One of the paradoxes of thinking of brands strategically is that most thinking of the future is done by thinking of the present. Unfortunately for the marketing industry, there is a very big risk in doing this: the present world is riddled with different, occasionally contradictory, opinions and apparent trends that generally make current social processes difficult to see. This generates a variety of points of view that oftentimes do not take into consideration facts that are often buried underneath a lot of noise (be it noise shared through social media, political discourses, or pundits, especially in this age of news as entertainment that has to sell).
In this article, I aim to show why the field of marketing and brand strategy should start thinking about the importance of mass migrations in the immediate future (despite the apparent current growth of xenophobia in the US and the rest of the Western world), and what it means for marketing to cater to them mid to long-term future.
Falling birth rates will be more important than Xenophobia in politics (it's the economy)
In 2018, birth rates in the US have reached their lowest levels in the last 30 years. As I mentioned in another article, growing childlessness presents important opportunities for brands. However, in economic terms, the increasing trend towards low birthrates in the United States represents a major economic problem: in 10 to 20 years there will not be enough people in the US to help maintain country’s economy. Many people who currently are in their 40s and 50s will be in their 60s and 70s by then. A country’s de-population affects all aspects of society: from social security to infrastructure building, from taxes supporting the healthcare and education systems to an economic system based on money moving around (and older people tend to spend less money than their younger counterparts). The US is only the latest country to be faced with this growing problem. This is already a known issue looking towards the future for Japan, most of the EU members (although the UK is an important exception), and now also China. What has changed over the last few years is the fact that de-population has continued while discourses of xenophobia have become more normalized in these societies. Likewise, these days there is a political reluctance to talk about immigration in favorable terms.
The cultural “noise” would suggest that, in the future, governments in Western countries will try to curtail migration and restrict the incoming of people from other countries (mostly from the Global South, which includes people from Latin America, Africa and South-east Asia) because immigration is not a popular idea among a big portion of their citizens. But there’s growing empirical evidence that indicates that this will, in fact, not happen. Behind their xenophobic discourses, in the US (but also in many countries of the European Union where ultra-right movements have become important) there are concerns about economic insecurities. Xenophobia is cultural in nature, but almost always appears in harsh economic and political contexts, where big sectors of the population feel excluded and left out of a society’s economic growth (as was the case with many of those in the American “rust belt” who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 elections).
Faced with not being able to sustain the economy with low birth rates and bans on immigration, most political strategists agree that restricting mass immigration is simply impossible in the long run. Last year, Japan (one of the countries with the most negative views toward immigration, both culturally and politically) faced this very same problem. Despite how unpopular a new policy that invites foreigners to go to work in Japanwas, the Japanese government has been forced to find solutions to de-population and the economic crises it ensues through immigration. Workers, especially those coming from south-east Asia, can supply a workforce for industries that currently badly need them, such as healthcare, manufacture, and services. This opening of immigration policies come after years of cultural and political resistance to let foreigners work in Japan, even after decades of de-population (especially in its rural areas) and economic recession.
The culture of xenophobia that seems to be abuzz in a big sector of American society (best symbolized by Donald Trump’s wall in the border with Mexico), will follow a similar pattern to Japan. Even more so because, unlike Japan, the US is a society of immigrants. History shows us that the US has always had very vocal anti-immigration voices, but because the spectacular growth of its economy in the 20thcentury is based largely on the presence of these new populations at home that help create new markets (or expand old ones), these voices have not been able to stop the country from receiving large numbers of people from almost every country in the world. History cannot show that there are 100% chances this same pattern will continue in the future, but the underlying economic processes that encouraged immigration are still there, and will continue to be an even bigger problem in coming years.
How should brands and marketing teams strategize for immigrants? The case of the Latino population in the US
What does this all mean for marketing? In a country like Japan, with its cultural reluctance to be open to new incoming populations from abroad, marketing has not taken advantage of a new growing market yet. But in the United States, the example of marketing toward the Latino population (currently, the largest non-white group in the US, which is already becoming a major minority and will only continue to grow in only a few years-time) can be enlightening. At the current pace of population growth, American whites will be a minority by 2045, with Latinos encompassing 24.6% of the total American population by then. However, as The Brookings Institute shows us(based on the latest census), this change in demographic is already underway: next year, in 2020, among the US population under 18 -the post millennial generation- Latinos and African Americans already outnumber whites, and by 2027 (only 8 years from now) whites will be a minority in the population group between 18 and 29 years old. Latinos are currently an important market in the US that is culturally distinct, and therefore approaching them from a marketing perspective should be tweaked to their needs and experiences.
What does it mean that brands should cater to immigrants? Far from requiring a niche marketing strategy or designing campaigns that look the same but in a different language, marketing to immigrant populations means understanding the social processes underneath consumption patterns and culture. For instance, one would expect that the Spanish language should be more prominent in marketing to Latinos, but the truth is that the great majority of Latino’s in the US are currently second or third generation, almost completely socialized bilingually (Spanish at home, English at school and work), for whom integration into the larger society is very important. “Latinos” are not a homogeneous group, but rather a multicultural group with many interests, cultural backgrounds and traditions, many of whom continue to have contact with family and friends in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, etc. They also represent a big young market, whose median age in 2019 is 28. And it is the group with the biggest income progress of all groups (Hispanic median household income rose 6.1% from 2014 to 2015 compared to 4.4% for African Americans, 4.1% for non-Hispanic whites and 3.7% for Asians). But above all, Hispanics interpret some concepts differently from other cultural groups, and it is important to dig deep into cultures and practices to be able to find insights about behaviors, trends and attitudes that brands and marketing teams can strategize with. In general, for Latinos (as any other minority that originates in either current or recent immigration processes), mastering the population’s language is essential to conduct marketing research on a group, but even more important is a deep understanding of the social processes taking place within the group, how they relate to the larger society, and an understanding of their culture.
The key: understanding social processes beneath the "noise"
If brands and marketing are going to be increasingly in need to strategize to cater to immigrant minorities to the US and the rest of the Western world, they need to know who their public and consumer will be in the mid to long-term, and start working with them in the short-term future. Cases of brands that are successful among Latinos show us that it is important to build a relationship with consumers they want to cater to even before they come to the forefront. This means that trust in the brand needs to be established early within these populations: being a multicultural brand is not just about running ads in Spanish or Arabic, it’s about establishing a relationship with minorities and establishing a right to call themselves multicultural.
In the current world, despite all the noise behind current politics and culture, knowledge and experience of social and cultural processes can allow marketing teams and brand strategists to strategize looking toward the future. As we say in the social sciences, there is no such thing as hard facts or a way to predict the future, but there are informed opinions about how long-term social processes work. Understanding these processes taking place in current societies is a powerful tool to help brands strategize to prepare for the mid and long-term.