Targeting with Culture in Mind

  |  April 9, 2008   |  Comments

Different ethnic groups provide marketers with opportunities to create more focused messaging. Viva la difference!

Behavioral targeting has evolved from tracking consumers' online action to evaluating their mindsets and personality traits. As technology continues to help marketers understand the consumer, the next advancement in behavioral targeting methodology should incorporate culture into the targeting mix.

Multicultural marketing is gaining traction for good reason. The combined purchasing power of ethnic Americans is estimated at $1.3 trillion, or 18.5 percent of all U.S. consumer spending. Online shopping by African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and other minorities has also increased dramatically during the past five years, according to Media Audit.

Moreover, Internet usage among minorities is on the rise. A recent study by multicultural advertising firm Global Advertising Strategies found high Internet usage among Chinese Americans.

These different ethnic groups provide marketers with opportunities to create more focused messaging. Since those who belong to ethnic groups operate within their own cultures, targeting can move beyond segmentation by ethnicities and actually tap into consumer preferences based upon cultural norms.

Without further ado, here's why culture should be the next big focus in behavioral targeting.

Culture Affects Behaviors

Culture's defined as: "The accumulated habits, attitudes and beliefs of a group of people that define for them their general behavior and way of life."

It's a force that's visible and invisible, cognitive and affective, conscious and unconscious, rational and irrational all at the same time. Most importantly, culture influences behaviors by impacting a person's perception of events in surrounding environments. Everything a person sees is viewed through a culture-specific lens. Thus, if a person's behaviors are to be measured and understood with maximum amount of accuracy, the behaviors have to be placed within her cultural contexts.

With regard to online actions, consumers' propensities to visit certain sites or exhibit increased interest in specific topics are shaped by their culture. In an industry that heralds the phrase "know your audience," the opportunity cost of not factoring culture into targeting tactics can translate into losses in marketing effectiveness. A look at retail purchase cycles of ethnic populations provides some food for thought on how cultural norms can be translated into different online behaviors.

The retail purchase cycle for Latinos is typically longer because they tend to shop in larger, often multigenerational families or with friends. It's highly possible, then, that Latinos have longer purchase cycles when shopping online.

Perhaps making a purchase online isn't so much an individual effort, but something that involves the whole family. If that's the case, targeted ads should be very different for this particular population. For example, if an ad is shown for travel packages, it's not going to be a weekend getaway for two but a more family-oriented vacation deal.

Get the Timing Right

Timing is another cultural variable that can affect targeting efforts. The same holiday may vary by both country and by culture.

In China/Taiwan, Valentine's Day is observed in July rather than February. Depending on their acculturation level, Chinese living in America may or may not have adopted the U.S. date. In a similar vein, Valentine's Day is celebrated on two different dates in Japan. On Feb. 14, only females give gifts to their significant others, and gentlemen return the favor on a holiday called White Day, celebrated March 14.

To effectively target an audience, focused messaging may either occur in a different month of the year or be spread over a longer period to cover the date range based on the identified preferences of various ethnic groups. Another example is Mother's Day, which is celebrated on a different date in Latin America than in the United States.

As with other aspects of marketing, behavioral targeting efforts require the help of research to identify key cultural preferences. Online surveys have been known to illuminate differences in product feature preferences based upon cultural preferences. In one survey, respondents from Asia and the Pacific Rim placed greater emphasis on depth of product features as a determining factor to purchase, while their European counterparts favored ease of use. By leveraging the global reach of Web surveys, marketers can identify key drivers that exist in various cultures and behaviorally target these distinct consumer segments with culture in mind.

Culture Matters

All behaviors are learned and displayed in specific cultural contexts. Thus, targeting consumers based on their cultural frameworks is a huge opportunity for expansion of business, especially since the ethnic diversity in the U.S. is so reflective of a global landscape.

Integrating variations in consumer preferences and purchase-drivers into targeting tactics leads to more effective messaging that will resonate on a more personal level with each consumer. It's all about getting the right combination. And getting it right with culture is the way to go for behavioral targeting.


Vicky Chen

Vicky Chen is a strategist at Sid Lee. Based in Amsterdam, she works with global clients such as Heineken, Red Bull, Swarovski, and Adidas to create and communicate desired brand experiences.

Vicky was previously a strategist at Naked New York, and started her career as a psychologist, focusing on socio-cultural dynamics and its influence on people's realities and behaviors.

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