Eliminate the culture shock

Ethnic groups make up a larger proportion of the population and marketers who ignore them do so at their peril; they are a dominant force in the UK

The UK is one of the most culturally diverse countries in Europe. Blacks and Asians make up about 5.5 per cent of the population, and there are over 30 ethnic groups in London alone. Marketing to Ethnic Minorities, a recent study by Interfocus researching the black and Asian communities in the UK, says that companies that are looking to increase their market share as well as maintain their existing share can no longer afford to ignore ethnic minorities.

According to Interfocus, the Asian community and the Afro-Caribbean community are two of the largest minority groups in the UK, with disposable incomes of about &£7bn and &£5bn respectively.

Over two-thirds of independently owned local shops belong to people from ethnic minorities. Twenty-seven per cent of London Underground’s staff are from ethnic minorities and about 23 per cent of the UK’s doctors were born overseas, as were 24 per cent of restaurant employees.

The research provides a clear signal that marketers should realise they have a much greater responsibility than simply selling products, services or ideas to ethnic minorities, since playing the ethnic card could have its own pitfalls. Marketing strategists must be aware of the need for a comprehensive picture of ethnicity, culture and identity, as the market is continuously reconstructed.

The important point to note, according to Interfocus, is that culture is often not organised in the same way as it was even a few decades ago. It is not possible to deal with ethnicity merely as another variable. Instead, it has become a cultural condition with profound consequences to the nature of consumer experiences among different groups.

Interfocus predicts that by 2011 ethnic minorities will make up the majority of the population in half of all London’s boroughs. Leicester and Birmingham are set to become the first cities in the UK where ethnic minority communities will outnumber the white population, with 41 per cent and 45 per cent of schoolchildren in these cities coming from ethnic minorities.

For 90 per cent of the children at Leicester’s top performing primary school, English is their second language. Even so, they consistently went on to outperform the national average in GCSE and A-level examinations.

The statistics, according to this research, are reason enough for marketers to consider the issues involved when marketing to the ethnic groups in the UK.

There are more than 5,000 Asian businesses in Birmingham. In one 5km stretch in the city, there are more than 50 Indian restaurants. The influx of Asians and their families have made Birmingham England’s second-largest city, with a population of over 1 million.

Interfocus’ research also reveals that the rate of business start-ups within ethnic groups is higher compared with the white population, as is the educational attainment of schoolchildren. The first generation may be struggling, but the second, and now increasingly the third generations are upwardly mobile with a high standard of education and high disposable income, and have for many years been moving into the professions.

The white population now constitutes 78 per cent of the population, compared with 84 per cent a decade ago. The Asian population is now 19 per cent of the total population, compared with 14 per cent a decade ago. Twenty-five per cent of the national population of 57 million lives in Greater London, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire, and these areas are home to more than 70 per cent of the UK’s ethnic minority population.

A survey of schoolchildren in Greater London highlighted that at least a quarter of them speak a language other than English at home. Altogether, pupils in London schools speak some 275 different languages.

The highest concentration of ethnic minorities in the last census was in three London boroughs: Brent, with 45 per cent, Newham, with 42 per cent, and Tower Hamlets, with 36 per cent. Some wards in West London have a population that is more than 90 per cent non-white.

The traditional attitude views groups living within a differing predominant culture simply as “sub-cultures”, and thus solutions are often presented as “one size fits all”. But, within the ethnic minority population exists a number of very distinct groups, separated by languages, religions or values. Because of this, a marketing strategy that depends on a broad-brush approach will not be the most effective.

One method of segmenting the ethnic market could be to look at the levels of “acculturation” – how integrated a group is within the dominant culture. Although fairly crude, this method could provide a starting point for marketers to build a picture that can later be overlaid with lifestyle and other indicators of consumer behaviour.

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