Strength In Numbers

No one can dispute that African Americans represent an influential demographic that drives style and consumer trends. In fact, the buying power of African Americans is projected to grow to $1.1 trillion by 2011. Marketing communications giant Starcom MediaVest Group and Nat Irvin II (pictured left), a business professor at the University of Louisville and founder of the think tank Future Focus 2020, are releasing a study aimed at providing advertisers with a strategic approach to reaching this lucrative market.

The report, called Beyond Demographics, materialized from SMG’s desire to help clients identify new ways to value and measure their investment within the black community. It seeks to target specific segments of African Americans based on individual lifestyle, income level, aspirations, and preferences. Individuals are identified within 10 groups that range from avid churchgoers to urban trendsetters. Taking this direction, SMG officials believe, will encourage companies to stop viewing Africans Americans as a monolithic consumer base and develop more relevant advertising campaigns.

Although more companies are anxious to connect with the African American market, less than 1% of U.S. advertising dollars uses targeted black media to reach this demographic. Instead, advertisers rely on the inclusion of black images within general market campaigns–a move which Miriam Muley, CEO of The 85% Niche, a strategic marketing firm that helps corporations reach female consumers, claims negatively impacts black consumer spending.

Esther Franklin, SMG’s executive vice president and director of cultural identities, says revealing the range of lifestyle choices will result in advertisers taking fresh approaches to effectively reach African Americans. “We’re excited to be able to share the texture, the depth, and the richness of the African American culture in an environment that’s not really had this level of insight to it before,” says Franklin.

SMG and Irvin started developing the study last year by gathering information from more than 1,000 African Americans nationwide. “The exciting thing about this project is looking beyond the normal lens through which we see ourselves, then having others look beyond how they see us,” says Irvin, who has been working on this concept since 1996. His intent: a more positive and balanced portrayal of African Americans in media.

“I think this is the kind of research that is needed to advance the efforts in the African American space,” offers Muley. “Hopefully, marketers won’t turn a deaf ear and do business as usual.”

A Step Up
Women of color now have a helping hand in their climb up the corporate ladder. Through the emergence of the nonprofit program ASCENT: Leading Multicultural Women to the Top, there’s a new avenue for the professional development of multicultural women.

The brainchild of Ella L. J. Edmondson Bell, associate professor of business administration at Dartmouth College, ASCENT was recently launched in conjunction with Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and the UCLA Anderson School of Management. The outfit also enjoys support from corporations such as JPMorgan Chase, Intel, and PepsiCo.

ASCENT’s first session will begin on Jan. 17 at the Tuck School and will focus on developing connections among women