Why A Successful Multicultural Strategy Needs to be Built as a Growth Strategy

A bank produces Chinese language advertisements for Chinese New Year, and their approach is to promote existing products using Chinese zodiac imagery and traditional themes of “luck” and “happiness.” This superficial communication does very little to foster a community connection.

A grocery chain promotes halal chicken, a Muslim product to coincide with the celebration of Vaisakhi (a Sikh and Hindu religious holiday) – completely unaware that Sikhism prohibits the consumption of halal meat. This fundamental cultural misunderstanding undermines customer connection and has a negative brand impact.

These missteps are the result of taking a shallow marketing frame to the “multicultural strategy” instead of understanding that this is a massive growth channel that needs to be built and invested in accordingly.

Currently, approximately 22% of the Canadian population (about eight million people) report being or having been an immigrant or permanent resident. Almost 30% identify as non-white. Multicultural populations are the majority in Canada’s largest cities. And by 2036, over one in three Canadians will belong to a visible minority group. These demographic trends show the urgency with which Canadian businesses and brands need to successfully engage newcomers and multicultural communities in order to sustain their growth. To do this effectively, brand strategy must be much more nuanced and sophisticated than in the past, focused on building deep and genuine relationships.

The idea that “people are buying from us today, so let’s use the same products/services and messaging with multicultural customers” is a dated belief that damages business. It is still common to see a business’ multicultural strategy shaped by superficial marketing adjustments such as translated websites or advertisements. The reason why this doesn’t work — beyond potential misinterpretations when directly translating words — is that the messaging and offerings easily fail to connect with the customer because they haven’t been adapted to reflect unique motivations and behaviours that are the result of being brought up in a different culture.

Newcomers and multicultural communities are a powerful and untapped growth channel for businesses across sectors and industries.

Here’s what organizations hoping to leverage the incredible client and customer opportunity they represent should understand.


Take an organizationally holistic approach

A brand is not just a market-facing identity, but rather, it represents the entire business system. This means that an organization’s brand promise filters through all aspects of the business.

A multicultural strategy should similarly be thought of as a lens applied to an organization’s overall strategy so that it positions the company for growth by tapping into and engaging with multicultural segments. A multicultural strategy should not be a standalone strategy but instead a core component of the overall growth strategy of the business.

To optimize its impact, a multicultural growth strategy must play a role within the overall brand and guide how each component of the company’s internal business system (from sales, HR, IT, to culture) operates, in addition to its market-facing components (e.g., logo, advertising, products and services).

This will improve the firm’s bottom line and help connect with new customers and growth avenues. The leadership team needs to embrace multiculturalism and adopt a multicultural strategic ideology regarded as a positive asset throughout their entire organization. This, in turn, will transform how each component of the business operates to address this growing market.

Factor in the settlement journey

Common misstep businesses make when creating a multicultural and newcomer strategy is to view a different culture or immigrant group simply as a single segment or break the market into standard demographic cuts like age or income level.

Neither is ideal.

Far better is to consider the various “settlement stages” that individuals go through as they enter a new country, each of which shapes their needs, motivations, and behaviours.

They include pre-immigration, planning (deciding to immigrate), landing (living in Canada for under six months), settlement (from six months to two years), and maturity – living in Canada for more than two years. Understanding these stages enables organizations to develop strategies based on customer needs and associated touchpoints across the settlement journey.

When we talk about multicultural customers, it is essential to note that we don’t limit the definition of “multicultural” to newcomers; families continue to identify with and maintain connections with their home countries and cultures even generations after immigration. The journey does not end after an immigrant has settled; their cultural background will always stay with them and influence the way they make decisions. This frame makes it important to go deeper and develop more detailed journeys for the specific segments being targeted.

Uncovering unique communications channels

When businesses take a more nuanced view to settlement stages, the customer engagement and touchpoint opportunities that surface are organic to their preferences, behaviours, and communities.

The mapping of touchpoints across different settlement stages also informs how businesses can engage with customers before they arrive in the country – for instance, through partnerships and community engagement initiatives in the home country. Insights into this dimension can help organizations serve their customers through the entire pre-immigration, landing, and settlement stages and become the “go-to” product and service provider upon their arrival.

For instance, when looking for business advice, financial products, or investments, new immigrants usually lean towards trusted resources within their community, such as real estate and life insurance brokers, close friends, family members, and community leaders. Engaging with these community influencers can become a particularly effective communication channel.

Develop new competencies and adapt their products

In line with the company’s vision, it is important to develop value propositions that focus on serving multiple cultures and align with its core brand DNA. This keeps the organization accountable for delivering a consistent brand promise to its target customers and sustaining its new strategy across all cultures. For instance, Canada Goose added Fusion Fit as a sizing option for its jackets, specifically designed to better fit the average body frame of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese consumers. Similarly, Tim Hortons significantly developed its brand loyalty within the Chinese-Canadian community and then tactically leveraged cross-border word of mouth to help launch and position its highly successful expansion into Shanghai and China.

Without a deeply rooted understanding of multicultural beliefs and behaviours, companies risk their future growth. Building this growth channel requires a genuine understanding of what matters to different customers when doing business across cultures, countries, and ethnic groups. Worse yet, without this investment in cultural knowledge, they may make significant cultural mistakes that can permanently hurt their reputation and brand.

To create meaningful impact and truly win over multicultural customers, an organization must embed multicultural thinking into multiple facets of the business and ultimately deliver an experience that reflects the needs of these customers.

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