How to Reach African-American Consumers

While some brands have done a good job in reaching African-American consumers, others have a lot of room for improvement. Cynthia Perkins-Roberts, vice president of diversity marketing and business development for the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, said there’s an opportunity for marketers to specifically target African-Americans via cultural insights that are “baked into” creative since the beginning and not implemented as an afterthought. Perkins-Roberts agreed with recent research that African-American households are growing in terms of education and income. She said half of African-American consumers are within the “heaviest consumer spending ages,” which represents another great opportunity for marketers. Excerpts from that conversation with Perkins-Roberts are below:
 
 
Brandweek: Should all marketers go out of their way to specifically target African-Americans? How?
Cynthia Perkins-Roberts:
As with all marketing, it is important for the client to assess if the demographic target is a fit for their product from a business perspective. That said, there may be some categories and brands that are not relevant to the African-American segment. When marketers are assessing the fit, though, they should be open-minded and look beyond their current consumers [to] learn about the African-American lifestyle.
 
In order for marketers with established recognizable brands to maximize the impact on the African-American consumer, it is important that campaigns have creative and a strategy that is relevant to the segment. This is best accomplished when the African-American component is “baked in” at the beginning and not added as an afterthought. This practice is happening increasingly, but unfortunately not often enough. That is not to say that general-market creative never works, but as with any marketing campaign, the goal is to motivate consumers to buy goods and services. Within the African-American segment that is best achieved when cultural insights are expressed via the creative and the advertising environment. 
 
BW: Which marketers are doing a good job addressing the demo right now? Why?
CPR:
Off the top of my head, I would say McDonald’s, State Farm, Ford, Allstate and Procter & Gamble brands like Tide, Crest and Olay. American Airlines and Coca-Cola seem to be accelerating their efforts as well. These marketers recognize the current market share and upside potential that the African-American segment can have on their bottom lines. They have committed dollars [to] the segment and have not only placed targeted television, radio and print ads, but have also come up with innovative strategies to reach [African-Americans].  Additionally, these marketers have successfully used their creative to show positive portrayals of African-Americans, while being both aspirational and inspirational.  
 
BW: Do you think many brands are wary of addressing black consumers because they’re afraid of getting it wrong and thus offending them?
CPR:
That may have been the case several years ago, but now there are too many examples of brands that have marketed to the segment successfully and reaped benefits for their efforts. Marketers who lack familiarity with the segment can align with talented agencies, researchers and consultants that can help them connect their brands with the black consumer.

 
BW: What are the biggest misconceptions about the African-American market?
CPR:
The misconceptions are:
• Because African-Americans speak English, cultural nuances or psychographics don’t exist or play a role in their marketing decisions;
• That general-market campaigns work just as well as targeted campaigns to motivate purchases;
• That African-Americans have low incomes and lifestyles that are often negatively portrayed in the media;
• That there is only one way to reach the black consumer [what is that one way?], so segmentation is not necessary;
• Failure to understand that the majority of African-Americans are bicultural, straddling two cultures–theirs and that of the mainstream U.S. society.
 
BW: Are many of the differences between the African-American market and the white market due to socio-economic factors? That is, does an African-American person making $200,000 a year have more in common with an African-American making 1/10 of that or a white American making the same amount?
CPR:
The African-American making $200K may have a similar appreciation for certain material things–education, clothes, homes, the arts, as the white American making the same amount, but there are important cultural, historical differences. First, one who makes that type of salary is mindful of the obstacles he’s had to overcome to get to and remain at that level. Second, African-American households at that level are the exception, with other family members (parents, siblings, cousins) often still living at a different level, linking the higher-earners to whence they came and reinforcing their culture, heritage and aspirational goals. 
 
BW: Do you expect any surprises in the 2010 Census related to African-Americans?
CPR:
I think we will be surprised to see what I consider the increasing  “development” or value of the African-American population segment. We know that there would be population increases (approx. 13.4%) surpassing the general-market growth, but I think we will all be surprised to see the jumps in educational attainment, income and the number of affluent African-American households. Another surprising fact will emerge, that almost half (47%) of African-American consumers are within the heaviest consumer spending ages of 18-49. The combination of the “spending age” and “more money to spend” represents great opportunities for marketers.
 
BW: Can you tell me about your new Web site and what you hope to achieve?
CPR:
ReachingBlackConsumers.com [which goes live in three weeks] is a website spearheaded by the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau in collaboration with over 25 companies including media, agencies, advertisers, research companies and marketing consultants to create a comprehensive source for the latest stats, insights, research, case studies and programming options for the black consumer. There’s been nothing like it before. Marketers are often hard-pressed to find data on this population segment and this seeks to help fill that void. My primary goal is elevate the conversation and to help marketers have enough information to at least begin to make informed decisions about “why?” and “how?” they can reach today’s black consumer.