Multicultural Marketing Course Preparing Business Students for the ‘New America’

November 9, 2015

Class Visit to Chicago’s Cultural Melting Pot Provides Hands-on Learning Experience

Burgeoning populations of minority groups in the United States are literally changing the face of the country.

Its impact can be felt throughout popular culture in music, film, television and literature. Also, everything from dining habits and language to politics and education has been affected by the undeniable demographic trend toward a “minority majority.”

Pictured at the Baha’i House of Worship are, from the left, Lucas Meeker, Katie Bennett, Sarah Schwartz, Pablo Martinez: center, Daniel Hayes, Keith Hayes and Haleigh Lovett.

Indeed, experts predict Caucasions will become a minority in the United States before the middle of the century as non-white racial and ethic groups are expected to comprise the majority of Americans around 2043.

This rapid shift in population over the past few generations also is on the radar of business as it endeavors to market goods and services to diverse populations of Americans. Wilmington College’s Ellen Novar, associate professor of marketing, became fascinated by that demographic dynamic and created a course designed to prepare her students for marketing to diverse groups.

She developed the course, Multicultural Marketing, during a faculty sabbatical in 2007 during which she attended industry conferences addressing the relatively new discipline. Novar found that, even all these years later, such courses are few and far between and, with no real textbook available, she’s assembled relevant resources addressing what is quickly becoming more than simply a marketing niche.

Indeed, she is a trailblazer in this segment of higher education, noting that both the business world and higher education have been behind the curve.

Business-Chicago-Web-1“My goal with the course is for my students to better understand people and appreciate diversity and different cultures all within the context of these massive demographic changes,” she said.

Novar said that effectively marketing to minority groups constitutes more than simply including a “black person or two among a group of whites” in an advertisement.

“It’s about how can African-Americans best be approached in marketing goods and services to them?” she said. And also, how best to approach Hispanics, those of Asian and Indian descent and Jewish and Muslim religious background; bi-racial persons, gays and lesbians, and all those that comprise the tossed salad that is America today?

“Multicultural marketing is a fascinating field,” she added.

Novar’s fall class was waist deep in that fascination after she took them to Chicago over WC’s Fall Break in mid-October. There, they not only toured several of the Windy City’s ethnic neighborhoods, but also visited the Baha’i House of Worship, a minority-owned advertising agency specializing in urban advertising and the Council of American-Islamic Relations. In addition, they saw Second City Improv perform a show about culture, race and stereotypes.

“I wanted to immerse them in situations they would not encounter in southwest Ohio,” she said. “Here, we have black and white people, but in Chicago I could immerse them in situations in which they are the minority.”

For Sarah Schwartz, a senior marketing major from Martinsville, she had been anticipating the Chicago trip since she was a high school student visiting WC when she heard Novar speak about opportunities students have studying business here.

“We immersed ourselves in all these cultures. I felt I saw more Hispanic and Asian people than white people,” she said, noting the group explored a plethora of food, from street hot dogs, Mexican, Thai and Middle Eastern to Vietnamese, Indian and vegetarian, with even a stop at a Jewish bakery.

Business-Chicago-Web-2“Ellen wouldn’t allow us to order burritos — we had to have authentic Mexican food,” she said.

“Authentic” would be the cow tongue dinner enjoyed by Pablo Martinez, a junior from Clarksville, Tenn., whose family is of Puerto Rican lineage. He mentioned how the course brought to light such items of interest as Hispanics indexing higher than other American minorities in cell phone use and that target marketing has played a key role in the brand of toothpaste used by Hispanics both in America and in Latin American nations.

“Companies that take the initiative to reach out to Hispanics get rewarded handsomely,” Martinez said. “Latinos are very loyal to brands.”

He called the Chicago trip a “hands-on learning experience that makes what you learn in the classroom come to life.”

“We’re learning about different cultures and how they’re impacting our economy,” he added. “In Chicago, I had a chance to apply what I learned in class. In the future, I’d like to have my own business and, if you look at the numbers and put biases aside, the white population is decreasing while blacks, Hispanics and others are going up in numbers.

“In 20-25 years, it will be a perfect melting pot of different cultures,” he said. “It will be a different America, a new America.”