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Seattle Multicultural Marketing Summit 2015, Part 3: Interview with Valeria Piaggio

Posted by Vanessa Vachet | 09.30.15


Seattle's Multicultural Marketing Summit: Part 1 of our Interview with Valeria Piaggio!

Seattle’s Multicultural Marketing Summit: Part 1 of our Interview with Valeria Piaggio!


It’s Part 3 of our extended series on the Seattle Multicultural Marketing Summit . We have an exciting interview with one of the summit’s key presenters: Valeria Piaggio, Vice President and Head of PolyCultural Insights at the U.S -based research and consulting firm, The Futures Company. She weighs in on the theme of this year’s marketing summit: “CREATING THE NEW MULTICULTURAL MARKETING PARADIGM” and also talks about polyculturalism, bravery, ethnic markets and the need for new terminology…


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, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with QEQ. Can you tell us about your presentation at the Seattle summit? What were some of your main findings?


“We have been talking a lot about paradigm shifts,” explains Valeria. “In the past, you had a culture that was dominated by white, Anglo-Saxon values, but now there’s been a huge demographic shift in the U.S. and we’re reaching a tipping point in our work, our relationships, in our communication, where we watch TV, everything. What has emerged is what we now call ‘polyculturalism’, where there is coexistence, interconnectivity, and also some fusion of different cultures.”


What is the difference between multiculturalism and polyculturalism?


“If you look in the dictionary, the definitions are often the same. The problem is, when you look at the term ‘multicultural’, there are certain associations that people have with that term. And these associations have to do with isolating ethnic groups and dealing with them separately, apart from what we call the ‘general market’. When it comes to polyculturalism,” Valeria tells us, “it’s more how individual consumers choose their identity and that can mean that they embrace many different cultures. It evolved from the notion that we are moving towards a majority-minority society and it’s everywhere. Many areas of the U.S. are already a majority-minority. That’s why we felt we needed to find a term that more accurately reflects the newer generations and what they want.”


Tell us more about Polyculturalism. How does it affect today’s marketers?


“What is so interesting, at least for marketers, is that studies have shown, polycuturalism is the driving force in  consumer trends. And this is because it has all these exciting cultures to draw from. You have the chance to basically take it all in and innovate. But, there’s also a darker side to it. When there is a tipping point like this, you will also find a lot of racial tension. Social issues can be exacerbated and there can be a huge divide in society. But, without this shadow, polyculturalism can be capitalised and can be used as an opportunity to be colour brave, as opposed to colour blind



That’s an interesting term. What do you mean by ‘colour brave’?


Valeria explains, “What we mean by ‘colour brave’ is acknowledging that there are race problems in the country, but that there are also equal opportunities to take a stand. Instead of looking to the other side, or being colour blind, we can work towards change.”



Why should businesses take a stand and be colour brave?


“A lot of people would rather talk about a society that is colour blind. We would like to see no problems, but the reality is there are gigantic problems, and that mentality doesn’t help solve them. But, companies can take a position, they can be colour brave.”


It can involve a conversation about race and ethnicity, “but also things like LGBT issues and same-sex marriage,” explains Valeria. “And different brands are taking on different social causes with varying results. Whether that’s gender parity or LGBT life, or immigrant issues, consumers want to know what a company believes. What are their values? And whether they’re going to validate that with their own consumption and their own money. Basically, is your brand worth my money?”


Valeria notes that technology has also had a hand in pushing these social issues to the forefront. “Social media has also made it easy to voice whatever opinion you want, so there’s more dialogue over these issues. There are also many venues for venting negative feedback,” She admits. “But, based on our own U.S. data, people were asked if they appreciate diversity or not, and 70 – 75% of consumers think that’s one of the things that makes America fun. So, the majority of people are respectful of diversity.”


So, how do we understand and engage today’s diverse and polycultural consumer?


“You need to really understand who they are,” advises Valeria. “You need to understand their cultural orientation. Some people don’t even connect with culture. Some people are very monocultural.  But, the majority of people want to craft a cultural identity and they want to celebrate it in one way or another. And that actually defines how you engage with them as marketers. Some people are going to be more receptive to specific messages that have to do with their personal culture. Others are going to be more appreciative of what is called a ‘total market strategy‘. So, depending on who your customer base is, that understanding has to be key.”


What is the most exciting aspect of this new age of ‘polycultural marketing’?


“There’s an opportunity to create hyper-personalised messages, to craft a very precise experience for the consumer,” explains Valeria. “A message that talks to a target demographic, to their preferences, to their language preferences, even where they are, you know, geolocation. To create a very precise message in the right space and at the right time.”


What is Valeria’s advice to companies or marketers who want to embrace the polycultural philosophy? Stay tuned for the juicy bits, including the debate on total market vs. niche market, fascinating cultural insights and Valeria’s best practices and marketing tips.

Look for the exciting conclusion of our 2-part interview!


A QEQ Perspective – Alisa Choi Darcy:


“In Canada, we also face similar racial tensions. Though Canadians encourage people to retain their heritage, or cultures of origin (versus the ‘melting pot’ philosophy that predominates in the U.S.), Chinese and South Asian-only neighbourhoods and enclaves still exist. They result in social isolation and sometimes they even becomes targets for ignorant behaviour. Therefore, I challenge organizations in Canada to be ‘colour brave’ by addressing these issues in their corporate brand marketing.”



Images Courtesy of Valeria Piaggio and Corbis RF Images