one. Where once corporations focused almost entirely on connecting and serving the mainstream Anglo culture, and could afford only limited outreach to minorities, now dynamic organizations are finding they can’t afford not to engage effectively with minority communities. This is because minorities now represent significant growth opportunities.

In certain cases, such as Hispanics and Asians, the opportunity is driven by dramatic population increases. “When it comes to the new demographics of Maricopa County, the future is now,” says Mario Diaz, principal of Mario E. Diaz & Associates, who is a longtime liaison between public and private sectors as a lobbyist and PR/business advisor knowledgeable on the Phoenix scene. “Latinos make up nearly 40 percent of Phoenix. For businesses to continue to succeed, they have to adjust to the consumer.”

Only 3 percent of the population at present, the Asian population doubled in the last decade to 176,695, according to the 2010 census. No other minority group grew at a faster rate.

In the case of Native Americans, the attraction for mainstream businesses lies in their unique access to prized real estate and gaming rights. In all cases, bottom-line impact is at stake. “It used to be about quotas to fulfill minority participation,” says Diaz, “now it’s about opportunity.”

As James Garcia, director of Communications & Public Policy at the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, puts it, “These corporations are very good at counting both people and dollars. They see that Hispanics are more than a third of the population already, that it has grown 100 percent in 20 years and is on pace to do that again the next 20 years. It’s impossible to not notice.”

The case for multicultural engagement is clear. Less clear is what the best strategies are for bridging cultural gaps in order to tap into the potential for bottom-line growth. “It’s not just about sponsoring Cinco de Mayo anymore,” says Garcia. “Companies are starting to understand it takes a real commitment.”

Translation Doesn’t Translate

The level of commitment involves going beyond simply retooling existing marketing materials through translation, which knowledgeable observers agree is a strategy doomed to failure. “I see that all the time — companies that turn their English commercials into Spanish,” says Miguel Bravo, manager of Strategic Partnerships at APS. “They don’t even change actors. It really doesn’t work.”

“Marketing to minority communities requires the same strategic approach as marketing to the mainstream community,” says Jennifer Sanchez, of Urias Communications, which focuses on the Hispanic community. This starts with understanding the audience, and that calls for sound market research.

“It’s such a fast-changing environment,” says Bravo, “even though I’m Hispanic and have worked in this sector for a long time, I still need to keep up with what’s really going on out there.”

What research consistently turns up is that the old bigoted clichés about minorities couldn’t be more wrong; not only do minorities not all look alike, they don’t think alike, act alike or purchase alike.

“The hardest thing for people who are new to working with Native American tribes to understand is that every tribe is separate and independent,” says Kari McCormick, director of Client Services, Native American Division at commercial builder Kitchell. “They have their own government, their own laws, their own codes. So to assume that working with one means you know how to work with another is not an assumption you want to make.”

Luis Caballeros, executive director of the Hispanic Marketing Center of Excellence at Cox Communications, conducted extensive research on his audience and found a similarly striking spectrum of diversity. “We really dissected our audience,” he says. “We found we have younger bi-culturals who are more English dominant but hold tight to their culture, as well as older people who are Spanish dominant.”

Research also identified significant distinctions among Hispanics whose families come from different countries, from Mexico to Puerto Rico to Cuba. This had practical implications for the Phoenix-based bilingual call center, which fields calls from regions throughout the U.S., in which certain populations feature more prominently, such as Cubans in Florida.

It’s worth mentioning that U.S. Census data shows comparable diversity within the Asian population, albeit in much smaller numbers. Chinese are no longer the largest Asian group in Phoenix. There are now more Indians and Filipinos than Chinese, along with growing numbers of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Burmese.

While Cox identified extensive differentiation among Hispanics, the research did lead to a unified bi-cultural strategy. “It’s not about what language they speak, but what content they want delivered,” says Caballeros. Awareness and usage studies showed Cox its Hispanic audience responded to the same cultural cues regardless of whether the message came in English or Spanish. “Whether it’s a face, a product, a specific word — certain cues are culturally relevant,” Caballeros observes. “So we focus on cultural relevance, then decide what language to use.”

Now, Cox’s English-language commercials still use Hispanic talent and even feature Spanish words. Conversely, Spanish-language commercials also employee English words considered relatable, such as “cool.” This blending mirrors the hybrid experience of the Hispanic community today.

