Nielsen’s Cheryl Grace on Brands and the Effectiveness of Multicultural Strategy in 2020

Two young people laughing atop a roof

According to The Marketing Insider, two key takeaways from the 2018 Multicultural Marketing and Diversity conference of the Association of National Advertisers were “growth cannot happen without addressing the multicultural population” and “multicultural must be integrated into core strategy, from inception to execution to measurement.”

Further, as Forbes reports in the 2019 online piece written by Isaac Mizrahi, “Seven Reasons Why Your Multicultural Marketing Plans Didn’t Work,” reaching is not connecting. “Most marketers believe that reaching multicultural consumers via sophisticated media plan is enough, but in reality, it does not necessarily mean that you’re actually connecting with these consumers since reaching someone does not mean you’re connecting with them, it only means an opportunity to see your ad,” he writes. 

In a recent conversation with Cheryl Grace, SVP of Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement at Nielsen, a global marketing research firm, we discussed the multicultural marketing factor in 2020 just as Nielsen’s CEO & Chief Diversity Officer David Kenny put out a statement on the company’s “commitment to fight racism with action.” 

“Because we measure everything,” Kenny said, “we have a unique perspective and can see the true richness that Black Americans bring to our culture and our economy. We now must speak out and be much more vocal advocates and allies to our brothers and sisters.”  

The statement, one of many statements released by corporate entities vowing to do better by Black populations on a range of topics from diversity in television programming to hiring practices to advertising, came on the heels of the death of George Floyd and the protests for racial justice that followed.     

Here, Grace sheds light on brands’ approach to multicultural marketing. Nielsen reports that in 2019, Black buying power in the U.S. was $1.4 trillion. It’s predicted that by 2024, that number will grow to $1.8 trillion. What can brands do to speak to the Black population when planning advertising and marketing efforts?

Cheryl Grace: The first thing they can do is make sure they are culturally authentic and relevant i.e. develop storylines for your spots and your advertising around culturally relevant African American storylines and not just plug in an African American to a generic storyline. We can generally tell the difference and we resonate more when we can see some element of our cultural reflected. How important is it for brands to have a multicultural strategy when it comes to the growth of the company?

Cheryl Grace: When it comes to brands in 2020, if you don’t have a multicultural strategy, you don’t have a strategy period. Here’s why: 92 percent of growth in the U.S. from the last 5 to 7 years has come from multicultural communities. Multicultural consumer segments and multicultural populations are younger than non-Hispanic white populations with more than 50 percent of the African American population is under the age of 35. That means that in the next 10 years, those individuals become homeowners and grow into loyal consumers and customers, and if you don’t have a strategy on how you’re reaching out and connecting with that consumer segment, chances are, you’re not going to be around in the next 20 years. When you reflect on 2019, are there any brands that come to mind that “got it right” on the subject of marketing creatively and appropriately to Black consumers?

Cheryl Grace: I would say Proctor & Gamble in 2019 when they released “The Look,” and the year or two before that when they released “The Talk.” That’s what I’m talking about when I specifically reference cultural nuances that resonate with us because there’s not a Black man alive who hasn’t received “the look,” and there’s not an African American family around who hasn’t had to have “the talk.” What are some best practices that brands can adhere to when launching multicultural campaigns?

Cheryl Grace: One of the reasons brands get it wrong is because they didn’t share it or bounce it off people who like the individuals in the ad. A best practice can be having a focus group, or utilizing your employee resource groups  because they have a vested interest in your brand getting it right. Share it with them, and be open and receptive to hearing what they have to say because so many people are uncomfortable in corporate America speaking our truth for fear of how it will be perceived and whether or not there’s going to be a backlash. A foundational best practice should be to start by empowering your internal voices so they can help you with those best practice strategies in launching  multicultural campaigns.

Brands should always have someone at the table who looks like the demographic they’re going after. It seems like a no-brainer, but in 2020 we’re still having to say: ‘You have to have people who look like the people you’re advertising to because they can give you nuanced experiences that are going to connect with the segment that you on your own won’t even know.’ That’s standard, and should be Marketing 101. Is social media an effective tool that brands and marketers can use to reach multicultural consumers in authentic ways? 

Cheryl Grace: It absolutely is, and I’ll go back to the youthfulness of our population. Because we tend to be younger than the non-Hispanic white population, we have more of an interest in social media platforms. These platforms are African Americans’ way of leveling the playing field, so we can get our views out there on social media in a way that we may not be able to get across on any other platform, definitely not general market news and general market platforms.

If you take a look at where, consider Instagram. 55 percent of Black adults who are 18 and over are on Instagram, so we over index on Instagram by 20 percent. The reason is that Instagram tends to attract younger audiences, and African Americans tend to be younger than non-Hispanic whites.

Consider Facebook:  We have Black adults 18 and over, 66 percent of Black adults 18 and over on FB however when you compare that to 70 percent of all adults we are 4 percent under and that has to do with the youthfulness. As my son always says, ‘When the parents get on one social media platform, it’s time for me to get off of it!’

On Twitter, we over index by 11 percent, which means that 37 percent of African  Americans 18 and over are on Twitter. We also over index, slightly, on Snapchat by 3 percent, and on Pinterest by 2 percent.

Black Twitter has become a phenomenon; even though we only over index by 11 percent, it has become the platform that even general market news tunes into to get the pulse on what’s going on in Black America.     

So, social media it is an effective tool because of the level aspects of the playing field. I can have my voice heard just as equally as anyone else, and even more so, on some of those platforms. How essential is it to have a diverse workforce at some of the nation’s top brands to ensure that these brands are marketing responsibly and thoughtfully to Black consumers and not take for granted our $1.4 trillion spending power? 

Cheryl Grace: It’s very essential to make sure you have people on your workforce who look like me, and that you have positive images of people who look like me. So, even if we’re talking about a reality show, are the images reflective on your platform positive images? I think that will become more and more important as things unfold following the social unrest we’ve seen in 2020.