Defining Cross-culturalism

I’ve discussed how Corporate America is “moving multicultural out of the silos.” Marketplace dynamics are clumsily driving this shift in the form of the total market approach, as brands look to stay relevant and grow in the increasingly minority-majority reality of Millennial and Gen Z populations. There is another factor underpinning the change in multicultural strategies by major marketers: an understanding that culture no longer exists in silos according to ethnicity. 

Why another definition

There are two major reasons why cultural marketers need a new approach and model beyond general market, multicultural and total market, all of which fall short in meaningful ways. The first reason is limitations of the acculturation model. Consumers of different ethnic backgrounds, who are not immigrants, not only acculturate seamlessly, but also embrace multiple cultures, including cultures outside their ethnic background. The Futures Company articulated this with their “polyculturalism” model describing and measuring the extent to which consumers balance multiple cultures. The overly simplistic acculturation model, which serves as the foundation for traditional multicultural marketing, is increasingly irrelevant for native-born Hispanics and Asians. It inaccurately describes a one-directional and linear move from un-acculturated to acculturated. 



The second reason is that current definitions for general market, multicultural and total market don’t account fully for the changed circumstances and realities of today’s multicultural experience. While not entirely invalid, existing definitions are not designed for today’s highly diverse consumer-driven landscape. They are not consumer-centric as an approach so much as classifications for convenience sake:

Defining Cross-Culturalism

Cross-Cultural: the ability for one brand to cross over from one culture to another.

This definition builds upon the previously introduced idea of crossing over. This new definition is a work in progress and describes a dynamic that existed long before the discussion began. However, the discussion has gravitated towards arguing about how to define and frame the multicultural conversation for marketing purposes. Cross-culturalism is less a definition but a working model for measuring the age-old dynamic. In that sense, it is forward-looking and organic.

This definition of cross-culturalism speaks to how we all relate with brands and culture in the real world. For instance, each of us likely identifies with a culture yet we come across or interact with many cultures daily. More importantly, we make consumer choices influenced by cultures outside our own. It explains how non-Hispanic whites end up using Huy Fong Srirachi as a condiment on hot dogs.

None of us lives in a cultural box. We are in motion just like brands are today. This is the natural way we experience culture. A brand can hop from one culture to the next without dilution or losing its way.

Cross-cultural Propensity and Potential

Our hope is to apply this working definition as a means of measuring the cross-cultural dynamic, which we call a brand’s cross-cultural prosperity. One of the first ways this model can be applied is to understand a brand’s cross-cultural Propensity and Potential. Propensity measures the degree to which a brand could cross over or not. This approach does not co-opt existing models, but adds to them by exploring how and why not what. Potential is a diagnostic to understand how to get a brand from point A to a cross-cultural point B. 

By introducing cross-culturalism, we are introducing a measurement for brands to understand their meaning and relationship in a changing landscape.

2 comments about "Defining Cross-culturalism".
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  1. Jose Villa from Sensis, May 2, 2016 at 5:54 p.m.

    This article was cowritten with my Sensis colleague, Director of Strategic Planning, Delmus Credle

  2. Marife Mendez from Next Step Marketing, May 11, 2016 at 4:54 p.m.

    Very interesting article, I agree in great part with the new vision of cross-cultirism. Being a Puertorrican residing in Miami for 13 years I can of see this behavior here in South Florida.  Could you elaborate a little more on Propensity and Potential?

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