Five Tips for Communicating Effectively with Diverse Audiences
By Ebonne Just, Account Supervisor- Public Relations
It’s no secret. The United States is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse reflecting the major influence immigration has had on both the size and age structure of the U.S. population. The Huffington Post recently reported that by 2043, there will no longer be a racial majority in the U.S. Meaning, no single racial group will dominate the population. As professional communicators, it is important the industry recognizes this shifting demographic to ensure a brand/client’s message remains compelling and influential in today’s complex market. Here are five tips for communicating effectively with diverse audiences:
Know your target audience
As with any marketing assignment, the first step is to clearly identify the audience your brand is trying to engage. In multicultural communications this step is crucial. Beyond knowing the typical characteristics of your target (race, gender, age, income), it is important to understand this consumer on a deeper level. What drives them to achieve their quantitative and qualitative personal goals (family, wealth, religion/faith)? How do they view themselves as part of the total market (blue-collar, entrepreneur, spiritual leader, social advocate)? How has race or ethnicity influenced their experience living in the U.S.? Understanding these cultural nuances- the characteristics that exist beyond general appearances which distinguish ethnic and racial groups from the traditional American ideal- builds a platform from which a communicator can deliver a credible message.
Assess your knowledge/understanding of your audience
Embrace the famous opening words of MTV’s celebrity biopic, “Diary”: You think you know, but you have no idea. While many of us may believe we understand complex cultures outside of our own, truth of the matter is, we probably know less than we think. Before setting out to influence or represent an ethnic audience, assess how much of your understanding is fact versus assumption. A misguided perception of any group can lead to offensive marketing/advertising such as in the case of Tecate’s ill-fated “Finally a Cold Latina” outdoor ad campaign whose critics felt “the ad propagates negative stereotypes of Hispanic women as being loose and overly sexual.”
Identify similarities before pointing out differences
Approach multicultural marketing from a place of “How does my client/product/brand appeal to the global truth of the human experience?” as opposed to “What makes this unique group I’m marketing to different from everyone else?” According to, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs a sense of belonging is at the core of human motivation- driving consumer behavior. Make sure your message speaks to the humanistic-self of your target and not their cultural nuances, exclusively. After all, to quote one of my favorite poets “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
Nuance unique group characteristics to customize and tailor your message
Now that the core of your message is developed, segment your audience and determine the best delivery method for each group. Due to the cultural plurality of the U.S., a one-size fits all approach in marketing communication doesn’t always yield the best results. Reflect upon the motivational drivers, existential viewpoints, etc. and decide the who, what, when and where of your message:
- Who is the most credible secondary source to deliver the message (i.e. spouse, parent, teacher, friend, priest, etc.)?
- What is the best way to reach them (television, print, social media, radio, etc.)?
- When and where is the target most likely to be open to receiving the message (morning/noon/night, in the car to and from work, while relaxing at home)?
Deliver your message with authenticity
As the primary source of your message, speak from a voice that aligns with your [client’s] brand identity. Too often, marketers seek to impersonate other groups in hopes the message will connect with its audience such as in the case of Ashton Kutcher’s controversial Pop Chips commercial or this year’s Volkswagen Super Bowl ad. This risky technique exposes the brand to appearing culturally insensitive and alienates potential supporters. Use clear, unbiased language that allows your audience to internalize your message without reservation.