There have been a lot of pronouncements about the role of race in America today. Post-racial, cross-cultural, transcultural… everyone seems to be an expert with a new buzzword these days. When you look deeper, though, you see that their expertise is based on assumptions around the Census and quantitative research. Unlike others, we’re not assuming anything.
We’ve actually talked face-to-face with thousands of African Americans in communities across the country. We’ve been in their homes and cars. We’ve looked in their cupboards, medicine cabinets and closets. We’ve looked at their smart phones and DVRs. We see things that others don’t and talk to people that others don’t.
From our unmatched, in-depth involvement with the Black community, we believe that there are four myths that drive cross-cultural theory:
• MYTH: Race doesn’t matter, especially among younger African Americans.
• FACT: The vast majority of African Americans of all ages are more proud of their background and more connected to their culture than ever before. They do not aspire to live in a color-blind society. It is demonstrated in how they interact with the world and are conscious about how the world interacts with them.
• MYTH: Being open to other cultures diminishes the importance of being Black.
• FACT: African Americans who are the most open to other cultures – food, fashion, music – are also the most grounded in Black culture and values. It is their confidence in self and community that leads to openness to new thinking.
• MYTH: It’s enough to understand and communicate “universal values” and similarities.
• FACT: “Universal values” are lived uniquely by different cultures. Core values, like family, spirituality and community have unique, distinct meanings for African Americans. When these differences are not recognized or understood, it becomes difficult to truly connect brands with consumers on an emotional level and it’s much easier to go in the wrong direction.
• MYTH: Cross-culturalism is a new idea that leads to stronger connections.
• FACT: This is just a re-packaging of the same one-size fits all approach that has been used for as long as there has been marketing. However, studies continue to show that work developed from a real, culturally-relevant insight works harder. And when we look at experiences that require action – buy, read, record, save – targeted options rise to the top.
If you really want to connect with this target, you need to invest in the target. There are no short cuts – it takes a true expert eye. No marketer would trust an agency that relied solely on observation and secondary quantitative for general market, so why is that good enough for African Americans?