Our Industry Is Finally Addressing The Multicultural Brand Gap: Why The Next Critical Step Is Machine Learning & Cultural Fluency

David Wellisch
Oct 10 · 3 min read

America is undergoing an unprecedented demographic change. While less than half the population is now multicultural, in the last ten years almost 100% of the population growth and 75% of the expenditure growth has been driven by multicultural consumers. According to our projections at Collage Group, by 2060, the non-Hispanic white population in the US will have decreased from 61% to 44%, while the Hispanic population will make up almost 30% of the country — almost 110MM people.

But these distant projections do not reflect the fact that we are already living through a dramatic transformation that is not just demographic but cultural. A rich, exciting “new wave” of American consumers is now breaking, releasing unprecedented and unpredictable forces driven by diverse, intersecting and transforming cultural identities — the likes of which have never been seen before.

Yet, Corporate America still struggles to best engage consumers in this complex landscape. In the last decade, major consumer brands have dealt with the rising impact of multicultural audiences by swinging dramatically — and sometimes confusingly — from ethnic specific strategies, to one-size-fits-all approaches like Total Market or Polyculturalism.

Success has proven elusive, revealing a big gap between what our society is experiencing, what audiences want, and how brands are reacting (or not reacting). Meanwhile the momentum within this New Wave only continues to increase, leaving many marketing organizations scrambling for new thinking. At worst, organizations repeatedly use the same old techniques, ultimately leading to lackluster results.

This is why it’s so exciting to see a proliferation of initiatives now focused on addressing this critical problem, from all across the advertising and marketing ecosystem. Organizations are launching new movements that are pushing our entire industry forward: from AIMM’s #seeALL campaign, announced just last week, and Group M’s alliance with major media brands to reflect the importance of multicultural audiences; to the L’Attitude conference, which is “helping enlightened executives understand The New Mainstream Economy and the U.S. Latino cohort that is driving it;” to Claudia Romo Edelman’s “We Are All Humanmovement, which seeks to drive diversity and inclusion through research.

The gap is real, and the upside is compelling. One question we must ask is, Why the gap? Given that the demographic trends have been well known for a decade or more, why are we still struggling with lackluster results? Why are we using old models in this new America?

First, some background. In our research looking at what’s working and what’s not, we have found that winning brands no longer look at demographics in isolation or devolve to some mythic unitary idea of multicultural America. Instead, successful campaigns are now being created around a new imperative to become culturally fluent. This means deeply understanding the attributes of cultural variation (like “exceptionalism” and “anxiety,” for example) to build a roadmap that helps effectively and authentically speak to these diverse segments in ways that drive critical marketing outcomes, like purchase intent.

How do brands arrive at cultural fluency? Thanks to sophisticated technological advances, like machine learning and facial expression tracking, we can now identify attributes of cultural variation. These insights are critical to winning today’s American consumer. Brands that are unable to achieve cultural fluency in the next five years will likely fail to thrive.

Collage Group helps top brands achieve cultural fluency by deploying new analytical frameworks, leveraging new technologies, and collecting proprietary sets of data and insights. Armed with these cutting edge approaches, brands are in a position to consistently and authentically win with this new wave of consumers, for the greatest return on marketing investment.

Our passionate team of subject matter experts, quantitative analysts, strategists and ethnographers, is committed to codifying culture so that our 200 member brands from across16 different industries can successfully master America’s cultural transformation.

The momentum is building and this is an exciting time for key players in our ecosystem to drive change together.

David Wellisch

Written by

CEO of Collage Group, a member-based consumer research and strategic advisory company. Former Founder of AOL Latino.