Amy Gomez and I am a cross-cultural marketing specialist.
Bold Culture – Darren Martin Jr (BC): Please tell us a little about your background and journey. How did you get into marketing and advertising?
Amy Gomez (A.G.) (00:11):
Like most people, absolutely by chance. So also like most people in the advertising world, I have a PhD in comparative medieval literature specializing in Italian because I was very practical when I was in my twenties. And you know, medieval Italian poetry, there’s always a market for that. Right? Absolutely no regrets about it. I got to study with extraordinary scholars. I got to spend about two and a half years living in Italy, teaching in Italy. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. But as I was getting close to finishing my doctorate, I started to realize that I loved the teaching. But the core of your career is this esoteric research and writing that this many people will read and this many people would care about. And I just wanted to be deal in more real world communications problems. My issue was I had done the straight through plan, like undergrad, master’s, PhD, and so I knew people went to offices in the morning and left at night, but I had no idea of what they did between those hours.
So it was one of the first of many reinventions over the course of my career. And I started to hone in on marketing corporate communications and I started getting myself out there and networking until I met the woman who would later become my boss who was a vice president at a cross cultural marketing and advertising firm. I proceeded to harass her relentlessly until she actually hired me. And that was the beginning of my agency career. I came up through the ranks of account management initially in a whole series of more niche multicultural shops. So I was a partner in the head of client services at an independent Hispanic agency. I was a senior group account director and head of Hispanic marketing, Uniworld Group, the oldest African-American agency in the U S and then it was a good fit for me because being a cross cultural advertising person means that you always get to wear your cultural anthropologist hat, which is always what’s fascinated me.
And it’s really been if there is a through line between my academic career and my career in the marketing and advertising world, it’s that passion about culture and understanding the way culture impacts people’s behavior, whether it be consumer behavior, artistic behavior, et cetera, et cetera.
BC: What is cross-cultural marketing and is it being approached by agencies and brands?
And also how it is not being a program agencies and brands. So I very much hope that at a certain point we won’t need to use the term cross-cultural marketing because it will just be marketing. I don’t see any essential difference between cross-cultural marketing and any other kind of marketing because it’s about knowing who your target is, knowing who your consumer, no, no. Your consumer. Right. The reason it’s a necessary term today and why it has been necessary is because there’s very little understanding on the part of brand marketers about the role that cultural identity plays in informing consumer behavior.
Pepper Miller that wonderful practitioner of cross-cultural marketing has a line I’ve always loved, which is “the mistake marketers always make is that black people are white people with Brown skin.” In other words, ignoring all of the cultural drivers. And the nuances that need to be tapped into if you want to connect with them authentically. So for me, cross-cultural is leading with the insight for whoever your consumers are. And you know, we used to think about it only as targeted efforts. You know, what are you doing to reach Latin X people? What are you doing in Spanish? What are you doing in targeted black media? But we’re in a period now we’re 40% of the U S is multicultural that at large, if you go younger, 45% of millennials, 49% of gen Zs. So we’re talking about the new majority. So whatever your brand or services, what makes sense to me is look at what insights are true for non Hispanic white people. Looked at what are the insights for Latin X people, for black people, for Asian people and bake them into your strategy. So you’re leading with multicultural insight to create a communications platform that will work for the market at large, but it’s going to be particularly resonant for multicultural consumers. And then if you have an opportunity after that to do something targeted, something specific for the Asian segment or the Latin X segment you’re building on top of the platform that is already inherently relevant because you’ve been thinking about it from your start.
BC: How is cross cultural marketing approached? Is it by segmentation of audiences, translating general market messaging for different communities or a mix of the two?
So first I’d like to give you an example of what the approach I just described would look like in practice because this is an approach that I piloted at the neighborhood, which is the WPP team that handles Johnson and Johnson works. And there was a new product that was going to be launched. It was, you know, the, it was a new medicine targeting children. And you know, what I said to the strategy and account team was, okay, if we’re looking at children, we know that the younger we get in the U S the more multicultural it is. So this is the perfect opportunity to lead with multicultural insight. And I th I can talk about the product now because it’s already on the market at this point. It is a new pain medication. If you think of pixie sticks, do you remember those candies?
So basically that’s the format. It’s a powder. You don’t need any water. It’s good tasting. And in working with the strategists, because that’s where all cross-cultural marketing has to start. I’m the strategist on the team said, so here’s the insight. The insight is that moms and parents will just bend over backwards to coax their children into taking their medicine because children don’t want to take their medicine. So you’ll put on masks and your wheedle and your co and I said, okay, let’s take a step back a little bit. That’s the insight for non Hispanic white moms. The insight for black and Latin X moms was going to maybe be a little bit different than that. Exactly.
