The 2000 U.S. Census counted 10.2 million Asian-Americans. By 2010, this population is expected to grow by 33% (mostly through immigration) resulting in over 14 million Asian-Americans, or 5% of the total U.S. population. In spite of being a small proportion of the population, many financial services and insurance companies consider the Asian-American market to be a very attractive consumer segment.

Demographic factors like a younger age, a higher proportion of households consisting of married couples with children, and a larger household size make the Asian-American population a viable market in terms of need for financial products and services (see Table 1).

In addition, compared to the U.S. as a whole, the Asian-American population has higher household incomes and higher levels of education. Also, Asian-Americans tend to run successful small businesses. The latest data released by the U.S. Department of Commerce indicates that among the various minority-owned businesses, Asian-Americans owned 30% of them, which generated almost 52% of the revenue.

The Asian-American population is extremely diverse–with different countries of origin, different languages and different cultures. Almost 90% of all Asian-Americans belong to six ethnic groups: Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese.

This complexity can be a disadvantage from a marketing point of view. If these Asian-American populations were scattered throughout the country, then companies would be hard-pressed to serve them adequately. However, this is not the case: Different ethnic groups tend to be concentrated in different areas of the country, making it feasible for companies to invest in those strategies (for example, using selective print or cable TV channels) that have a high likelihood of succeeding at the local level. In most cases, companies have been reaching out to these ethnic groups through the use of in-language media.

Targeting Asian Indians

However, Asian Indians, who are a sixth of the total Asian-American population, have not been targeted as a niche market in the past. In part, this was because it was generally assumed that mainstream marketing and branding strategies were effectively reaching this group due to their fluency in English. However, findings from a LIMRA survey on Asian Indians do not appear to confirm this.

The largest proportion of Asian Indians–45%–noted that they mostly spoke a native language of India at home. Even among those who have lived in the U.S. at least 15 years, 4 in 10 spoke a native language at home. This implies that for many, the language they are most comfortable with is often one other than English. It is also likely that in households with low incomes, the proportion of Asian Indians speaking a native language will be higher.

It is important to remember that Asian Indians in the U.S. are linguistically heterogeneous, reflecting the various languages spoken in India (where there are 18 national languages recognized by the Indian Constitution and many more dialects). According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 19% of Asian Indians speak Hindi at home and 14% speak Gujarati while smaller proportions speak a variety of other languages. This means there is no single (non-English) language that would benefit Asian Indians who are more comfortable in their native language.

Companies need to take these language abilities into consideration when marketing to Asian Indians. The multiplicity of Indian languages presents a dilemma for companies that want to penetrate this market. For companies in the affluent market, English may be sufficient. Other companies should first study the local demographics to find the common Indian languages spoken in an area, and then hire producers accordingly.

Regardless of the language ultimately chosen for marketing and branding, Asian Indians (like all ethnic groups) want to see that their cultural heritage is treated with sensitivity. Two-thirds of Asian Indians felt it is important for companies and financial representatives to understand their cultural heritage. This factor was the most important among several culturally relevant attributes (e.g., having in-language literature) regardless of the language spoken at home. This does not mean that the other cultural characteristics are not important–they are just less important than understanding and being sensitive to cultural values.

In summary, the issue of one particular attribute–that of cultural sensitivity–has been raised as a desirable characteristic for marketing purposes. How a company addresses this–though branding messages, and through the hiring and training of sales representatives–could determine the success of its efforts to penetrate this market.

Nilufer Ahmed, Ph.D., is a senior scientist at LIMRA International specializing in research into women’s and ethnic markets. She can be reached by e-mail at nahmed@limra.com.

Table 1: Demographics

How The Asian Indian Niche Compares

U.S.

Asian-Americans

Asian Indians

Median age

35.4 years

33.0 years

30.0 years

Proportion of households consisting of married couples

53%

62%

71%

Proportion of households consisting of married couples with children

26%

37%

44%

Average household size

2.6

3.1

3.1

Proportion of population aged 25 years and above with a Bachelor’s degree

24%

44%

64%

Proportion of households with at least $100,000 annual income

12%

20%

27%

Source: U.S. 2000 Census, U.S. Census Bureau

Table 2: Language Preferences

What Asian Indians Speak

At home

With friends

With neighbors

A native language of India

45%

15%

5%

English

37

64

90

Both

18

21

5

100%

100%

100%

Source: LIMRA International