Last Updated: November 17, 2020

Fifty years ago, a company could be successful marketing only to WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), since they represented the majority of the consumer market. Eventually, some companies realized that the business potential of marketing to the African-American population as well, and several efforts at multicultural marketing were attempted—but a company could still experience success without it.

Today, however, the market is decidedly different. The American population has grown increasingly diverse, and if trends continue, today’s minority groups will actually make up the majority of the population some time around 2040. Thus, a “general market” strategy may already no longer be effective in some contexts, requiring professionals to diversify their marketing strategies.

What is diversity marketing?

Customers in different cultures have different values, experiences, expectations, and ways of interacting. Even within a culture, such differences will be apparent between different subgroups—not just ethnicity, but also age, gender, profession, religion, family size, physical environment, and more.

Diversity marketing involves acknowledging that marketing and advertising must offer alternative ways of communicating to these diverse groups. With that knowledge, diversity marketers aim to develop a mix of different communication methods, in order to reach people in each of the diverse groups present in the market. (See also Multichannel Marketing)

Who implements diversity marketing?

Currently, diversity marketing is employed by any business seeking to reach new customers in different racial, ethnic, cultural, or social groups. It is particularly important when interacting with the global marketplace, as audiences in different countries rarely respond to the same message in the same way. Meanwhile, as the domestic market becomes more diverse, more companies are adopting diversity marketing tactics—and the question may soon become, who isn’t engaged in diversity marketing? The following companies have successfully used diversity marketing to reach into new demographic markets:

  • McDonald’s has done extensive market research on ethnic perspectives, and how such insights impact mainstream communication. Their “I’m Loving It” campaign is one well-known product of their investment.
  • Proctor and Gamble has invested a great deal in the black community, and commercials for products such as Tide, Oil of Olay, and Pantene regularly feature black families (and fathers, particularly) that resonate with African-American consumers.
  • Target similarly has released commercials that show black families according to their own values and ideals, as opposed to stereotypical or pop-cultural depictions.
  • Saturn has reached out to the LGBT market, sponsoring LGBT events and developing advertising specific to that community (“Does your ride reflect your pride?”) that resonate with its values.
  • Harley Davidson started marketing to women by creating classes to teach women to ride.
  • AT&T finds marketing to diverse racial and ethnic groups important enough to have an executive position (vice president of diverse markets) devoted entirely to such campaigns.

For what kinds of customers is diversity marketing effective?

The major consumer groups currently reached through diversity marketing include Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and the LGBT community.

Components of Diversity Marketing

  • In-culture: the marketing must relate to the group’s cultural values, ideals and perceptions
  • In-language: this involves not merely translation, but also interpretation, and may also involve change in visual as well as auditory communication
  • In-person: so more to invest in and interact socially with customers and their communities

African-Americans were the first group identified as requiring a different marketing approach. In contrast, Asian-Americans have been historically lumped into the “general market” category, as they were supposed to have been more acculturated and not that different from whites. Only recently have marketers been using diversity approaches to Asian-Americans, who as a population tend to be more educated, have higher incomes, make more technology purchases, and participate more in social media.

Hispanics currently represent the fastest-growing of these populations, and now outnumber African-Americans in the U.S. market. However, they do not represent a single consumer group. Spanish-speaking first-generation immigrants, for example, respond differently to advertising messages than their bilingual and English-speaking children. Additionally, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, and various other subgroups (including White Hispanics) differ from one another; so any diversity marketing towards Hispanics must actually be further diversified into smaller component markets.

The LGBT community may be a small segment—perhaps five to seven percent of the general market—but communication among members contributes to high returns in terms of referrals and loyalty purchases. Difference in family structure affect their buying patterns; also, those in this demographic tend to have more disposable income than do consumers with large families.

How is a diversity marketing campaign developed?

Effective diversity marketing means adapting the message to the market, instead of trying to adapt the market to the message. A poor attempt to reach diverse customers would be to develop an ad campaign first, and then try to tack on a multicultural aspect (for instance, by using the exact same advertising, only with pictures of African-American or Hispanic individuals). The effective diversity campaign starts with the multicultural context in mind. Market research is done on the target consumers—not just their buying habits, but their values, ideals, perceptions, and methods of communication. Today’s diverse consumer base is fairly advertising-savvy; they can spot the difference between an authentic message and a copy-pasted message with a new color palette.