Exactly. Like every, every parent loves their kids and wants the best for them. Yeah. But different cultural groups have different ways of expressing love. Okay. And you know, for black moms you’re teaching your kids very young. Listen to what mom says so that you can make sure your children are safe from Latin X parents. There’s a lot of intimacy and no privacy, but also much more strictness and much more formality than in the relationship with non Hispanic, white parents and kids. So what we needed to do is build all those different ways of showing love into the strategy brief so that the creative team could develop executions that were gonna flex for different parenting styles. And this is, you know, just an example of why casting is never going to be enough because you can cast moms of color, but if you’re having them behave like exactly, then it’s just not going to ring true.
You know, one of the issues is that at the client side you know, most marketers are classically trained to MBAs and at this point they’re still not teaching cross cultural marketing and MBA programs. So it’s absolutely not their fault. They never got the background to address this. So clients tend to ask for what they know. And so there’s a few leavers that we’ll always go to. Okay, let’s translate it into Spanish or Chinese because you know, an irrelevant message becomes a lot more relevant once you put it in. Another language. Let’s cast actors of color. Let’s do a media buy on Univision or BET et cetera, et cetera. And where that misses the ,ark is that cross-cultural marketing when it’s done right, starts with the insights, starts with the strategy. If you’re waiting until the execution, it’s already going to be too late. You can’t retrofit something and expect it to resonate deeply with the audiences you’re trying to reach.
BC: Do you believe there has been a shift in the client’s desire to focus on cross cultural marketing? How have agencies grappled with that client need?
Definitely a huge shift in consciousness on the part of clients. When I started out in this business, if you are an agency and you were going to talk to a client, you know, coming from, for example, I’m thinking of my days at running client services for a Hispanic agency, you had to first start by saying there are X million Hispanic people in the United States and here’s where they’re located and they actually have money to buy your products and services. And you know, you would have to set that up at the beginning because the Onnit clients really didn’t know. What I find now is clients are very, very conscious of the demographic shifts that have taken place. Clients are very aware that we are, you know, very quickly becoming a new majority, majority minority country. They just don’t know what to do about it and they really are looking for guidance.
Some of the issues that we on on the agency side need to help them with is knowledge gaps, you know, thinking of thinking about it from an executional perspective, a media buy perspective rather than a strategic and insight driven practice. But there are also, I would say more structural issues both on the client side and on the agency side that is preventing the best work being done for brands. [Darren: let’s talk about the clients, what about them] So I’ll start out with the client side. I’ve had the opportunity, I’ve been fortunate enough to, to interact with clients up and down the ranks. And my experience has been when you talk to the very senior levels, there is huge awareness a desire to do better, a consciousness that we’re missing the mark, we need to pay more attention to this if we want to grow.
This is on the client side at the most senior echelon, but at the most senior echelon, they are not making the day to day decisions of what the brands do. That’s in the hands of the brand management team. And again, these tend to be classically trained MBAs, very smart people, very committed marketers, but who don’t necessarily have the knowledge of diverse consumers or the information they need about how to do cross-cultural marketing to make the best decisions. Now move that to the agency side. And you know, the large network agencies that are typically the partners, well they haven’t necessarily had a lot of experience with it either. I would say the mindset mirrors the client mindset. It’s extra curational we’ll make our campaign and then give it to this small team to translate it, adapt it and you know, separate but on equal.
But we’re not, we’re not making it a single work stream. So you’ve got here, here’s the structural issue. You’ve got these brands, managers who are limited in budget have limited time. And then as an agency we’re telling them, okay, if you want to do something for Latinx people or for Black people, it can be a separate work stream, a separate budget, everything’s completely siloed. Well that’s not the reality of the U S consumer market. You know, you don’t live in the Latinx, America or the Black America you live in where you’re getting personalized marketing messages all the time. So that was the other, I’m proud to say innovative feature of that, that pain medication pilot that I did because we weren’t siloing it. So the client was able to focus fully on this campaign for the market and not have to split their budget between, okay, I’ve got to carve off a piece, I’ve got to carve off the time to have this whole separate work stream.
