How My Bicultural Identity Helped Me Balance My Dual Life as a Marketer and Consumer

It gave me a unique perspective to navigate between the two

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Marketers today are arguably better equipped than previous generations, with the data, tools and technology to create richer experiences than ever before. And yet many of us face the same challenges.

Ninety-one percent of consumers find ads more intrusive today than two to three years ago, and 65% of people don’t remember the ads they see on social media. Even within marketing, 75% of CMOs are neutral or negative about their ability to understand shifting customer behavior.

We’re struggling to connect with audiences because we still view them as consumers and not as people. This won’t change unless we go beyond the articles, case studies and reports we’ve grown accustomed to.

My experience growing up Asian-American has granted me a unique perspective around navigating in and out of different worlds and what it means to be both a recipient and instigator of culture. Here’s how I’ve applied that experience to my journeys within advertising.

Stand out to inspire others

As marketers, we’re all dual citizens: There’s the world that we work in as professionals and the world that we inhabit as consumers.

One of the most common observations about Asian culture is that the collective is often prioritized above the individual. This was my experience. I was raised not to stick out, and early on in my career, I did everything I could to blend in. But the more our industry has struggled with diversity over the years, the more I’ve realized that simply going with the flow likely doesn’t do anybody any good.

Our industry isn’t powered by fitting in. Furthermore, standing out isn’t about shameless self-promotion; in its best form, it’s about illuminating the lives around you, empowering them to become the best version of themselves.

Our most powerful work doesn’t just celebrate individual voices, but more importantly, it uses those voices to inspire the birth of new ones. Always’ iconic “Like a Girl” campaign garnered high praise when it first launched, but its deeper impact is felt in the movement it sparked on behalf of young girls that continues in the form of P&G’s corporate initiatives.

Make your own path

Many immigrant parents forego lives of familiarity in favor of greater opportunities for their children. Logically, then, when a child ventures beyond the “safe” career options of medicine, engineering or finance, those same parents might fear that their efforts have been for naught. They’ve risked their future only for their child to roll the dice again.

A similar tension exists in marketing. The problem with heralded case studies like Oreo’s famed “Dunk in the Dark” tweet is that these have become templates, rather than just best practices. Many brands jockey to recreate their own Super Bowl “Oreo moment” every year, despite knowing full well the original moment can never be replicated.

There’s value in tradition, but marketers should strive to push beyond it rather than simply emulate it. For example, although it’s been controversial in the past for brands to take a stand on sensitive topics, Colin Kaepernick’s sponsorship has garnered accolades for challenging the status quo and broadening the spheres in which brands belong.

Demonstrate empathy

The birth of my son two years ago shifted how I process my bicultural identity. Whereas I used to process everything through my own lens, I now make an effort to interpret things through his, as I’m curious how my experiences will shape his future. And while my first inclination is to tell him everything I know and give him all the answers, I have to remind myself that supporting his journey is more important than telling him what he needs to do.

As marketers, we’re trained to always have a strong point of view. However, the danger in this is that we can get so entrenched in our opinions that our perspective becomes the only one that matters to us. When this happens, we neglect consumers and inevitably get lost in the advertising echo chamber. Empathy is the strongest trait we have as marketers, as it bridges the gap between us and consumers, thereby creating more resonant work.

As marketers, we’re all dual citizens: There’s the world that we work in as professionals and the world that we inhabit as consumers. We operate in a unique forum that isn’t just an occupation but a pursuit to genuinely connect with society around us. Our industry has a special calling to enlighten, break barriers and bridge gaps. And as we consider the challenges we face today, it’s important to remember our greatest strengths often lies in our differences.