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Seattle Marketing Summit & The Latest Cultural Trends – Conclusion of our Valeria Piaggio Interview

Posted by Vanessa Vachet | 10.09.15


Seattle Multicultural Marketing Summit: Conclusion of our 2-Part Interview with Valeria Piaggio!

Seattle Multicultural Marketing Summit: Conclusion of our 2-Part Interview with Valeria Piaggio!


At QEQ, we keep up to date on any new trends, and research, especially when it comes to multicultural consumers. That’s why we love to have our contributors weigh in on the latest marketing debates. Last week, QEQ’s blogger spoke with Valeria Piaggio, Vice President and Head of PolyCultural Insights at the U.S-based research and consulting firm, The Futures Company.


Valeria was a key speaker at this year’s Multicultural Marketing Summit in Seattle, and like QEQ, she believes there’s great value in cultural research, especially when it comes to today’s ‘polycultural’ consumer. What’s that you say? Polycultural consumer? If you missed it, find out more by reading Part 1 of Valeria’s interview.


Valeria Piaggio is the VP  and Head of PolyCultural Insights at The Futures Company

Valeria Piaggio is the VP and Head of PolyCultural Insights at The Futures Company


Valeria, when we last left you, you introduced us to some new marketing concepts, which were featured at this year’s summit. You identified a new trend in multicultural marketing, the Polycultural Consumer. Can you tell us: What is your advice to companies who want to engage this type of market?


“My first piece of advice is to ‘get smart’,” she says. “Develop what we call cultural intelligence. Know what you’re getting into, not only to avoid trouble, but also to make the right and relevant connections within the cultural communities you wish to reach.”


In your opinion, where’s a good place to start?


“Start with your own work culture. Create a diverse work force,” she advises, “and then listen to those diverse voices. Make sure that everyone is invited to the table, along with the decision-making people. Develop that diversity, that multifaceted perspective, first at home, then learn about the consumer.”


How do you learn more about multicultural or polycultural consumers?


“Make sure you’re using the right people and the right experts to ‘get smart’,” cautions Valeria. “Think about your strategy, and tap into the expertise of cross-cultural agencies that know how to execute campaigns.”


Like QEQ, wink wink…


“Yes,” she says. “Ethnic agencies have the expertise that’s needed. Then,” she advises, “be brave (See more about being ‘culturally brave’ in our last blog). And even if there is a backlash, (which, sometimes, there can be) you should have a strategy in place,” she says, “and you should stand behind it.”


“The other really important thing is to allocate the right investment,” Valeria adds. “Unfortunately, the investment that companies are willing to make is usually not in line with the size of ethnic markets. And sometimes, it comes down to more than population numbers.”


What do you mean? Are numbers not important?


Valeria stresses that numbers do count, but adds a caveat: “In the U.S, the ethnic segments are about 30% of the total population, but they act as if they were way above that number. You have to understand the real dimensions of a group. Even in each business category, you have to understand the participation of those groups within that category. For example, if you look at food and beverage in the U.S, you better look at ethnic groups, because they are the ones buying, they are the ones having big families and they are the ones with young children.”


We’re curious. What are other marketing trends you’ve observed in the past few years?


“What we’re seeing is that people are receptive to diversity,” Valeria explains, “but we have to create a framework to understand how consumers self-identify and how they relate to culture.”


We agree, and QEQ has its own unique method of acquiring ‘cultural intel’, which includes years of demographic research and insights gleaned from day-to-day interactions with cultural communities. But for marketers who might be new to the multicultural consumer, how can they identify someone’s cultural preferences?


Valeria tells us the first variable to examine is cultural attachment, which means, how connected is the consumer to the culture they came from? “It includes those things that were part of their early experiences and what they were born into,” Valeria explains.


Then, the other question we need to ask: Is this person culturally open? “How open are they to diverse cultures?” Valeria explains. “How much do they engage in these other cultures; with people of a different race or ethnicity?”


“The interesting thing to note is in the intersection of those two variables,” Valeria stresses. “They work together. For example, you can be monocultural, which means, someone can feel connected to their heritage, but not very open to anything outside of it.  Or, you could have the opposite. Someone could feel disconnected to their own cultural heritage, but yet, they embrace diversity and regularly engage with other cultures.”


“But, even with those two mindsets,” she says, “there is cultural openness. What we see in our own data is that over 50% of U.S. consumers are ‘highly culturally open’. And in the last 3-4 years, these numbers are trending even above 50%, especially as diversity in our culture increases.”


