George Mason UniversitySchool of Business

The Power of 8: Eight Elements to Address When Researching Multicultural Audiences

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All research is not created equal. Research can validate or disprove our marketing and communications assumptions. Done correctly, it can uncover the actionable audience insights that serve as the foundation for killer business solutions.

Here are 8 elements of a research program you should always take into account when planning and executing an effort with culturally diverse audiences:

1. Methodology matters: In 2010, the Pew Research Center analyzed pre-election surveys and found that “support for Republican candidates was significantly higher in samples based only on landlines than in dual frame samples that combined landline and cell phone interviews.” The analysis goes on to show that Hispanics and African Americans comprise a larger portion of duals reached on their cell phone rather than their landline. If pollsters only dialed random landline numbers to gauge national interest, the Hispanic and African American populations would have been underrepresented, and the “insights” gained from the research would likely have been skewed.

2. Screen soundly – Hispanics can be Jewish, White, Black, Arab and more. They can be from the U.S. or from Central or South America. some may be native Spanish speakers while others may barely be able to say “hola.” They may be fully acculturated to life in the U.S., or be new immigrants just learning and adapting to the U.S. culture. And the variations can go on. Bottom line, know who you need to talk to in order to get to the insights you are looking for.

Might a from a small town in El Salvador newly arrived to Washington, DC have a different perspective on public transportation compared to a NYC born Puerto Rican? It’s quite possible that despite both being Hispanics, their different experiences may very much influence their perspectives - and that’s important to take into account when screening people so that your results are now inadvertently skewed.

3. Moderators make a difference – Selecting a moderator who understands the cultural nuances and non-verbal cues given by individuals from diverse cultures is vital. Those nuances could be in the colloquialisms used, the body language or even the subtle and unspoken sense of hierarchies that may exist within a focus group of people from the same country. Moderators who understand the cultural perspective of groups will also take into account the cultural dimensions of individualism versus collectivism, which can directly impact how people respond to questions. Dutch researcher Geert Hofstede noted that people from Indonesia and West Africa rank toward the collective side of responsibility and reward, whereas individuals from the U.S. and Britain fall on the individualism side.

Also, while the moderator's gender may not matter for some focus groups, male chauvinism is a reality in some cultures. Utilizing a female moderator for a group of men from a male chauvinistic culture may result in a situation where the group is not comfortable or willing to share their true feelings/perceptions about the topic at hand, simply because of the gender divide. Choose the “wrong” moderator and you’ve wasted your money.

4. Craft questions carefully – Words and images matter, particularly when you are conducting research with people from other cultures. If you were interviewing recently immigrated Latinos to a metropolitan area and you wanted to find out about their perceptions on public transportation, you’d have to decide which word to use for bus depending on where the person was from: autobús, guagua, colectivo, micro, buseta, and the list goes on. Use “guagua” with someone from Chile and they’ll think your talking about a baby. Or say you are interested in introducing a new soft-drink and you want to understand how people might prefer to consume it – either with a straw or directly out of a bottle. Say the word “pitillo” to a Colombian and they’ll understand that you are talking about a straw. A Spaniard, on the other hand, will be wondering why you are referring to cigarettes. Others would be expecting to hear the word “paja.” But be careful, the word “paja” to some means masturbation.

Consider using back translation or a collaborative translation approach when creating moderator guides and developing messaging that you want tested.

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Favio Martinez, an adjunct professor of marketing at the School of Business at George Mason University, is passionate about helping organizations meet business objectives by focusing on the audiences that brands need to connect with in a culturally relevant manner. For 15+ years, he has worked with U.S. domestic and international private and public sector organizations, leading marketing and communications programs for the Army National Guard, College Parents of America, Discovery Channel, NCLR (National Council of La Raza), the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) among others. A native Atlantan of Colombian parents, Favio loves sweet tea and a Bandeja Paisa. He currently heads marketing and branding efforts for the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) in Washington, DC where he lives with his wife and two young children.