September 22nd, 2011
Brands That Prevail Will Target the Changing Multicultural Market
When I fled the USSR for the United States nearly four decades ago, all I wanted was to fit in with Americans. I tried to speak the language (with a New York accent, of course) and even adopted the impatient, heads-up walk of New Yorkers rather than the doleful, Soviet-weighted gait of my ex-countrymen.
But this process, called “acculturation,” has multiple facets. On the surface you learn to walk and talk like a native; you start to project the image. Beneath the exterior, however, is a deeper part of yourself—the cultural part of your psyche --that remains attached to your country of origin. You see yourself a child of parents born elsewhere and seek to retain a connection to this heritage even as you fashion your identity as a mainstream American. That’s the dimension called “affiliation.”
As multicultural consumers edge closer and closer to becoming the majority in America—they already represent the greatest growth opportunity for brands -– the desire to assimilate is being overtaken by an interest in cultural heritage. This is happening not just among more recent arrivals, but among younger, second- and third-generation multicultural consumers raised in the United States. Here we see a trend of “retro-acculturation,” as people become increasingly interested in knowing more about their roots.
This is not really surprising. Our children and grandchildren live in a country that is far more multicultural than in the past. In school and at play, many classrooms and sports teams have become a mixing bowl of cultures, all interacting and influencing one another. Many ethnic neighborhoods, once fortress-like in their cultural insularity, are becoming increasingly integrated --with Indians living next to Chinese, next to Russians, next to Japanese and so on. This pattern tends to increase people’s desire to identify with their own culture.