Multicultural direct

Ethnic communities provide natural niche marketing opportunities. And direct marketing - specifically targeted direct mail - is an ideal, albeit more costly, tool with which to reach various groups, particularly non-English-speaking Canadians.

Ethnic communities provide natural niche marketing opportunities. And direct marketing – specifically targeted direct mail – is an ideal, albeit more costly, tool with which to reach various groups, particularly non-English-speaking Canadians.

In addition to its targeting and measurement virtues, direct allows marketers to go into much more detail (in the recipient’s language of choice), as well as offering the chance to take into account unique cultural sensitivities.

Indeed RBC Royal Bank is among a select, but growing, group of Canadian marketers – mostly in the automotive, telecommunications, financial and real estate industries – that have recently moved beyond the English- and French-language marketplaces in Canada.

‘There is a huge flux of immigration coming into Canada, and many of these people are the kinds of clients we want to have. So there could be a very easy and great ROI by communicating with them,’ says Marilyn Bassin, managing director, direct marketing at Toronto-based RBC Royal Bank.

But many clients still overlook Canada’s growing ethnic communities, says Toronto-based Elsa Lai, Asian group leader and CD, Koo Creative, a unit of the Cossette Communications Group.

‘It’s still early days for ethnic marketing,’ she says. ‘Certain industries have been the first to step in, for obvious reasons – when they land, immigrants need a house, bank, car, etc. Slowly we will see other industries jumping on the bandwagon.’

Little wonder: In 2001, there were 1.8 million immigrants in Canada who had arrived during the previous decade – 6.2% of the total population, and of those, 61% reported speaking neither English nor French most often at home. Also, in 2001, the Chinese were the largest visible minority group with just over 1.2 million people, according to Census Canada.

Many marketers feel these numbers are simply too large to ignore. RBC, for one, plans to first focus on the Chinese community, as do many marketers, due to its sheer size relative to other ethnic communities. However, Bassin adds, the company has also identified Korean and South Asian communities among its primary targets.

Most recently, RBC included a Chinese-language overlay in an English mailing to see if it would elicit a lift in response within the target group – those customers the bank believed to be of Asian decent. The exercise creates a dialogue and opens the door to a potential follow-up call from a local branch, says Bassin, who won’t comment on results.

But there are challenges in targeting the ethnic market. ‘There are certain data dictionaries you can buy, and we’ve created some of our own proxies to try and identify, for example, the Asian names, but it’s far from perfect. We never want to be presumptuous as to talk to someone in a different language because as much as you may have an Asian name, you could be very much Canadian born.

‘There’s always a risk there,’ she says, adding that immigrants who receive DM in their mother tongue might also expect service to be provided in that language. For these reasons, all communications so far have been bilingual – English-Chinese.

Making assumptions with regard to ethnicity and/or language can be a dangerous practice, agrees Ken Koo, president of Vancouver-based Koo Creative. ‘It is at best ineffective. At worst, it might seriously offend.’

It usually happens because there are few other options available: The number-one difficulty with direct marketing to an ethnic audience, he continues, is the lack of accurate lists in Canada – the data is just not there.

That’s precisely why, in the past, Koo has opted for newspaper inserts in Chinese newspapers such as Ming Pao. He suggests a response mechanism could be included in an insert in an effort to build a database. Koo recently created a campaign for Vancouver real estate client Concord Pacific Place, developer of a residential neighbourhood on the former Expo grounds.

The campaign, targeting the Chinese market in Vancouver, included Chinese-language TV, radio, print and a direct mailer written only in English (to protect the client from any blunders due to imperfect lists and inaccurate data). The project was sold out in four weeks.

But much of the ethnic media is not measured or audited, making it hard to tell how the message is received, points out Cleve Lu, CEO and strategist for Markham, Ont.-based Era Integrated Marketing Communications, and a specialist in the Asian market. Only direct mail, he argues, allows marketers to test offers and timing, as well as target, and achieve measurable results. He suggests marketers pull from Census data, Bell Canada and Canada Post directories to build an ethnic database by last name.

Lu recently worked with McNeil Products on a Chinese campaign for its Lactaid product. He says they opted to drive response – thus creating a database – through flyers delivered to houses in certain targeted areas. That initial foray garnered them a 2.5% response rate, he says.

Other ways to get around the lack of lists include leveraging an existing database, as RBC is doing, or culling your own lists as Ford Company of Canada did a few years back.

From 1999 to 2001, John Booth, principal and managing director of Thunderidge Management Group, of Guelph, Ont., was charged with leveraging the automaker’s involvement in the Canadian Airline’s Chinese New Year Festival in Vancouver and Toronto. He helped to create a trade show-type exhibit that involved cultural themes like gaming and luck, as well as the required Ford product placement and promotional tie-in.

Among other things, Booth created a dice game, whereby visitors to the booth bought and registered for tickets to play to win Ford merchandise, including the grand prize draw for a car. A database of names, addresses and some personal info was created from the entries, and used to fuel future direct-marketing initiatives to the Chinese community, Booth says.

‘It was a smart way to go. The spending patterns and cultural characteristics of the Chinese market are especially important and Ford was able to gather this type of information. The event was one of the biggest celebrations for this group,’ says Booth, adding that about 120,000 people passed through the 2001 event in three days.

Sharifa Khan, president of Toronto-based Balmoral Marketing & Advertising, has done direct mail initiatives targeting various ethnic groups including Italian, Greek and Chinese for clients including Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries and Scotiabank. She says that once you’ve sourced a reliable list, the next most important thing to focus on is the specific cultural sensitivities of each target group.

‘There has to be something culturally sensitive to entice them. For the Greek and Italian communities that ‘something’ might be religious icons,’ says Khan. ‘Canada has evolving immigration trends – no one that comes here discards their culture and buying habits overnight.’