Why Brands Should Move Away From Total Market Mindset

For decades, brands have struggled to find ways to reach multicultural audiences. Initially, the most popular strategy was to separate the “general market” from the “multicultural market” — in other words, to advertise differently to white consumers than to Hispanics, African Americans, or Asian Americans.

Several years ago, this approach began to fall out of favor, and was replaced by what’s known as the “total market approach.” However, remarkably few brands seem to fully understand what this strategy entails, and have instead used it as a justification for continuing to underspend on advertising that appeals to multicultural audiences.

According to the Cultural Marketing Council (formerly known as AHAA), a trade organization that represents Hispanics in the marketing, communications, and media industries, a total market approach “proactively integrates diverse segment considerations... through the entire strategic process and execution, with the goal of enhancing value and growth effectiveness.”



In other words, instead of focusing on the general market first and figuring out how to tweak those messages to appeal to multicultural audiences, a total market approach is meant to force companies to think about those audiences from the get-go.

As the Council notes, this approach “could lead to either one fully integrated cross-cultural approach, individual segment approaches,” or both — provided that everything is the result of one overall strategic vision.

While this is an admirable mindset to have, the reality is that very few brands use the concept of total market in this way. Instead, many have focused on the total market because they think it frees them from having to pay attention to multicultural audiences, which in turn often means that brands end up forgetting about those audiences entirely, and ignoring a group of valuable consumers.

Or, as the chief Hispanic marketing strategist for Walton Isaacson, Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, put it, “In these cases, total market has really been more like a sugar substitute: all the taste of inclusiveness but only half the involvement.”

Part of the issue is that, by developing an overarching strategy for an audience in its entirety, brands spend less time thinking about the nuances of each individual segment. For instance, a product like Coca-Cola might be popular among people of different ethnic backgrounds, but the ways in which they consume the product, as well as the advertising messages that they respond best to, might be vastly different. And because they make up a smaller proportion of Coca-Cola drinkers, marketers might feel that these groups merit less consideration.

These same brands have the benefit of working with knowledgeable professionals who understand what their audience likes and how best to appeal to them. Not only will that Hispanic-focused agency be able to come up with campaigns that pique Hispanics’ interests, they’ll also know which channels those campaigns will perform best on, as well as where to place advertisements in order to generate the most engagement.

They’ll know that Hispanic audiences are especially attached to their mobile phones, and that simply translating a campaign into Spanish isn’t going to win any brand-new customers.

The appeal of the total market approach is clear. In addition to being cheaper, it allows brands to seem like they’re paying attention to diversity. However, it's clear at this point that this approach is making it more difficult for marketers to reach multicultural customers, since brands no longer have access to rich insights and audience-specific expertise to help build their strategy. Taking a total market approach is not a substitute for understanding your audience, and brands need to understand that.

1 comment about "Why Brands Should Move Away From Total Market Mindset".
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  1. Ford Kanzler from Marketing/PR Savvy, August 9, 2019 at 5:10 p.m.

    Valuable and insightful article! Suggest brands can also make improvements to employee experience to improve the bottom line as well as the CX. While too often ignored by bean-counters, this holds for both consumer and B2B marketers.

    The point that brands should, "focus on providing top-notch customer service while investing in innovation," plays into having "top-notch" customer service people, trained, motivated and empowered to effectively and creatively handle customer relations problems.

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