Only a few years ago the U.S. Census predicted that by 2050 one-quarter of all Americans will be of Hispanic heritage. Today the Census Bureau has slid that date down to 2042.
To Frank Gomez, public affairs executive at ETS on Rosedale Road, this is but one illustration of the changing American demographic. The face of immigration itself is shifting from its historically European dominance to one that increasingly reflects Hispanic and pan-Asian descent. And the bottom line, he says, is simple — “There is a bottom line. Are you going to adapt to it or are you going to pay the consequences?”
Gomez will present “Marketing Across Cultural Boundaries” for the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce at the Trenton Marriott on Wednesday, February 18, at 11:30 a.m. Cost $60. Call 609-689-9960 for more information.
The goal of the presentation, Gomez says, is to impress upon companies of all types and sizes that diversity matters. It is not simply enough to recognize that people of various cultures share the state and country, businesses and marketers need to know enough to reach them. Without pandering.
Gomez admits it is quite a task, but he is encouraged to know that many companies, particularly large, consumer-market corporations, realized the importance of recognizing diversity long ago. About 25 years ago, as a member of the U.S. Foreign Services in Washington, D.C., Gomez excitedly called a friend to inform him that he had seen an Annheuser-Busch commercial that included some Spanish.
But while some companies are trying, and have been for a long time, there are still a number of myths and issues to get past. Gomez is familiar with many of them. Born in South Dakota to migrant workers, Gomez grew up mostly in Portland, Oregon. “People used to ask me, ‘Where’d you get your name?’” They didn’t believe he should be Hispanic, simply because he came from Oregon.
Gomez also tries to combat myths about immigrants themselves — such as the one suggesting that Hispanics come to America to cash in on welfare. Truth is, he says, Hispanics overall are the least taxing to the welfare system. In fact, last year, Mexican immigrants alone sent $27 billion back to families in Mexico. “You don’t provide for yourself and send money home when you’re on welfare,” he says.
Similar myths exist for Asians, Africans, and many other people, he says, and getting through these preconceptions can be daunting. But a good start is for companies to pay closer attention to who is out there — and who’s on the inside.
Diversity, inside and out. The mortgage collapse that triggered the economic slide can be traced to several reasons, but Gomez focuses on one in particular — bankers who did not represent or understand their communities. Lenders gave away heaps of credit to people who could not afford it, and much of that money was lent by white bankers to minority borrowers. It is a prime example of not knowing and not representing your customer.
To get things right, right out of the gate, businesses need to understand the communities they are trying to reach. This starts, he says, with being diverse yourself. If your own organization is not diverse, he says, how could it possibly understand the cultures it needs to reach? Gomez cites as an example something Luke Visconti, publisher of DiversityInc, brought up in a recent issue. The New Yorker, famous for its illustrations and cartoons, looked at its staff and found it had not one cartoonist able to draw a black face. “And here we are with a black president,” Gomez says.
Hable su lengua. Gomez, who lives in New York, has noticed that the signs in stores like Best Buy are all written in English and Spanish now. He calls it “Hispano dollars,” a nod to Best Buy’s ability to see the present and future of its market.
Using language — something that is very important to Gomez, who, incidentally, speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian — makes people feel included and respected. Most Hispanic people in America, he admits, speak English, but Gomez says that is not the point. Like the Annheuser-Busch commercial, the use of another culture’s language shows that a company is aware of that culture, and that it does not operate on the meet-us-because-we-won’t-meet-you principle. “It makes people of that culture feel like, ‘Hey, they’re talking to us,’” he says.
Careful, though. Pandering is as deadly as snubbing. Take, for example, the controversy that ensnared advertisers running commercials amid predominantly black shows (such as “Bernie Mac”) or on predominantly black channels (such as BET). The Associated Press in 2006 reported that commercials among black-targeted programming —ads that featured overwhelmingly black casts themselves — were heavily weighted toward fast food ads, and portrayed even upscale blacks as city residents. By contrast, predominantly white programming featured white people enjoying fine cars, living in spacious suburban houses, or otherwise living the good life.
While Gomez does not have a problem with fast food ads, he says this imbalance speaks of preconceptions based on assumptions. He has developed a personal view that it is preferable to use marketing that is aspirational. Portray people of all sorts as professionals, as successful, and as intelligent. “Don’t show them just eating hamburgers,” he says.
Focus groups are a good way to ensure that a positive message gets through, Gomez says. But it is important to remember that the focus group must be diverse as well. It is too easy to speak to one group, particularly in places like Mercer or Middlesex County where there are many different cultures living together, and insult another, even unintentionally.
Gomez has spent much of his professional life ensconced in cultural sensitivity. A graduate of the University of Washington, Gomez earned a master’s in public administration from George Washington University and finished a graduate fellowship at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1974. He taught French and Spanish translation, as well as International relations at New York University for 10 years, and served as a U.S. foreign service officer from 1965 to 1984. He also served as deputy secretary of state for public affairs.
The head of several boards and committees on international relations and cultural affairs over his career, Gomez also served as senior director of communications at Altria (formerly Philip Morris) in New York and was an international affairs consultant in Washington, D.C. He joined ETS in 2005, where he oversees initiatives to identify and strengthen relations with organizations that are important to the firm.
Gomez says he is particularly fond of ETS because its diverse work staff makes it “like a mini United Nations.”