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The Risks And Rewards Of Wooing The Asian-American Market

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The fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, Asian-Americans, appears to be a target marketers dream.

Just 11 million people command the buying power of $253 billion. The Selig Center for Economic Growth, Athens, Ga., estimates that this figure will rise to $455 billion by 2007.

Household incomes for this segment are also in excess of the general population by $10,000 per year.

Easy to reach, more than 90% live in metropolitan areas with half the population living in just three states. Yet, hundreds of corporations are leaving billions of dollars on the table either because they are discounting the economic clout of a mere four percent of the total population, or because they are overwhelmed by the kaleidoscopic diversity of Asian languages, cultural traditions, countries of origin, sociological contexts and other variables.

Following are seven key principles that unify diverse Asian-American groups of consumers and also differentiate them from other western demographics.

These guidelines need to be applied to individual categories after demographic and other segmentation analyses have been made.

1. The Nostalgia Market. AT&T, MetLife and some other leading brands have skillfully identified this core principle in communicating with Asian-Americans very poignantly in some of their advertising and collateral materials.

Most Asian-Americans are foreign-born, recent immigrants with frequent and close ties back home. Brands can act as bridges that connect consumers with their homeland through product offerings and messages or grassroots efforts at important holidays.

Take a look at various Asian-American portals to get an idea of the value of nostalgia marketing to this group. For both life and health insurance products, very often the starting point can be the presence of ethnic agents and outlets situated in a Chinatown or the equivalent centers of commerce for other subgroups like Little India or other key centers.

2. The Entrepreneurial Niche. Minority-owned businesses are growing four times faster than the general market, and Asian-Americans once again have shown remarkable growth in this area.

Asian-Americans have carved unique niches for themselves, exemplified by the flourishing Korean women-owned nail salons or South Asian-owned motels across the country.

Insurance firms that wish to cultivate relationships with ethnic entrepreneurs can strategically partner with other businesses like airlines, telecommunications, cable and media services, and others effectively.

At another level, many insurance firms that work with the community to recruit agents and sales force have successfully tapped the entrepreneurial abilities of Asian-Americans.

3. The Language of Family and The American Dream. No matter that this group speaks more than 50 different languages at home or the fact that they come from a myriad of countries, there is one underlying common factor that brings them together in the United States.

Like many other immigrants from other countries and cultures, Asian-Americans dream for their children and invest early in securing the future of their children and their families.

Whether it be a Filipino executive in Los Angeles or a Korean professor at an Ivy league school or a Chinese surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, they are one in their quest to build a good home for their families, saving up for a first-class education for their school-going children or even in providing health packages for their parents or relatives.

Asian-Americans are always looking for good health packages for their relatives visiting the United States for extended stays of four to six months and are often willing to pay good premiums.

Another key area of connecting with Asian-American families in health care is in the area of preventive education and providing risk-screening programs.

One in four Asian-Americans of Indian origin is at risk for diabetes, and an organization that takes an active role in educating Asian Indian families about this in an innovative and meaningful way is likely to win their attention and their hearts.

4. The In-Language Dilemma. Depending on the segment being covered, based on education and other demographics, English is a widely used language among the under-18 age group of Asian-Americans.

Comprehension or use of English, regardless of whether English is spoken at home, is also high most of the time.

Whether it is for research purposes or for developing customer service training programs, the complexity of working with so many different languages can easily thwart the efforts of a new entrant into this area.

5. Viral Marketing–The Power Of Key Influencers. A significantly high portion of the top five percent of students at prestigious academic institutions is of Asian-American descent.

College campuses and professional associations and groups house the capability for a very focused viral marketing campaign to help marketers in their customer acquisition or retention strategies.

Other organizations like medical associations, entertainment channels and networking groups for Asian professionals also are largely untapped by conventional insurance marketing routes.

6. Faith and Releasing Positive Vibrations. Asian cultures have a rich legacy of religious, philosophic and other beliefs that can be positively harnessed by marketers and communicators who wish to understand the not-so-apparent layer of the consumer psyche.

Red envelopes with money are auspicious in Chinese and Japanese cultures, and many financial institutions, retail stores and other marketers on the West Coast have used this image in their direct mail pieces, successfully aimed at this segment.

Lucky numbers or charms or even holiday-related campaigns that respect or celebrate a particular communitys religious observance are positive ways to provide an edge over the competition, provided that it is not an ad-hoc effort in trying to artificially bond with this segment.

7. Unspoken Cues and Negative Associations. A quick viewing of Asian cinema versus American cinema will help you to understand that Asian-Americans are less explicit in their communications than are Americans.

The use of colors, symbols and nonverbal cues are very elaborate, even in everyday communications. Global marketers doing business or advertising in Asia have understood the importance of nonverbal communication cues to this audience.

However, mistakes can also be made by inadvertently making inauspicious references. Common Asian symbols like a kimono or chopsticks can be misrepresented and stand for death symbols. So, imagery is important, but if used inappropriately can sabotage the campaign.

Insurance players should look at the diversity within the Asian-American market as an opportunity for innovation and developing unique relationships with a market which will be 30 million plus by 2050.

is an ethnic strategist and senior vice president at Strategic Research Institute, New York. She can be reached at [email protected].

Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 21, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.