Don’t Patronize the Patron

Bilingual Cans. Soccer-themed (Fútbalthemed) displays. Sweet fruit flavors. Beverage marketers love to throw these things around as the keys to attracting a multi-ethnic audience to your stores.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Sure, language, sports, and tastes are important characteristics to take into account when expanding your customer base to include the cultural and ethnic groups who are permanently changing the face of the country. But no amount of pandering to customers is going to replace simply knowing their buying habits when they approach your beverage cooler.

So pay attention. Because as our special Ethnic Marketing supplement indicates, when it comes to gathering ethnic consumers, retailers and marketers have to have respect. Respect means not belittling ethnic consumers with products and arrangements that speak at them, but in fact considering preferences and interests when it comes to stocking products – in other words, marketing to them. Respect means not just thinking of the Hispanic consumer as a soccer (futbal) fan, or thinking of Asians as a broad group who are only interested in whether it’s the Year of the Rat, but figuring out what mix of ethnic and mainstream products you need to have to satisfy a group’s needs. It also means that many well-traveled mainstream customers are going to want the same products you thought would only appeal to a specific ethnic group. Run out, and you risk losing them both.

Truly respectful ethnic marketing, you’ll learn, ascribes to a highly American belief – that all of us are entitled to great products at good prices, and that we can vote with our feet if we think we’re getting ripped off, or made fun of, or just plain patronized. Part of the beauty of marketing is letting people feel like they need something, and then filling that need. What you’ll find is that when it comes to mainstream marketing and ethnic marketing, the customer’s susceptibility to being sold a bill of goods is a lot lower than it used to be, regardless of the language on that bill.

One group that certainly hates to be sold a bill of goods are the dedicated beer drinkers, who are showing a greater inclination than ever to assume that if they don’t watch out, the big beer companies will slip them a watery “Mickey.” But there’s change afoot in the beer industry, regular freelancer Andy Murray discovers, as more buyers turn to craft beer – and more big brewers do so, as well.

While beer variety is of growing importance, for wines, variety is at the soul of their success. Our story on conducting wine tastings for customers will help you teach them to appreciate (read: buy) all that you have to offer. Until next time, drink up… respectfully.