While Multicultural marketing has defined much of modern brand theory, slowly but surely the Total Market approach has gained momentum and, indeed, surpassed its predecessor. It’s undoubtedly tempting to want to find ways to appeal to a general audience and assume that all consumers will more or less respond to the same type of marketing. However, letting the Total Market design reshape all of your marketing efforts comes with the very real risk of losing the attention of consumers who many brands have fought so hard to win over.
The overall difference in each format is, of course, the approach. With Multicultural, you start from the perspective of defining and targeting specific groups. You begin a project recognizing that what works for one group may not work for another, and build individualized paths for each. In Total Market, there is one general market approach: cultural and/or ethnic elements layered throughout but no distinctly defined target toward only those specific groups. This approach is becoming especially dominant in mainstream campaigns for big brands, in which they are looking to make a singular splash rather than several diverse ripples across communities.
When you start to view things from a Total Market approach, the assumptions you make about consumers come in broader strokes and are thus more likely to miss the mark. A clear example is within the LGBTQ community: If you try to market simply to that community as a whole, or “total market”—ie, treating all LGBTQ consumers as “one”—you’ll likely run into problems. It’s evident simply in the acronym’s number of letters it takes to represent the diversity of voices within that often-assumed singular community. Demographic profiling tells us that simply male-identified and female-identified LGBTQ people have different media consumption trends, distinct social-media sharing habits, and disparate concerns when it comes to their spending, community, and activities. While they share some common bonds, gay men and lesbian women are different segments, with particular needs. Taking into further consideration the differences between individuals who identify as transgender, bisexual, genderqueer, and asexual, again, the Total Market approach becomes less about understanding the market and more about painting it in the most uniform way possible. Envision now lumping together all that disparity with a true Total Market campaign, and see how the concerns and cultures of the LGBTQ space become further marginalized.
Importantly, consumers want ideals and representations in marketing that appeal to them and with which they can personally identify. While Total Market in its correct form does not eliminate diversity in advertising, it does expect consumers to see a rainbow of representations and pick their own identifying marker, or use one specific example as a peg for many. Take, for example, Wells Fargo’s recent heartwarming advertisement about financial planning and adoption that followed two lesbian mothers as they prepare to adopt a hearing-impaired child. This was not advertising targeted only at lesbian mothers, but asked all audiences to see themselves in these people, and many did. However, when companies run ads that feature minority segments, like LGBTQ individuals or interracial relationships, they often face a backlash. Honeymaid’s “Wholesome Family” campaign took flack for including such diversity, and the brand wisely responded by taking all the negative comments they received, printing them out, and creating a piece of art focused on love instead of hate. The fear of backlash should by no means suggest that companies bend to the worst common denominator of their audience and pull back. It only suggests that if brands fall too hard for Total Market, they might forget to celebrate the true differences of each consumer segment. In truth, the idea of diversity in the broadest forms of marketing should not be some new approach that supplants the concept of Multicultural marketing. Diversity should simply exist, without having to call it by a new name. Our country’s changing demographics and eventual shift to an increasingly dominant Hispanic population should speak to the fact that the old “normal” has a time limit.
A substantial stumbling block for Total Market campaigns might not come down to the consumers taking in the messaging, but unintentional blunders by agencies trying to produce a “blended” approach that misses the mark. The agencies with a true grasp of marketing to multicultural audiences have built specializations that assure brands that they understand, for example, the difference between speaking to European Hispanics and Latinos, and all the cultural implications therein. Multicultural marketing done right won’t accidentally prescribe Dominican values on a Puerto Rican family. It understands that bisexual consumers are not necessarily the same as lesbian consumers. It’s this nuance that builds loyalty to a brand, and—let’s face it—loyalty is the ultimate goal.
If the Total Market strategy charges ahead and leaves Multicultural marketing in the dust, it’s very likely that a lot of prized consumers will be left there as well.