Cox has shifted the overall context of the conversation as well to reflect the updated profile. “The rule was: Make your scenes aspirational. But we’re already there; we’re not just aspiring anymore,” says Caballeros. To illustrate how Hispanics have raised their economic standing, “There’s no more families in kitchens eating anymore,” says Caballeros. “We’re now showing young professionals in their 30s living their lives using our products.”

Going for the Whole Enchilada

Once organizations have a clear understanding of who their minority audience is, a holistic approach is required to attract and retain interaction with it. “Companies are now launching comprehensive, full-budget strategies, including print, radio, TV and social media,” says Urias Communications’ Sanchez. “You have to do it the right way if you want to succeed.”

This includes social media. Sanchez points out that Hispanics’ online participation is comparable or exceeds the mainstream marketplace. In fact, the most “liked” Facebook page-holder is Shakira, the Columbian pop singer, with 99,688,825. Running a distant second is American pop singer Beyonce, with about 63 million.

Arizona Public Service, a client of Urias Communications, is following this advice. The company currently has TV campaigns on Univision and Telemundo, a robust radio campaign across five Spanish-language stations locally, and digital campaigns online. A print campaign, to appear in three Spanish newspapers locally, is in the works, as is the launch of a social media strategy through Facebook.

The need for a holistic approach to minority marketing applies to smaller organizations as well. “We don’t believe in gimmick marketing,” says Chandler Center for the Arts General Manager Michelle Mac Lennan. “We really listen and then give value. We get communities engaged in the process and then listen to what they are calling for.”

Mac Lennan recognized that Zoppe Italian Family Circus, for example, had appeal to a wide range of minority communities that are familiar with the theatrical tradition of this cultural experience. To promote it, Mac Lennan reached out to Philippine, Chinese, Italian and Hispanic communities, each in a manner relevant to them. This included engaging the various members of the circus to speak to the communities in their native languages, such as the Columbian Fire Dancers doing a radio interview in Spanish.

Reaching In as well as Reaching Out

In addition to engaging with minorities externally, it’s vital that organizations prepare internally to retain and nurture the relationships they are seeking to create. Recognizing the need for cultivating its own expertise in serving Native American communities, Kitchell established its Native American Division in 1999.

“We’ve got a whole division that understands the difference of working in Indian Country,” says McCormick. “This way, we’re not retraining people again and again. And we’ve also hired some of the best and brightest from the Native American tribes themselves.”

The division conducts annual trainings to which it also invites vendors, such as engineers and architects. In addition, it does in-house training for every new tribe it engages with. “Each tribe is a sovereign nation, so it’s like preparing to work in Canada or Switzerland; you have to understand the laws and the culture,” says McCormick.

Trainings include cultural sensitivity, such as correct nomenclature. Calling the people “Indians” is considered inappropriate; “Native Americans” is the preferred term. At the same time, referring to tribal land as “Indian Country” is appropriate. Trainings also help with understanding tribes’ organizational arrangement. It can be difficult to identify who the key decision makers are, depending on the tribe’s governing structure. And, with councils sometimes meeting just once a month, scheduling can be challenging.

McCormick notes when Kitchell first started working in Indian Country two decades ago, tribes had a less than stellar view of contractors in general, and Kitchell had to work hard to establish trust. The top rank of contractors weren’t interested in the perceived risk of working with Native American nations, and so the tribes had fewer choices of partners. But the stakes have grown and so have the tribes’ options. “Now, you’re looking at $200-million casino projects, compared to a $5-million government center back then, for example,” says McCormick. “So there’s much more to take a risk on.”

To this day, some contractors still fear Native American sovereignty, which directs that litigious disputes are taken to tribal courts first. McCormick insists that these courts are now as “sophisticated as local jurisdictions.” In any case, she says, Kitchell’s Native American Division has never had to resort to a courtroom to resolve differences.

If corporations are growing savvier, so too are the Native American communities themselves. Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community holds prime real estate along the 101 Freeway in the East Valley, and is regularly approached by potential development partners.

“The process has gotten a lot easier than 10-15 years ago,” says Blessing McAnlis-Vasquez, marketing project manager for the Talking Stick Destination Area. The tribe’s Community Development Department now has dedicated staff for fielding proposals, and includes people with expertise in dealing with the municipal regulations of Scottsdale and Gilbert. “It’s really not that scary to work with us,” jokes McAnlis-Vasquez.

“Working with tribes is a deeply rooted trust relationship,” McCormick emphasizes. “It’s a long-term commitment. If you’re just getting in to make a fast buck, it won’t resonate with them.”