What about 3rd and 4th generation immigrants? At QEQ, we’ve noticed some intriguing trends that are unique to those cultural segments. In your opinion, where do they fall on the ‘cultural openness’ scale?


“Having grown up in a polycultural environment, in a diverse classroom and work environment, they are usually quite open to culture,” responds Valeria. “And when you have a very diverse society, which is the case for Canada, you see an interesting phenomenon: When people learn about other cultures, they have more interest in their own. It’s called retro-acculturation, which is going back to your roots.”


Ah, yes. In Canada, we’ve noticed that phenomenon. What do you see in the U.S.? What form does this retro-acculturation take?


“It can involve many things, learning about your parent’s heritage, or even taking a trip to your ancestral home,” Valeria explains. “And retro-acculturation is actually very interesting and fascinating because it’s a departure from the old way of thinking. For instance, in America, with immigrant populations, people often assume that after 5 -10 years people learn English and adjust to society. Then businesses say ‘they’re reachable by English-language communications now, so we don’t need to do anything different’.


That’s a problem in Canada as well. Businesses don’t see a need to engage immigrant consumers in different ways once they’ve ‘acclimatised’ to their new country.


“But marketers need to know it doesn’t happen that way,” Valeria points out. “People really want to keep their culture, and so, you need to speak to them in different ways. It’s not a language issue. It’s a cultural issue.”


It’s true. Often language is blamed as the cause of the ‘cultural gap’ between businesses and multicultural consumers. But, many times, it’s cultural understanding that is lacking.


What about multicultural marketing agencies like QEQ? Can we help businesses gain the cultural insights they need?


“Yes and we actually need those ethnic insights,” Valeria stresses. “Right from the beginning. Those insights can then be incorporated into research, into strategy and then into application.”


So, ethnic agencies, like QEQ, would use their expertise to develop strategy for these campaigns?


“In some cases,” she tells us, “it would actually make more sense to have, for example, an African-American or Asian-American agency leading the initiative. That’s because, if you look at the composition and the demographics of those areas of the U.S., that’s where the majority of the population resides.”


Are corporations getting this message, that ethnic expertise is required?


“I think there are a few leaders, but for the most part, businesses are lagging behind, especially given the demographics we’re seeing. It’s a combination of fear and resistance. And not taking risks.”


Can you give us examples of companies that have been successful with ethnic consumers? 


“I can name you a few,” Valeria answers. “For example, Toyota has created the ‘Total Toyota’ initiative to go with the total market approach. This was a strategic move on their part. They invited all their ethnic agencies and marketers to gather and asked them to collaborate, without caring where the insight or ‘aha moment’ came from.”


That’s a great example! We love that one too! What about another one?


“Another example I can give you is the NBA,” Valeria responds. “The NBA identified that Hispanics and African-Americans were the main driving engines within the franchise. They were the ones buying the tickets for the games, buying the merchandise and so they needed a strong focus on ethnic consumers. So, they came up with a new idea. For example, for the Hispanic fan, a whole new rebranding was needed. They did research, and that’s how they identified that Hispanic fans were watching the games in English, but maybe reading sports articles in Spanish. So now, the NBA website has both types of content, in Spanish and English, because that’s actually how media is consumed.”


“They also did another thing that was very colour brave,” Valeria adds. She refers to the NBA created ‘Hispanic Night’, which is part of the NBA’s larger initiative called ‘éne•bé•a’ (eh-nay-bay-ah), which is part of a comprehensive initiative to grow the game of basketball throughout the expanding U.S. Hispanic market.


“On ‘Hispanic Night,” says Valeria, “they showed the names of the teams in both English and Spanish (they even named the teams after Spanish words that were often used within the Hispanic community). They also featured a Mexican-American boy singing the national anthem.”


“But,” she says, “there was a huge backlash. On social media, and online, there were very racist comments made regarding this boy and the fact that he was Latino. And, as a marketer, when you see a backlash, your first reaction is to stop [the campaign]. But, the NBA didn’t. They brought the kid back the next day, with no apologies. Actually, what they did is they created a commercial celebrating their Hispanic view, calling for an end to all the stereotypes about people of Hispanic heritage. It was a very powerful message and the bravery they showed was amazing.”  


That is amazing! And that’s why we love speaking to our colleagues across the border. We hear some truly inspirational stories! And hopefully, through this interview with Valeria Piaggio, we’ve inspired corporations and business owners, on both sides of the border, to take some risks and be more ‘culture brave’!




Images Courtesy of Corbis RF and Valeria Piaggio