For the first time, a brand development agency that specializes in cross-cultural marketing is bringing the following message to suppliers and advertisers of alcohol who think minority populations shed their social and cultural identities when purchasing premium products: You're wrong.
In response to a belief that most high-end beer, wine and spirits brands promote themselves in a way that's far too color-blind, WPP’s Geometry, a commercial marketing agency, has partnered with the cultural insights research agency Think Now to survey more than 1,000 Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans and LGBTQ+ individuals living in the U.S. to find out what influences their purchasing decisions. They discovered that background does, in fact, heavily impact their shopping behaviors.
"Contrary to the popular belief that higher-income multicultural consumers tend to behave indistinguishably from non-Hispanic white consumers, our research showed that the higher the income, the more likely diverse consumers are to view and express their cultural background as a cornerstone of their identity," says Mafê Villas Boas, vice president of strategy for Geometry.
For instance, almost 60% of high-income African-Americans (with high-income across all cohorts defined as an annual household income of at least $75,000) and 27% of high-income Asian-Americans report that culture comprises the most important aspect of their identity, versus half of lower-income African-Americans and one quarter of lower-income Asian-Americans.
According to the study, "Across all multicultural cohorts, higher-income consumers tended to agree more with the statement: 'I choose alcohol brands that reflect my ethnic background.'"
This translates to Hispanics consuming the most premium beer, Asians drinking the most premium wine and non-Hispanic whites and blacks sipping the most premium spirits (we may have the myriad spirit-owning African-American celebs like Sean Combs to thank for that).
While all segments choose the term “quality” to principally define what they consider premium, the study found that "culture strongly influences the nuances that define premium for each."
Villas Boas, who identifies as a queer Latina from Brazil, says those results make sense to her. Generally, she says, Asian cultures tend to value hard work and mastery, while Hispanics live in tight-knit families and communities and would logically appreciate something that differentiates them from the crowd.
Regarding African-Americans, she says, "Through our qualitative research we found out that African-Americans buy premium alcohol to drink mostly at home as a way to unwind. Given the historical context and current social/political scenario this makes sense, as home is a safe, no judgement space for Black individuals."
Buying power within the LGBTQ+ population trend higher than average. So it follows that with an everyday ability to buy premium, an individual in this sector would see a large price tag as a sign of luxury. As for buying expensive presents for friends, people in and allied with the community say that in an historically non-accepting (yet mercifully evolving) society, LGBTQ+ individuals sometimes create family from friendships.
"With that," says Lauren Longenecker, senior brand manager for Stoli Vodka, which has supported LGBTQ+ causes since 1991, "occasions are very important and the community likes to celebrate with their chosen families. Additionally, with increasing acceptance, there are many that celebrate annual milestones – such as birthdays and anniversaries – with both family and friends."
Through its dedicated LGBTQ+ brand ambassador, partnership with the Harvey Milk Foundation and other activities, Stoli models a widely approved approach to ingratiating itself into a too-often overlooked segment of the market. Though Stoli focuses most on this one category, its actions can and should be adopted by other brands seeking to reach other non-traditional targets.
"It’s important for brands to engage directly with their audience. It’s no longer enough to show up at a Pride festival or LGBTQ event and simply slap your logo on the wall. We’re on the ground, talking to our audience and showing time and again that we are a staunch ally to the community," she says.
Companies can continue to neglect minorities at their own risk. With all multicultural groups growing faster than non-Hispanic whites (Census 2017) and having a impressive combined spending power of $3.2 trillion (Nielsen 2018), they won't remain minorities for long.