Investing in Connecting

Companies are positioning themselves for long-term relationships with Hispanics as well. Cox Communications was the first company in its industry to offer bills in Spanish. It also provides Spanish-speaking techs, along with its bilingual call center that is part of its Bilingual Center of Excellence. Interestingly, Cox has found that English-dominant Hispanics often call there, probably because they feel better understood from a cultural standpoint. Call center staff are trained to speak clearly and avoid colloquial terms that may be unfamiliar to Hispanics from different regions.

Arizona Public Service has cultivated long-standing relationships with the Hispanic market through partnerships with community organizations, including the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (AZHCC), Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) and Valle del Sol. Each partnership enables APS to support community-building activity, as well as providing real business benefits.

APS’ association with CPLC, which provides social services, has been in place for 30 years. Supporting CPLC also allows APS to promote programs for limited-income customers, which “helps keep the lights on for people who need help, and drives revenue for us,” says Bravo.

Through the AZHCC, APS identifies Hispanic businesses as potential suppliers. This is a boost for those minority-owned firms and is also an advantage for APS. “Direct access to these companies means more competition among suppliers, so we get a better product at lower prices,” Bravo explains.

APS’ total Hispanic Business Spend, which includes all money spent on Hispanic-owned businesses, has steadily increased in recent years, from $11.9 million in 2011 to $16.5 million in 2013, and is expected to be significantly higher for 2014.

Jobs as well as Services

Some of the most important bridge-building to minority communities comes not in the form of services rendered but jobs generated.

“Most tribes have a priority on jobs,” says Kitchell’s McCormick. “The hope is to have apprenticeship and training for skills that go beyond that particular project. We have hired many Native Americans and expect to on most projects.” In the past, some tribes tried to create internal enterprises without reaching out for expertise. Now, tribes are asking Kitchell to mentor tribal members to take their positions. “It’s a wonderful full circle, accepting that they had to go out of house to get certain skills in-house.”

For Cox, recruiting minorities is a priority as well. “We always want to reflect the communities we serve, in terms of our diversity,” says Kristina D’Alessandro, director of Talent Acquisition. “We’re about 30 percent Hispanic, which is in line with Arizona as a whole.” Cox also has very real needs for Hispanics to fulfill its service promise to that market. To effectively recruit minorities, D’Alessandro says, “It can’t just be a check box on the corporate to-do list; it has to be an innate part of your culture. I have a passion around this issue. I believe that if we’re not diverse in our work force, we’re missing out on the diversity of ideas and talents we could have.”

Cox does not rely on simply posting job openings. It has found that its minority recruiting is most effective when it’s done out in the field. “Recruiters need to physically get out from behind their desks and build those relationships,” D’Alessandro says. While Cox recruiters use traditional contact points such as job fairs, they see that these can be confusing and intimidating to some minorities who may nevertheless be qualified candidates. “We have the best results when we educate people in their space, where they are comfortable,” D’Alessandro says. This usually entails meeting at a community organization office already familiar to the candidates. “That’s when we see those aha moments where the light bulb goes on and people see that ‘yes, I am qualified for a position with Cox.’”

One mistake D’Alessandro sees companies make is to hire minorities, but then not have the internal support programs to help them acclimate and overcome cultural differences. For example, in traditional Hispanic culture, challenging authority can be considered wrong. While this can get one in trouble in mainstream corporate culture as well, it is generally considered a good thing to share alternative ideas and suggestions for improvement. Internal support programs for minorities can help them shine where they might not otherwise.

Leadership Still Lagging

Ultimately, true corporate diversity will be measured not just in customers served and even employees hired but in integration at the top level of executive leadership. But, according to James Garcia of AZHCC, progress in this regard continues to lag. “Most companies are still playing catch-up. They should be identifying talented people now and training them to be in position for that opportunity, so that when it opens up, they are at least part of that pool.”

Cox may be furthering this cause through its Lider program, which helps Hispanics within the company to grow and advance internally. And APS supports Valle del Sol’s Hispanic Leadership Institute, whose mission, as it states on its website, is to promote “the individual development of Hispanics for increased participation in leadership roles and serves as a principal education and networking resource for expertise and advocacy on leadership issues affecting Latino communities.”

While it may not yet be a top priority for mainstream corporations, Chandler Center for the Arts’ Mac Lennan sees diversifying the Center’s Board of Directors as vital. As she puts it, “How else can we serve the different communities we serve, if we’re not a reflection of them?”

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