Diversity is a Form of Innovation

Salvador Acevedo
Connecting with customers through their cultural identity

While there has been much talk about the demographic changes we are experiencing in the country and how brands should respond to those, there is not enough talk about how to do it.

We understand that the market has evolved and that the so-called “minorities” are not so anymore, to the point that we are now talking about “total market”, “new mainstream”, or “polyculturalism.” But what do all these concepts mean when what you are trying to do is to understand what the customer wants? How those terms apply when we are in front of José or Xian Ling?

At Scansion one of the things we’ve learned is that asking the customer to pick sides is a form of betrayal to their own identities. For example, we often times hear from acculturated Hispanics that they are not half Mexican and half American, as much as they are 100% American and 100% Mexican. Does this sound confusing? Maybe so, but this is one of the most common answers we get from these people when we inquire about their cultural identity. These are customers that feel a deep connection to the traditions of their cultural backgrounds, but at the same time are as immersed in a modern life as everybody else. They might be speaking Spanish in one moment and an accent-less English the next one. And these are customers who will roll their eyes when they see marketing campaigns targeted to the stereotypes of their own cultural groups (another ad with an “abuelita”?, really?)

So, the question then is: how do we create solutions that speak to the complexity of these customers? We know that people’s identities are complex, and most importantly, they are not static. There is a constant evolution that makes them a moving target, but there are always elements to their identities that are stable, even though the behaviors associated with them might change. We call them cultural values, and they serve a twofold purpose: on one hand they are a tool for people to find guidance in an environment that is culturally diverse (e.g. fully American/modern at work and fully Mexican/traditional at home), and on the other hand these values provide a sense of belonging to a certain group which shapes their own identities (e.g. Chinese American, Queer, Millennial, etc.)

Any innovation strategy that fails to recognize the increasing diversity of the marketplace is not complete, but the challenge is in connecting with a market that is in constant evolution. By focusing on what people deem most valuable and what gives them identity, we are able to understand the kind of meaningful experiences they want: duty, community, harmony, creation, etc. We call these experiences in demand because those are experiences that people proactively seek. They are the concrete expressions of abstract ideals, and we can design experiences that allow people to get specific meanings out of them. By focusing on designing experiences that resonate with the cultural values of people’s identities, we are showing the customer we understand them at a deeper level. We are actually building a relationship that exists beyond the thin surface of cultural traditions and/or stereotypes.

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