Relationships Are Hard. Why Brands Need to LISTEN before they TALK.

We want to be better listeners, so we took a swing at a new way to understand our diverse audience.

Whether it’s Nivea, Shea Moisture, or Pepsi, it’s overwhelmingly clear that brands have to do a better job actually understanding their audience before creating content designed to connect with them emotionally. The other factors at play — the rapidly changing demographic makeup of the consumer base, a politically charged environment and consumer empowerment through social media — make it that much more important to get it right.

In many cases, the team trying to reach the audience has never walked a day in their shoes, nor have they invested consistently in better understanding their consumers. If I want a successful relationship with my wife (and I do!), I need to make an effort to understand how she experiences the world as an ethnic minority. It’s a constant commitment, and that sense of commitment should be the same for brands.

So, how do you do better market analysis in a serious, respectful, and effective way? Well, you start with research, an open mind and being honest with yourself about what you don’t know.

I work at mitú, a digital media company that caters to a massive, cross-cultural audience whose demographic makeup will soon be the majority of youth in the United States. We are the leading digital media company dedicated to bringing an authentic Latino point of view to the mainstream media.

In my experience, I find that the industry often talks about the “bicultural consumer” without delving deeper into the self-identification of these consumers and understanding how they see themselves. Namely, marketers talk about bicultural consumers in either-or terms and get caught up in generalizations, rather than understanding the ability of many of these consumers to seamlessly embrace multiple identities and cultures. Ethnicity is too often assumed to be a monolithic “identifier,” rather than a lens through which one can experience their life and relationships. That’s what it means when we say we cater to an audience who is the 200% — 100% Latino and 100% American — because you can be both and one at the same time.

In essence, identities aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

Recently, mitú invested in a study that uses empirical analysis to shed light on bicultural consumers, entitled “Bidimensional Identity Measure: A New Scale to Measure Multigroup, Ethnic and American Identity in the U.S.” (“BIM”)

Of course, developing a metric-based approach to measure ethnicity, identity, and self-perception is no small task. It is not meant to boil down these multi-dimensional issues into just numbers, but to complement the conversation and help fill the lack of market research on this topic with new and useful insights. Data analysis also cannot replace or make-up for the lack of diversity in the workplace — it’s imperative that you have a team that has actually walked in your audience’s shoes.

The goal of the study was to try and develop a scale to help measure the complexity of today’s multicultural consumer. We did so by combining two existing scales, the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM), which measures self-identification with a specific ethnicity, and the American Identity Measure (AIM), which measures one’s self-identification as American.

Questions like “I have a strong sense of belonging to my own ethnic group,” help measure a consumer’s interest in their specific ethnic background (MEIM). Essentially, it helps measures curiosity regarding one’s ethnicity. Questions like “I feel good about being American” help capture one’s propensity to affirm their American identity (AIM).

Based on our premise that these identities are not mutually exclusive, we created a new variable, the Bidimensional Identity Measure (BIM), that attempts to measure the collective identity of multicultural consumers by combining the MEIM and the AIM, and then used it to analyze self-perception.

We found that African-Americans and Latinos both have high self-identification with their specific ethnicity. We also found that Latinos have a higher self-identification with being American, which is what we call “the 200%.” Asian-Americans, on the other hand, have lower relative self-identification with both their specific ethnicity and being American. Whites have a low self-identification with their ethnicity, and a high identification with being American.

Internal numbers from some of mitú’s videos can be analyzed using collective identity (BIM). For example, a parody of the ballroom scene from Beauty and the Beast — a well-known movie in American pop culture and, in turn, American identity — replaced Belle with a Latina in a bright yellow dress and the Beast with a Mariachi. The video reached over 30 million people, and over a quarter of a million shares. The content connects with Latino self-identification by combining the uniquely American Disney characters with inspiration from Latino culture — straddling the two identities while playing into both.

Collective identity analysis helps provide an empirical framework to analyze bicultural consumers beyond either-or analysis, but it is not meant to serve as a silver bullet. While this study is certainly not a definitive measure of self-identity, it can serve as a new way for marketers to draw insights about their audience. We also think the concept, applying empirical analysis to better understanding the collective identity of our rapidly diversifying youth, is exciting. But we recognize the complexity of this issue.

So, what do you think?

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