Marketing teams don’t absolutely need members of every ethnic group, but nonetheless should be actively recruiting talent from diverse perspectives. Too often, a group of like-minded individuals can decide that an ad campaign looks good to them—without considering if it would look good to other audiences critical to the success of their product. Marketers must test advertising methods in focus groups and small trial runs to collect information about how cultural groups react to their efforts.(See also Market Research Interviewer)

As a diversity campaign is developed, the profile of the target audience should also develop, and further diversify. Again, Hispanics are composed of many different subgroups. Similarly, there are many differences within black communities—they are not just a single, like-minded market group.

Contact with, and investment in, the targeted communities is an important component of a diversity marketing strategy. Such activity does more than simply establish a reputation or mindshare in the target group—it also connects the business to community leaders, and gives them more context for communication methods and expectations. Working alongside individuals inside the community enhances the credibility of the business. In contrast, working without their input is likely to result in misdirected and/or ignored messages.

What career titles work with diversity marketing strategies?

Director of Multicultural Marketing

What do they do?

What type of salary should I expect?

  • Director, Multicultural Marketing
    Median annual pay: $116,010
    Top earners: $187,199+
  • Market Research Analyst
    Median annual pay: $60,570
    Top earners: $111,440+
  • Public Relations Manager
    Median annual pay: $52,090
    Top earners: $95,200+

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012

  • initiate, plan, and supervise campaigns directed at new market groups
  • work with communities and individual leaders within target groups to open communication channels and develop relationships between the business and the social group
  • ensure that marketing messages are consistent with the values, ideals, and perceptions of the target group, and are perceived as being authentic representations
  • work with other teams, such as product development, advising them about the target group


Education and Skills

As with other marketing managers, multicultural marketing directors must have at least a bachelor’s degree, often in marketing or advertising, perhaps with a minor in communications or cultural anthropology. Previous success in their industry, including prior success with managing groups, will also position marketers to take the next step to the director level. Education preparing them for this career includes classes in marketing, market research, statistics, and cultural anthropology.

Market Research Analyst

What do they do?
  • use a variety of methods, such as interviews and focus groups, to gather data on their respective customers’ perceptions, values, ideals, and communications channels
  • analyze data, employing statistical methods and software
  • identify what messages are likely to appeal to different social groups, as well as those that are likely to be ignored or provoke a negative response
  • present findings to their organization, in order to gain approval and funding for future marketing initiatives
Education and Skills

Market research analysts need at least a bachelor’s degree in market research, or a related field such as statistics or computer science. Some background in cultural anthropology background is also a decided plus. Analysts usually complete an internship while in school; they may gain additional experience through non-intern employment at jobs which require report writing and/or data collection.

Public Relations Manager

What do they do?
  • write press releases regarding community investments, and otherwise promote their company’s involvement in new markets and communities
  • draft speeches for executives, and provide talking points consistent with each particular audience being addressed
  • identify different social groups’ information channels, and focus advertising in those areas
  • interact with local media, and respond to information requests from different social groups
Education and Skills

Public relations managers usually need at least a bachelor’s degree in public relations or communications, and often with a minor in advertising, business management, or marketing. Their work experience often begins with an internship, then moves on to supporting more experienced staff members. Necessary skills include excellent writing ability, and understanding both public and organizational communications. These skills, too, can be developed over the course of your marketing studies.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Diversity marketing is fundamentally about communicating with people who aren’t like you—and who aren’t like you in a variety of ways. Many marketing programs, therefore, emphasize courses in communication, and also equip students to practice and develop communication and presentation skills. The practice and feedback you receive in an effective marketing program will prepare you to connect with a wide variety of diverse audiences, and teach you how to adapt your messages according to their responses.

A good marketing program will also teach you how to acquire and analyze meaningful data, using a variety of research methods and analysis (See also Analytical Marketing). Because you’re adapting your message to a variety of demographics, this data will be critical. Your marketing program will include classes in business, accounting, sales, statistics, and computer science; these courses and others will equip you to collect data about new and diverse markets, and make recommendations supported by such data.

To learn more about what a marketing school can do for you, request information from schools with degrees in marketing—and perhaps select one that is itself successful at attracting a diverse student base.