Catering to a Growing Minority

Published: May 28, 2009

In posts centering on topics ranging from baseball success to Big Three failure, my colleagues and I have urged business executives and aspiring leaders—in terms both implicit and blunt—to recognize and embrace the power of trend recognition. We cannot overstate the importance of this: Billy Beane’s where he is for a reason, and, for that matter, so is Rick Wagoner. With exceptions, executives with a finger—nay, fingers—on the pulse of their market will generally remain competitive and, thus, hang onto their jobs. Executives who don’t stay current and lack the ability to adapt will soon find themselves filing for unemployment. And on that note, today’s lesson: Capturing your minority consumer market.


Commerce Department officials announced last month that the nation’s GDP fell more during the third quarter than at any time since the Internet bubble shriveled; logically, a precipitous drop in consumer spending is largely responsible. And yes, economists seem to agree that the fourth quarter numbers will be worse. But hope springs eternal: As George Carlin famously observed, “buying things” continues to serve as “the only true lasting American value that’s left.” In other words, consumption will inevitably bounce back, and when it does, America’s corporate illuminati should continue to tailor their products and marketing to an evolving marketplace.


Aside from recession-induced financial realities—rising unemployment and fear of layoffs tend to tighten wallets—a key element shaping today’s marketing and product development landscape is the nation’s blossoming segment of non-white consumers. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by the year 2042, today’s minorities will actually compose the majority of a growing population; these are consumers to whom you will increasingly market your product. This is no closely guarded secret—witness Miller Brewing Co.’s lime-flavored Miller Chill, rolled out last year, and McDonald’s bilingual website, launched at the turn of the millennium.


Granted, companies have been scaling back their advertising budgets as economic downturn became full-blown recession, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t scrutinize and refine your company’s approach as you ride out the storm. Savvy marketing execs act upon emerging trends and attempt to anticipate demographics shifts before they’re fully realized—and the slumping consumer marketplace provides a prime opportunity to do just this.


Look for crossover potential in your products; if you find it, develop your marketing and revise your approach to ad placement to capitalize upon this when spending rebounds. Leading C-levels whose current customer base comprises a sizeable percentage of non-whites have long since targeted those markets. If you haven’t begun to consider such campaigns, you may be missing out on a promising source of future sales growth.


These are challenging days where innovative, freeform thinking is essential to survival (who hasn’t been asked by a boss to “do more with less” at this point?). Use this time to make sure your house is clean—so that when consumers do return, you’re positioned to appeal to them in a way you never have. In broader terms, despair not—there are many ways to strengthen your business model even as your bottom line bends.