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Generalizing the New Mainstream

November 8, 2011

– By Marta Insua | VP of Strategic Insights –

The new mainstream is more diverse than ever, and the debate on non-Hispanic Whites becoming a minority after 2050 motivates us all. And yes, this is the United States of America, but it’s the 21st century United States.  Old categories like “melting pot” and “assimilation” have no use in understanding this new reality.

Amazing times are coming up, whether we call these new consumers a part of a chicken soup, or salad bowl or mosaic. How is multicultural America going to behave? How siloed? Or how integrated? And how collaborative?

Since we will never go back to the melting pot, it would be good to remember why that model wouldn’t work in our century. It was based on the concept of a common denominator that neutralizes differences and comes up with efficiencies. Back then, cultural relevance and emotional resonance were not considered good business when dealing with minorities. However, many businesses have been thriving by acknowledging the differences and becoming experts at getting rid of standardized templates. Leading with ethnic insights has lead McDonald’s to an incredible 101 consecutive months of positive system-wide comparable sales growth, with Hispanics and African Americans over-indexing the “General Market.” Given results such as these, how could one argue that ethnic insights as a driver for business are not the way to go?

Business results everywhere show that relying on cultural specialists helps grow the bottom line. To use a not very original medical analogy, if I had a heart problem, I’d rather have a great cardiologist that can understand the bigger body system taking care of me, than a very good PCP looking at my heart from a generalist’s distance. Hispanic, African American, Asian American experts must be sitting at the same table with “General Market” experts. Collaboration and dialogue are key, but working for the greater good when P&L’s are competing against each other can be very hard. However, it’s worth exploring new ways, learning from successes and failures, inventing and re-inventing transcultural models.

Because in this new world, only by facing the complex path head on will we get consumers to notice our work and enrich our clients’ bottom lines.

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