BC: Now that nuances of cultures and generations within advertising are being demanded by consumers, what steps can agencies take to shift from their current way
How long have you got? There’s a lot of steps, big and small that can be taken. Some of them are being taken. I think there’s, there’s more that we can do. For the one thing I think at the senior account lead agency lead level, I think there hasn’t fully been a recognition that this is a capability we can use to bring something new and valuable to our clients. We can use it to strengthen our relationship with our client, extend the life of the relationship. And I think that a lot of times because a client hasn’t specifically said to the agency, I want you to help me get better about addressing the new majority in America because there hasn’t been that specific ask. It’s almost like a don’t ask, don’t tell. The client is assuming the agency doesn’t have the capability because the agency has never mentioned it and the agency is assuming the client isn’t interested because the client has never asked for it.
So it takes people internally being proactive and saying this is something of value. Just because they’re not asking us doesn’t mean they’re not out there looking for solutions. The other part of it is, and you know, you and I have had this conversation in the past. The whole diversity and inclusion piece, specifically inclusion. And I’ll share a little bit about my evolution is thinking over the years. As I mentioned, I spent the whole initial part of my career in niche multicultural agencies where either everybody was Latin X or everybody was Black or everybody came from all different places. And so because of what I did, I was probably exposed to more references and language around diversity and inclusion. But I always thought, okay, very good, but that’s for the HR people. It’s not what I do. I am a marketer. And then I started working at these large network agencies and I looked around and I said, Oh my God, Houston, we have a problem.
Until that point, I really hadn’t realized what people didn’t know. I hadn’t realized how little the world inside those agencies looks like the world. I walk around on the streets of New York, I didn’t realize how tough it is for people of color and LGBTQ advertising professionals to be themselves and be at their agencies. And that’s when I said, okay I was wrong about that. This, this absolutely needs to be a part of what I do. And that’s why when I was at geometry, I launched a D&I task force. And you know, I was bringing people in from all over the network, including Tasha who I know you’ll be talking with. She’s very generous about sharing her knowledge and sharing her expertise. And it does have to be part of what every cross cultural marketing person does. Because what I, what I realized is that diversity and inclusion and cross-cultural marketing are two sides of the same coin.
The organization, whether it be a client side organization or an agency that’s not doing one well is not going to be able to do the other well either. And I think it’s only by nurturing you know, young professionals of color and young LGBTQ professionals that they will help bring the knowledge to the fore for all clients. So that it can be part of what all teams do and not a separate team over there. Agencies have gotten really good at recruiting diverse talent. You know, they get involved in programs. They go to recruiting events. Getting young talent, smart talent in the door isn’t a problem. Where there is a problem–annd if you haven’t read it Tangerine Watson did a study at think it was in 2012, 2013 and I don’t think the situation has changed since then–what happens is that young professionals of color come into agencies; they look around, they look at the top, they don’t see anybody who looks like them. And they quickly come to feel that they’re not having the same experience as their white colleagues. Not the same access to mentorship and sponsorship, not the same access to interesting opportunities that will stretch them to grow. Simultaneously they’re dealing with microaggressions almost on a daily basis at work. So about the five year mark is where they start to say, you know what, I don’t think this is going to be my path to success. I’m going to find my way where there’s going to be more opportunity for me. So you see it, that five year point, there’s a dropping off and that’s where we have to do better because it’s at, you know, at the five year Mark, that’s when you’re getting to the account supervisor, account director, group account director, where you’re starting to make decisions about, okay, how this is gonna run.
New Speaker (21:34):
Clients about three years ago, started holding agency’s feet to the fire and putting their agencies on notice that they would be held accountable for certain levels of representation of women, of professionals of color.
And I honestly think, you know, just based on my experience that that is what it’s going to take to be a client mandate. Because they need to go hand in hand. Again, it’s, it’s two sides of the same coin. I would love to think that agencies will take the lead. And I think maybe some are. But it tends to be on an as needed basis.
BC: What are some challenges cross-cultural marketing professionals and their agencies face?
You know and I referenced this earlier, sometimes it’s the client hasn’t asked for it. Sometimes it’s, yes, I believe in this. It’d be great to do a pilot. How are we going to pay for the pilot? You know, how do we get some kind of a job code that somebody willing to invest some money against? Again, it’s that physically responsible. WWe can’t be proactive and show the client what it looks like. Unless you can invest. And that’s, that can be very hard to do. There’s a whole series of structural constraints, for example client scoping. So I, you know, I serve in a cross cultural strategy role. Well, if you’ve already got a strategist on the team and there’s scope available for a single strategist, you know, how do you make that a reality? And then, you know, the other piece is is knowledge gaps.
Because agencies don’t tend to be very diverse in and of themselves. Just a basic understanding of who these consumers are, what makes them tick. I found a huge amount of interest. And every time I have offered to do a lunch and learn a bootcamp there’s an enormous interest in knowing more. And I, I do think the tide is switching and it’s, you know, a matter of connecting the dots between what, what we’re all as an agency learning and putting it into practice.
