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Multicultural Marketing Research: Breaking out of the Old Marketing Research Box by Michael Halberstam, President, Interviewing Service of America (ISA)

Date: Sep 20, 2012

Interviewing Service of America (ISA) is the sponsor of the Multicultural Market section of our  2012/2013 Source Book of Multicultural Experts. The Source Book is now available!


It was only a couple of years ago that I was touting the ease with which market research could be conducted among different ethnicities and nationalities in the US, while at the same time chiding companies for ignoring the growing power of these groups. It was relatively easy to target and interview almost all potential respondents via telephone, recruit them to a focus group or ask them to take part in a car clinic or in-home ethnography. However, the cost of conducting research among these groups is always higher than for a general population study even with participation rates being slightly higher as compared to research among the general population. Bi and multilingual interviewers, focus group moderators and market researchers are more accessible than ever. But what happens next?

Imagine a large food or consumer package goods manufacturer is looking to understand the shopping behavior of Hispanic or Asian Americans. Traditionally, they would conduct research using one of the classic methodologies I mentioned above. But in the last one to two years some exciting, new modes of data collection have getting market researchers excited. Modes such as online focus groups, mobile research (using SMS, URLs or Apps), text mining, surveys on social media research and in-person surveys through tablets and smart phones as well as neuroscience have created an amazing buzz. Of particular import for market researchers is the high degree of cell only households and the growing rate of smart phones among minorities. The Center for Disease Control’s ongoing National Health Interview Survey reveals this tidbit from the July to December 2010 data: Hispanic adults (38.4%) were more likely than non-Hispanic white adults (25.0%) or non-Hispanic black adults (31.1%) to be living in households with only wireless telephones.

There are exciting implications for these new technologies especially when collecting data among multicultural/multilingual populations. While focus groups and telephone interviewing may never go away, online and mobile communities can now be built for almost any group in almost any language. These can be used multiple times thereby keeping the overall costs of conducting research down. For example, a Chinese community panel comprised of N=600 participants (150 each on NY, SF, LA and 75 each in Houston and Chicago) can be used on a regular basis with only limited refreshing of the panel. Using mobile technology a pre-recruited group of Hispanic supermarket shoppers in LA and Houston can activate an App on their Smart phone that allows them to take pictures of the products they buy, view and consider when they shop. Data is received by the client during the shopping experience. Set up properly, respondents can receive coupons our communications on their device from the client during their visit.

The constant improvements in technology will continue to lead to better, possibly more inexpensive, and more timely data for multicultural agencies and clients. Marketers have little excuse not to conduct market research in these growing and important communities.

Contact Information:
Interviewing Service of America (ISA)
15400 Sherman Way, 4th Fl.
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Ph. 800-289-1044
Fx. 818-756-7489