Forbes: If You Want Black Audiences, Give Them A Seat at the Table

If you’re trying to appeal to black consumers without a black voice in the room, you’re taking the wrong approach.

Across studies and articles detailing ways to reach out to African-American audiences, one common idea is omnipresent: authenticity. Authenticity is the key to unlocking the $162 billion in buying power black millennials hold in the United States. But be warned, you can’t “fake the funk.” The only way to authentically produce content that engages and attracts today’s black consumer is to hire black marketing and advertising teams to create it.

When it comes to marketing to black millennials, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. No one knows black audiences like black marketers and advertisers. Black-owned agencies are uniquely positioned as both industry experts and members of a lucrative, yet underserved market demographic. This allows them intrinsic authenticity and the ability to leverage that authenticity into winning campaigns for their clients.

Another important factor is identity performance. Times are long gone from Peter Steiner’s tongue-in-cheek adage that “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Especially in the digital space where it is possible to be anyone and anything, black audiences are choosing to be themselves. They are strongly asserting their cultural, ethnic and racial affiliations. National and sociopolitical forces have caused a resurgence in black pride and alignment with blackness online. This phenomenon can be seen in the emergence of several popular hashtags on Twitter, such as #BlackGirlMagic, #BlackOwned, #BuyBlack, and of course, #BlackLivesMatter or #BLM.

 

According to AdAge, this growing sentiment is leading black millennials and Gen-Zers to create a “separate digital landscape” where they are influencing culture, media, news and even politics en masse. This influence is evident when you look at the spread of slang terms that originate in the black digital space (“on fleek”), music (the rise of streaming superstars like Chance the Rapper), memes and viral videos that end up on mainstream media outlets like CNN or Good Morning America, and social movements like Black Lives Matter becoming a topic during the 2016 election.

Identity and affiliation are integral and this group puts their money where their ideals are, making it of the utmost importance to avoid cultural gaffes. There are many examples of companies and brands that either by design or execution launched campaigns that fell flat with black audiences. One of the most notable in recent memory is Pepsi’s commercial featuring a famous member of the Kardashian-Jenner family. The ad sparked controversy when 21-year-old model Kendall Jenner walked to the front lines of a protest to hand a Pepsi to a police officer.

The backlash was swift and intense. Critics argued that by making social activism seem as easily solved as sharing a soft drink, Pepsi trivialized various social movements whose meetings with police often aren’t received as peacefully. Both Black Lives Matter and Civil Rights Era activists responded negatively to the commercial and Pepsi soon pulled the ad and issued an apology.

Truthfully, we don’t know who was in the room when the many decisions that led to this campaign were made, but it’s safe to say that a lack of diversity in marketing spaces can lead to issues like the one Pepsi faced. Contracting black consultants or firms to assist in the creative and decision-making processes circumvents this problem. It enables companies to have culturally sensitive soundboards to prevent campaigns that may illicit a negative response.

But – and this is important – black marketers and advertisers can only do this if they have a seat at the table.

According to PR Daily, more than 90% of black millennials own smartphones, 55% spend at least an hour per day on social media sites (6% more than all millennials), and are 25% more likely than other millennials to say they’re the first in their group of friends to try new technology.

The benefit of properly engaging with multicultural audiences isn't vague or elusive: With black spending power projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020, this demographic will be setting and influencing trends in everything from technology and media to politics and pop culture. Paired with the aforementioned renaissance of Afrocentrism in order to make inroads with this essential target market, brands must have proven commitment and dedication to the multicultural community.

What does this mean for businesses hoping to entice black consumers? Having black-owned and black-operated agencies create content, head campaigns and design visuals made for black audiences will show genuine support. Brands are seen as champions and responsible producers rather than culture vultures trying to take advantage. In order to succeed, you have to be perceived as marketing for – not just marketing to – African-Americans. Black voices as a part of the process achieve that.

Jen Coy