How to connect with culturally diverse consumers

As ethnic and cultural diversity increases rapidly in many countries, it has become essential for marketers to reach minority consumers more effectively. Understanding how first- and second-generation minority consumers relate to both their heritage and their mainstream identity is essential to successfully target consumers from ethnic minority groups. This is one of the results of the PhD research by Anne-Sophie Lenoir from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). She will defend her thesis on Friday 4 December 2015.

When targeting consumers from ethnic minorities, marketers often assume that communities are homogeneous, says Anne-Sophie Lenoir. However, she found that not every member of a group reacts to cultural cues referring to their heritage culture in the same way.

Cultural identity in context

First-generation minority consumers tend to be in touch with their heritage most of the time. As a result, they are likely to respond more positively to an advertisement featuring, for example, a spokesperson who shares their heritage. In contrast, second-generation minority consumers are often bicultural. Their cultural identity is more fluid and depends on the context they are in. Because of this, the environment is likely to affect their response to advertisements that target their cultural heritage. This means they might react more positively to such an advertisement when they are watching TV after a family dinner where they spoke their heritage language than when they are on their way to work.

Personal selling

Trust matters in the sales context, and prior research shows that customers put more trust in salespersons they share similarities with. Again, Lenoir’s results show first-generation minority consumers are likely to see sales-people from the same ethnic minority group as more trustworthy, and follow their advice more. Interestingly, the product type mattered here: cultural heritage played a larger role for retail staff selling ‘hedonistic’ products like perfume, cosmetics and literature.

“...cultural heritage plays a larger role for retail staff selling ‘hedonistic’ products like perfume, cosmetics and literature.”

This is because first-generation minority consumers assumed that the sales-person who shared their heritage also shared their needs and preferences – which is very important for this kind of product. For second-generation minority consumers, however, interacting with a minority or a majority sales-person made little difference in terms of trust or reaction to their product recommendations, Lenoir found.

Addressing customers

In another study, Lenoir demonstrates that brands should not just think about their target, but also about how are they are perceived when they decide on the formality of the language they will use in their communication. Surprisingly, Lenoir did not uncover any evidence that older consumers like to be addressed more formally than younger consumer. However, she did find that consumers across age groups are more likely to respond positively to informal language when it is used by a brand they see as friendly, approachable and trustworthy. On the other hand, they are more likely to respond positively to formal language when it is used by a brand they value for its ability, skills and efficacy. This is especially true when they are exposed to the marketing message in impersonal contexts like in television advertising or in public transport. In those situations, brand perceptions matter more than the relationship they have with a specific customer, Lenoir concludes.

Anne-Sophie Lenoir will defend her dissertation in the Senate Hall at Erasmus University Rotterdam on Friday, 4 December 2015 at 11:30. Her supervisors are Prof. Stefano Puntoni and Prof. Stijn van Osselaer. Other members of the Doctoral Committee are Dr Steven Sweldens (RSM), Prof. Benedict Dellaert  (ESE), and Prof. Tina Lowrey (HEC Paris).

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is a top-tier European business school and ranked among the top three for research. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who carry their innovative mindset into a sustainable future thanks to a first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes. RSM also has an office in Taipei, Taiwan.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Ramses Singeling, Media Officer for RSM, on +31 10 408 2028 or by email at

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