Asian Americans are wealthy, healthy and wise and they spend a lot on expensive ties. But marketers who want to reach this 5% (and growing fast) of the U.S. population would do well to avoid General Tso chicken syndrome. Actually, who invented General Tso’s chicken? I don’t know. And most Chinese Americans, I will wager, have no more of an idea about that than do I. In fact, most Chinese in China don’t know. Was he the Silk Road's answer to Colonel Sanders? Incidentally, someone does care enough about this to have made a documentary.
That said, I bet a lot of marketers advertising to Chinese Americans think lots of them know exactly who actually invented General Tso’s chicken. I bet marketers are probably thinking a lot harder about Asian-ness than Asians are, and are probably getting it wrong.
On Wednesday night I went to New York-based Gravity Media to hear a presentation on the Asian American market, it's opportunities and finger traps for marketers. “It's segment marketing by another name,” said Gravity strategist Larry Moskowitz. He told me that marketing to Asian Americans should be integral, not separate, from what brands are already doing.
Take younger consumers: “Trend setters, willing to try new things. They don't go to malls; everything gets delivered at home. Not so different from other young people. And that's what we are trying to convey to the marketplace.” In other words, Asian Americans are not a different kind of affluent consumer. They are the affluent consumer.
“When you talk about how you say it, the 'what you say' is not changing. We aren't changing your brand because we are talking to immigrants,” said Moskowitz. “People make the mistake of starting with cultural cues.” He showed some pretty strong examples of how stupid marketers can be about this. One set of slides show ads in China, which are pretty much like ads in the U.S., save for the language. World-class creative. Cut to U.S. ads for Chinese Americans. They look like a parody of someone's idea of Chinatown storefront ads.
I think that's the message: assuming your creative strategy is strong, squared away, and aligned with what your brand is about, think about what Woody Allen used to say, “80% of life is showing up.” I think it was Woody Allen who said that. And the great thing in this case is that the return on investment is immense. One stat: a one-week TV ad rotation in primetime general market is $800,000. A two-month comprehensive Asian market plan is $250,000. That includes 30-second rotation on the top-three in-language networks, full-page ads in the top three titles, billboards in the top two DMAs, and digital display. For the price of one week on prime time, you can hit the Asian market for half a year, comprehensively, per Moskowitz’ stats. He said that there are now over 1,000 outlets, whether TV, print, digital, radio, or out-of-home, for Asian Americans, and it's growing. “This media has increased by over 1,000% from 1999 to 2013.”
And the return part of the ROI? “If you are after American consumers who are educated and rich, targeting Asians is akin to fishing in a barrel, it's a huge concentration of wealth,” he said. There are twice as many Asian Americans in the top 5% of household income as non-Asian Americans. And they over-index for everything a premium-product marketer has on their shelves: 601,000 have AmEx Platinum cards, meaning, when applied to ratio of cardholder haves versus have-nots among Asian Americans, that demographic over-indexes for that product against non-Hispanic white Americans by 100%. Their houses are bigger and more expensive. Burberry? They index 100% more for the brand than do non-Hispanic whites, based on a ratio of people who buy the brand versus those who don't.
When I was leaving, I overheard a bit of elevator conversation between two luxury brand marketers who had attended the event. “Did you hear what he said about the message to Asian Americans being the same as for anyone else? What do you think about that?” “What I'm thinking about is why I never thought about it.” That's double unhappiness.