Urban Appetite

Companies change focus to appeal to young, inner-city consumers

They seemed an odd couple at first — one a conservative and established institution, the other a group of energetic disciples of hip-hop culture. But when the U.S. Postal Service joined the 135th Street Agency to throw a media reception in New York, it was a match made in heaven. The two businesses came together to promote the June campaign of the African American Heritage Stamps series Pioneers in Black Music. “We had MTV there, The New York Post, AllHipHop.com, Hot 97,” says Shante Bacon, founder of 135th Street Agency, a New York-based marketing, advertising, and public relations firm that specializes in helping companies reach the urban youth consumer. “These are media outlets that wouldn’t have been targeted by the Postal Service.”

Bacon, 28, along with partner Saptosa Foster, 29, invited media guests to a USPS reception at the Harlem Tea Room in New York. The agency cleverly tied in the promotion of the Pioneers in Black Music series, which features stamps of legends such as John Coltrane, Paul Robeson, and Marian Anderson, with Black Music Month. “The marketing campaign was very successful,” says Monica Hand, manager of USPS public affairs and communications. “I was very impressed with the number of young people working in the PR and marketing industry and their genuine interest in the Postal Service.” The Postal Service awarded 135th Street Agency with a $100,000 marketing contract in August.

Foster, a freelance writer for Vibe and XXL magazines, understands the influence of the urban consumer: “They’re driving pop culture. They’re coming up with the language, the clothing, everything.”

Government agencies, corporate America, nonprofits, and businesses small and large are taking note. They recognize that young urbanites are viable, cash-wielding consumers ready to support their business. According to Packaged Facts, a publishing division of MarketResearch.com, 15- to 24-year-olds spend $485 billion annually. But there’s a way to communicate with them and it isn’t always with a rap lyric. “You have to be in their lives,” says Carl Rouchè Washington, president of Los Angeles-based Urban Marketing Corporation of America. “You have to pay attention to the market. Go grassroots, pump up the volume, and be aggressive.”

TRY THE FOLLOWING TACTICS TO MAKE YOUR BUSINESS MORE APPEALING TO THE URBAN CONSUMER:
GO WHERE THEY ARE
Think of ways to bring the product to the typical hangout of the urban youth consumer. Are they at the mall? At city parks? Pick the places where you can “create a momentum of emotion,” says Washington. Think of marketing campaigns that might mesh well with All-Star Weekend or the NBA Finals.

PERFECT YOUR PRESENCE
Once you’ve determined your message, make sure it’s clear and consistent. For example, if you’ve got a booth set up at an event, the people working at the booth should resemble your target market in dress and attitude.

GET ATTENTION WITH CULTURAL ICONS
“Know the influences of your target market,” Washington says. Could Snoop Dogg also sell your idea? If you can’t afford the latest hip-hop artist or athlete, make sure the face representing your product is one your audience

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