THE BLOG

New Mainstream vs. Total Market: Which Is the Right Multicultural Approach?

02/05/2014 12:55 pm ET | Updated Apr 05, 2014

Every once in a while, new terms and jargon come in and out of favor within the business community. Among the terms used by business executives targeting cultural segments include "multicultural," "diversity," and of course Hispanic, Latino, Black, African American, Asian, acculturation, etc. Lately, the terms "Total Market" and "New Mainstream" seem to have gained some level of acceptance. Terms such as these are intended to help communicate a concept that would require many more words to understand. Although non-controversial, the term "New Mainstream" may lack clarity among industry insiders and is perhaps foreign to those not in the multicultural space. On the other hand, "Total Market" seems to both lack clarity and revel in a fair amount of disagreement.

New Mainstream became popular after Guy Garcia published a book with that title. Geoscape is one of the companies that began using that term frequently -- in fact, we adopted "Access the New Mainstream" as our tagline back in 2007. The idea behind New Mainstream is that America has changed for good -- that instead of a culturally monolithic, three-TV network, Top-40 scenario, America is increasingly segmented and no longer simply a melting pot. More importantly, this cultural diversity represents the preponderance of the growth in our nation and business executives must accept that marketing to a "blended America" may be efficient, but not likely to gain favor with passionate consumers. On top of that, New Mainstream is an assertive term, which connotes that cultural diversity is the Modern Family driving business more so than the Ozzie and Harriett type of positioning of the past.

After discussing the subject with some of my industry veteran colleagues, I've come to the conclusion that the term "Total Market" is not only ambiguous, but could backfire on the very people who promulgate it. It seems to imply that a unified approach to marketing is preferred over a segmented approach. This runs contrary to just about every business trend in the 21st Century. Those of us who are fans of WIRED Magazine's Chris Anderson will remember "The Long Tail," which lucidly tells us how hyper segmentation is the way of the world today and that as the book Makers indicates, there is a trend of rapidly giving consumers what they want in a high-tech world -- as opposed to getting automobiles in "any color you want as long as it is black" (as Henry Ford once said). It also seems akin to telling an omnivore that blending the steak, fish, veggies and fruit he enjoys separately will result in a delicious and nutritious smoothie that is easier to digest -- unsavory, of course.

We all know this industry requires leadership and that unity is preferable to anarchy. We also know that businesses thrive on growth and that all the growth these days is multicultural -- Hispanic especially. Therefore, I've used the term "Growth-Majority" for several years to boldly remind our constituents that, while these segments may be considered "minorities" in some places, we and the consumers we study are the majority of growth in both population and consumer-driven revenue for corporate America. Total Market can simply mean the sum of all markets -- but it seems contrary to the objective of helping companies prioritize their efforts and right-size their business initiatives based on the future development of the consumer market, their company's revenues and market share.

If one agrees that it's ideal to connect with consumers in a way that resonates and motivates them to acquire and become loyal to a brand, then logic would lead us to conclude that segmented messaging, products and services would help turn that resonance into harmony. A one-size-fits-all marketing campaign, marketing push, brand positioning and agency might be efficient -- but may not be effective. In this case, I would ask those colleagues who advocate a Total Market approach to either clarify its intent or to rethink their approach to optimizing consumer connections for an increasingly diverse, sophisticated and demanding consumer universe.

Despite our persistent publicity, you may not yet know about Geoscape's upcoming 10th Annual New Mainstream Business Summit (Miami, March 11-13) where you can participate in a robust, informative and entertaining discussion among a couple hundred industry front-runners and the foremost experts on multicultural business. Click this link to learn more and to register.

I'd welcome any of your comments on this subject so that together we can wipe the windshield to better perceive the road ahead. Feel free to email me directly at cesar@geoscape.com