BC: How does the work you do in pushing cross-cultural marketing understanding at your agency inform the work you do with your students? How do you blend the academic and corporate worlds?
So to contextualize my, my role as an educator, I’m an adjunct at a city college. I teach in the master’s program for granting an integrated communications and I teach an elective class on cross-cultural marketing. One thing that’s wonderful about the branding and integrated communications program is it’s an incredibly diverse group of students. And what I tell them on the first day of class is that you are the future of this industry.
And I’m going to share with you some of what I’ve learned over the past, you know, 20 plus years of doing this and I’m relying on you to take it out into the marketplace and further the mission. They’re very committed and you know, a lot of the insight that I share with them, they get it from the inside. But my class, the feedback that I’ve gotten is that it’s the first time they’ve thought of their own cultural identity as a valuable asset that they can bring into the market place. And that hugely important and motivating for me to hear.
I don’t think so. You know, I always do a little section on, you know, what is wrong with this picture, right? All the examples that we both know, the Kendall Jenner Pepsi, the ancestry.com, unfortunately they keep multiplying. And we talk about what went wrong. And you know, what you hear a lot is the right people weren’t in the room. And sometimes that’s the case. It’s not always the case. I think the other issue is sometimes the people are in the room and one of two things and they’re both bad. One, the person doesn’t feel empowered enough to speak to what they’re seeing. They don’t feel like they have enough clout in the room to nay say what everybody else is saying. Oh, it’s great. It’s great, it’s great. And then you have to be the one who says, actually it’s really offensive if you’re a junior professional. That’s a very difficult position to be in. The other thing that I’ve seen and I didn’t believe that this existed until it happened. At an agency I was working at where a person of color was in the room and was in a remote office where they had gotten so use to code switching intensely in the workplace that it really did go by though. [More of a loss of identity and tried to integrate.]
BC: What advice would you give to someone who wants to maintain their identity in the agency and corporate world?
So look, ideally it shouldn’t always have to be on the person of color, the LGBTQ person. And that’s the importance of implementing unconscious bias training across agencies in general. Because you need to help white people to understand that you can’t always rely on the black guy or the Latina female to have to be the ones to make sure this is okay. You know, and to be the ones who have to speak up, you have to start interrogating the work from a cultural perspective too. And don’t put all the burden of that on them. Let me address the actual question you are asked, which is a tough one about maintaining cultural identity at work. You have to make a judgment call. I mean, you know, it’s, when you’re managing your career and your relationships with your colleagues, you have to make judgment calls in the moment.
When do I be brave and when would it be better to let things go? And I wouldn’t presume to lay down rules for how that should go. I think the skills that help people be real and nurture supportive relationships are meeting people where they are. Everybody’s at a different place on their journey around diversity and inclusion. And so when we see people who aren’t as far along, we can do a couple of things. We can shame them, we can confront them or we can talk to them privately and say, you know, I’d like to have a conversation if that’s okay. You said something and here’s the way it made me feel. Here’s the perspective that, you know, probably you don’t know. And I, I just wanted to share another perspective and do that in a way that will bring them along. And again, I can’t prescribe rules to any one because sometimes you have to get angry. But that’s an approach that I, I’ve seen be very effective.
What does inclusion mean to you?
I want to respond to this because it’s so important. I’m not with any of the the common out there answers even though I think some of them are beautiful. So there’s, there’s one phrase out there that I’ve always loved, which is, you know diversity is inviting someone in the door. Inclusion is inviting them to dance while they’re there. I think inclusion is about creating an environment that is going to be welcoming and supportive and nurturing of professionals of all cultural backgrounds or gender orientation, sexual orientations, age groups. We haven’t talked about age, but in the agency world, ageism is real. It really is. And you know, I would like to see the inclusion movement start to take up that issue. I think it’s, I think it’s the next frontier and it’s also a huge miss for marketers. Because what’s, what’s the age?
It’s always like 18 to either 49 at the upper limit. Right. And yet, typically when people hit 50, they’re going to have more disposable income than they ever have, probably more leisure time. And yet all of our advertising images are beautiful young people, et cetera, et cetera. I’m trying to get that money. Exactly. Exactly. So yeah, I think that the next horizon of what what inclusion should mean, I think is, you know, embracing the age spectrum as well as all of the other spectrums.
New Speaker (33:22):
[Darren: It’s a lot of work for the industry to do, but I’m glad they have someone like you who is leading it and doing it with these strategies from an insights perspective.]