Applying 'Total Market' to Digital

Do a Google search for “total market approach” and you’ll quickly see that this relatively new marketing concept continues to generate buzz, excitement and confusion within the U.S. marketing world. There are at least three different associations putting out “official” definitions; countless other organizations articulating best practices; and a great deal of experimentation taking place within organizations and out in the market in terms of advertising efforts. As marketers in the U.S. continue to debate the opportunities, challenges and overall validity of the “total market approach,” digital is the one key element missing from the discussion.

While digital is mentioned, it’s very much an afterthought when it comes to total market strategies. Whenever “total marketers” talk digital, they fall short focusing on the overly simplistic “over index”: data showing the Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian and other ethnic groups over-index on ownership of devices and use of digital – including social – media. In fact, when dissecting the total market approach and looking into implementation, the focus continues to be on TV and other forms of traditional advertising.



Digital is arguably the most disruptive trend in marketing over the last 15 years. It introduced a new ecosystem of platforms and tools to engage users and changed the relationship structure between brands and consumers. Digital has introduced a seismic shift in how marketers approach customers, from broadcasting one-way, self-serving messages to passive consumers to engaging users with participatory, interactive and useful content, applications and experiences. How can digital being missing from the total market discussion?

Multicultural marketers have been notoriously slow to adapt to and understand digital. This was originally a result of the ethnic consumer digital divide that existed in the 1990s. This digital divide persisted on the multicultural agency and marketer side, even after ethnic consumers rapidly embraced digital devices and media. The other reason is the complicated relationship between digital and multicultural marketing. On one hand, digital ad technology has created unprecedented new opportunities to cost-effectively target audiences based on a whole host of demographic dimensions, including ethnicity. Similarly the emergence of large ethnic social communities such as Black Twitter provide opportunities to engage with ethnic influencers at a scale impossible with traditional outreach. This has increased the relevancy of targeted multicultural marketing in the digital age.

However, the “post-click” digital experiences (websites, e-commerce, social platforms, digital content, etc.) created by brands do not lend themselves well to traditional ethnic segmentation. This is where the “multicultural” approach has failed digitally. For example, most Spanish/Hispanic website strategies have failed because English is the official language of the Web, even for Spanish-dominant Hispanics.

The same holds true for Asian audiences. Most ethnic-specific e-commerce plays have failed to gain traction, because the personalization technology used by the likes of Amazon has rendered old school “ethnic” targeted websites obsolete. Creating distinct ethnic social media platforms for brands with a “Latino” or other ethnic extensions are confusing, disjointed, and face limited scale potential.

Which brings us back to the question of applying the total market approach digitally? The confluence of demographic population trends and digital disruption indicates an integrated, cross-cultural market approach will work best online. The POEM (Paid, Owned and Earned media) model provides a useful structure to think about how to apply Total Market strategies digitally:

In essence, a hybrid approach across the three areas of digital media makes the most sense. Marketers should continue to use an ethnic-specific multicultural approach for leveraging digital paid media and earned media to target and pull in Hispanic, African-America, and Asian consumers. However, the experience, content, and functionality these paid digital advertising and earned social impressions drive to should be developed using a cross-cultural model.

2 comments about "Applying 'Total Market' to Digital".
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  1. Eduardo Gonzalez from, October 2, 2014 at 10:38 a.m.

    Very interesting Jose, this could be a good model to follow when targeting the very diverse college age population. Will keep this in mind.

  2. Jose Villa from Sensis, October 2, 2014 at 2:17 p.m.

    Hi Tasha,

    The cross-cultural model I refer to is addressed in a previous article:

    Cross-Cultural Marketing = one marketing program that leverages ethnic markets to reach across ethnic and general markets. This is the approach I'm advocating for websites, social media communities/platforms, and digital content (owned media).

    Currently, most brand websites, social media communities and digital content are developed with with ethnic audiences as an after-though (or disregarded completely) or as separate and distinct multicultural destinations (e.g.

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