Ethnic Marketers Spread 'Viral' Word

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LOS ANGELES -Viruses are bad for electronic-mail systems, but good for marketing-especially when you're infecting ethnic groups with enthusiasm about your product.

In fact, "viral" marketing may be the best means to reach foreign-born Americans, said executives at a recent ethnic marketing seminar here hosted by the International Channel.

The technique is one in which a marketer takes its message to targeted community events in the hopes that attendees then share that marketing information with each new contact they make.

Viral marketing gets some of the credit for the launch of niche networks in such markets as San Diego, where Cox Communications Inc. unveiled the International Channel's Filipino premium service at an event at the National City, Calif., Boys and Girls Club.

Marketing was "word of mouth" after that, said Cox San Diego vice president of new products Art Reynolds.

Asians are the fastest growing U.S. minority group and pack a great deal of buying punch, said Bill Imada, president and CEO of the marketing agency Imada Wong Communications Group. The nation's Asian population is expected to surge to 34.5 million by 2050 and now has an estimated $229 billion in purchasing clout, he noted.

Television is that group's preferred medium, and the majority of its members prefer advertising in their native language.

Because of these factors, Imada said he urges his clients to buy cable.

More advertisers are seeking audiences outside of the English-speaking population, Imada added.

After advertising trends hit the African American and Latino communities, he noted, they usually appear on the Asian marketing radar.

Among those advertisers ready to buy Asian-targeted programming are automobile manufacturers, Realtors, packaged-goods makers, fast-food restaurants and pharmaceutical firms, Imada said. Cable could attract such clients through local partnerships designed to help reach ethnic customers.

Federal agencies-whose foreign-language outreach efforts are mandated by law-are one of the greatest untapped resources, Imada said.

But though the potential is great, ethnic-targeted marketing still poses many challenges, speakers at the Feb. 13 seminar said.

Direct mail aimed at minority groups garners a greater average response rate than English-language mailings, executives said. But it's hard to buy or develop race-specific mailing lists.

That's where the "viral" strategy again comes into play. Event attendees can be asked to sign up for raffles, for example, to begin building a mailing list.

International Channel representatives said their Web site has served as a strong tool in this area. Non-English speakers check the site for program notes and volunteer information about their heritage.

Paula Dowd, vice president of marketing for AT&T Broadband in Los Angeles, noted the importance of a good mailing list.

Once an operator brings in an ethnic customer, it still must serve them. Dowd and Cox's Reynolds both said their companies hire a workforce that reflect their communities.

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