The Face of The Mainstream

June 4, 2010  |  

by Anton Polouektov

The modern business reality is in a state of flux.  Significant demographic and economic shifts are fundamentally changing every facet of business operations, from marketing strategies to production techniques.  Businesses are finding that they have to evolve to appeal to an increasingly broad, tech-savvy, and multicultural target demographic known collectively as “the mainstream.”

Marketers start with a basic inquiry:  Who makes up the mainstream?  From there, the questions multiply:  How do you market to them effectively? What sorts of products are likely to appeal to them?   What demographic trends are most likely to impact this group?  Each year industry leaders pour billions of dollars into research with the hopes of winning faithful consumers.

Enter Guy Garcia – multimedia and multiculturalism research expert, prominent journalist and critically acclaimed author of The New Mainstream: How the Multicultural Consumer Is Transforming American Business. Garcia’s work has been instrumental to the development of new marketing strategies for major corporations including AOL, Coca-Cola, and Time-Warner.   In this interview with The Atlanta Post, Mr. Garcia talked about the nature of the “New Mainstream,” its internal workings, multicultural roots, and impact on the marketing landscape and business at large.

Tell us a little about how you came to recognize that there was a new mainstream taking root in the US.

Working internationally for AOL [I saw] the interest of companies all over the world in the domestic and ethnic markets in the U.S.  Even though I’ve been aware of multicultural presences for a long time, this was new.  I’d never seen anything that really looked into the implications of the fact that, for example, Hispanics in the United States had now the equivalent buying power to the GDP of the third or fourth-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.

I realized that [this was] why they were so interested and this bled over into conversations in Japan about Asians in the United States.  Meanwhile you had big companies in Spain that were eyeing this market as well, coming in from Europe.  The more I looked into this the more I realized that there was already a change going on as marketers — and this was every[body] from media companies, entertainment companies to packaged goods companies to the health industry — were starting to get wind of this and mobilize to capture these new consumers because that was one of the most attractive and fastest-growing market segments around.

Aside from ethnic groups, who else is included in your definition of the new mainstream?

The “creative class” – these tend to be younger, more affluent, usually urban dwellers who are multicultural by interest.  By choice, they are xenophiles, rather than xenophobes, and so their relationship with this emerging majority of multicultural consumers is very symbiotic.

Now, the younger you go, the more this is true.  Already from age fifteen down, non-white people make up a majority.  This younger generation has much more recognition and acceptance of a multicultural, inter-cultural reality.  They see their identity as multidimensional.

Do you think that companies are justified in using the term mainstream to define an incredibly broad and diverse target demographic?

There’s one more piece of this that happened just in the last year or two – at Time Warner, they have People En Espanol, I founded AOL Latino when I was at AOL – these were brands that were designed and founded to target these emerging markets and tap their potentials and so forth. Time Warner discovered that not only was there an audience for People En Espanol, but 90% of the growth of People Magazine in English, their general market brand, is coming from Hispanic and multicultural consumers.

So now you have a double-pronged phenomenon going on here, so when you say “are they justified in even talking about a mainstream?”, any sense of a mainstream as it used to be defined is gone.  And all the numbers are pointing towards an increasingly new mainstream multicultural reality across business segments, across demographics and increasingly across geography.  Now, for the first time, the so-called minorities are close to or already make up more than half of the population in the suburbs, so the very definition of who these people are and how they behave is also changing.  At the same time, companies are struggling:  ‘What to do if Hispanics make up the bulk of the growth in my general market brand, not just my targeted multicultural brand?  How do they fit together?’  There’s a lot of interest in this.

Would you say that savvy businesses today are looking to stratify their business strategies, as far as attracting new consumers, rather than consolidate them into a single drive towards an elusive “mainstream?”

A lot of the research I’ve been involved in lately is trying to do both of those things. So I guess you could say it’s a much more three-dimensional view of how the marketplace operates. So if you’re targeting younger people, you’re going to have to have a much more multicultural perspective right from the get go and you’re going to have a lot more latitude in using Hispanics, Blacks and Asians in your ad campaigns.

There was a time not long ago when this was seen as a risky move, [but] when you talk about younger audiences, and urban audiences, which make up the majority of all Americans, it’s not risky — it’s an imperative.

For example, Sony is relaunching their entire brand around hi-definition televisions and they’re using soccer as one of the vehicles.  Increasingly they’re aware that they can reach a large chunk of multicultural consumers in the US, including a lot of Hispanics, creative class Americans that are getting hip to soccer, as well as a built-in global audience that’s already into soccer.   People are looking into connecting the dots.  As you move through different kinds of product lines, you’re going to have to adjust your view-finder.  You can’t just assume that you’re going to reach everybody with a single message, because the market is just too fragmented.

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