Marketing To Asian Identity, Not Assumptions

America is often described as a “melting pot” of different nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures. Much to the dismay of Teddy Roosevelt (who in a 1916 speech noted “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism”), Americans have perfected naming each ethnic group within our borders distinctly, and those names have evolved. 

For example, we dove into the names by which Hispanics prefer to identify. Responses ranged from “Latino/Latina” to country of origin, to the hotly debated yet emerging term “Latinx.” 

We see a similar pattern among Black Americans, who do not identify with labels such as “African American” despite its use in the U.S. Census, media, and other databases.

But what about the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S.: Asians? As with Hispanics, marketing to Asians must be nuanced because of the complexity of their demographics. Hispanic audiences span 20 countries of origin. Similarly, Asians in the U.S. hail from over 40 countries of origin and do not share a common language. 



In fact, there are dozens of Asian languages spoken within the Asian diaspora in the U.S. It’s fair to say that Asians living here are not a homogenous group.

So how do they prefer to be described? We asked a representative sample of 100 Asian respondents the following question: “Which of these names do you prefer that others use to describe you, personally?”

Overall, it is a statistical tie between Asian and Asian American, at 34% and 32% respectively. Twelve percent say “country of origin,” while 9% say “American."

History tells us that the term Asian American reportedly first appeared in 1968 on the University of California Berkeley campus in response to racial injustice and the Vietnam War. The word took time to catch on, even within Asian communities, and didn’t appear on the U.S. Census until 1980.  

Conversely, there has been much discussion about who is considered a person of color (POC). Collectively, Asians do not prefer that term. In the study, only 1% of respondents were in favor of being referred to as a person of color.  

Millennials are most likely to identify with the term Asian American. Forty-five percent of millennials prefer this term, in contrast to their Gen Z peers at 23%. At 18%, Gen Z has a statistically significant preference for referring to themselves as “hyphenated Americans”(country of origin + American). Only 5% of millennials and Gen X share that perspective.

Why is this relevant? Recent events have put the importance of identity in headlines and social feeds. Ongoing conversations about race and ethnicity that once took place in micro-communities have gone mainstream. And Asians in the U.S., especially younger and more “woke” demographics, are joining those conversations.  

For marketers, Asians may be the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S. But knowing that does little for your marketing campaigns if you address them as “A” and they expect “B.” 

Take the time to research this multifaceted audience so you understand the cultural values shaping their identity. Doing so could be the difference between winning or losing with this consumer group.

3 comments about "Marketing To Asian Identity, Not Assumptions".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, October 6, 2020 at 8:32 p.m.

    I've never understood the phrase "person of colour".   One can only assume that it is racial myopia by the 'colourless'.

  2. PJ Lehrer from NYU, October 12, 2020 at 9:42 a.m.

    A few years ago a student cheerfully told me that she was an "ABC" - i.e. an American born Chinese.  I'm wondering if that option was even included in the reaserch.

  3. Mario Carrasco from ThinkNow, October 12, 2020 at 2:23 p.m.

    Hi PJ, we didn't include that term specifically but we did include country of origin + American, which is close to what you are referring to. 

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