A Cinderella Story – Marketing to Asian-Americans

18 May

If U.S. census and survey data continually confirm that Asian-Americans are younger, more educated and have higher household incomes than most Americans, then why are there not more marketing campaigns targeting this attractive audience?

“I often refer to Asians as the Cinderella of multicultural marketing. We know that the Asians are a gem and have a tremendous amount to offer … but [they] don’t always get invited to the ball,” posits Saul Gitlin, executive vice president of strategic services/new business at New York–based K & L Advertising, a full-service marketing agency focused on the Asian-American marketplace.

The Asian-American population is smaller than both the Hispanic and black populations and, therefore, comes in third place on some marketers’ lists. Yet, for such a small group, Asian-Americans have tremendous financial clout. “If we were to put every Asian-American on an island, it would be about the 14th or 15th largest economic power in the world,” says Bill Imada, chairman and CEO of New York–based IW Group Inc., an Asian-American advertising and PR firm.

To date, many first-to-market opportunities remain. “When you look at who’s active in the industry today, it’s largely companies that have identified the financial reason why they wanted to move quickly into the Asian market,” Gitlin says. Reach out to this demographic using the following four best practices.

1. Go Multichannel
Use an integrated approach to reach Asian-Americans. “Experiential and viral marketing are important in making that emotional connection to the consumer, because 89 percent of our population is online and we are early adopters of technology,” Imada suggests. Asian media outlets continue to open and grow worldwide, and marketers should take advantage of new media opportunities. Gitlin points out that advertising on a Korean Web site or in a Chinese newspaper eliminates a lot of bilingual guesswork because you know your audience reads in that language.

2. Focus on Direct Mail
“The Asian letter box is still fairly uncluttered for Asian-targeted communications. That means when something has a language reference on its exterior, very often that is what is pulled out by the recipient for further scrutiny,” reports Gitlin, who has experienced open rates in excess of 90 percent on Asian-American-targeted mailers. He says this segment usually outperforms all other cultural segments in direct mail response.

3. Write in the Right Languages
A bilingual format, especially for direct mail promotions, works even in households with a range of language capabilities. “Direct mail pieces should be identifiable to whoever picks it up; you should immediately be able to know which language it is and what product or service it is,” says Imada, who also suggests educating consumers about U.S. acronyms. “You can’t assume that someone from another country will know what an HMO is,” he cautions. If you correctly recognize a consumer’s background, there is no real risk in using a bilingual piece. “There’s an appreciation by the reader that the marketer has recognized that they’re Chinese, even if the reader can only read the English,” Gitlin says. “When you have a relationship with a customer, and they’ve self-selected a language preference, then a marketer can feel free to execute in only one language,” he adds.

4. Don’t Forget the Details
Build cultural imagery and nuance into your piece. Appeals to family, health, security and education are successful because, according to Imada, they are the top values in Asian-American culture. Pay special attention to numbers and colors, which have multiple meanings across Asian cultures. He warns against using simple black and white for promotions, because white is a funeral color in Asia. In addition, the number four sounds like the Chinese word for death and should be avoided, while other numbers like eight and nine are more auspicious and sound like the Chinese words for wealth and longevity, respectively. Before sending out a promotion, have a cultural insider study the piece for appropriate details.

The long-term value of building an Asian-American customer base is promising, considering their penchant for brand loyalty. “[Asian-Americans] really sit up and take notice of who is targeting them and, if the offers are right and the communications are right, there’s tremendous brand loyalty,” Gitlin says. Sounds like a marketer’s fairy-tale ending.

(Originally published in Inside Direct Mail, January 2008)

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