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Lessons Learned From a Career Crisis

learning

Although it was a dark rainy night in fall, in my mind everything was as clear as day.  That was back in 1994, a year into my first career in Montreal, Canada and I was having the most difficult, in fact the most traumatic experience of my life.  It was I who made the decision to change my life completely.  I migrated to a new country, started a new career and a new life, all on my own.  But on that dark night, the rubber hit the road and I had every good reason to be afraid.  However at the end of another dreadfully difficult day at the office, I was determined to stay the course.

I was struggling in a professional field that was not quite the right fit for me.  My colleagues were unhelpful in an unhappy work environment and it was affecting my performance.  I was in a foreign country with no close family, a very limited social circle and no professional network to help steer me towards other opportunities.  This had never happened to me in my life.  I always fit in, rose to every challenge and succeeded.  In spite of it all, deep down in my soul, I knew I had to keep going.  I wouldn’t “just quit.”

What was ironic was that I really was letting go.  I was letting go of the fear-driven “what ifs?” that had been scaring the living daylights out of me.  On that dark rainy night, I made the decision to change my inner dialogue by courageously answering my “what ifs?”  with “so whats!”

“What if this job doesn’t work out?” – “So what!  I will find a better job.”

“What if I can’t pay my bills?” – “So what! There’s my savings, unemployment insurance and… my parents.”

“What if people think I am a quitter?” – “So what! What people think about me won’t change the world.”

I was determined to allow the Universe to let this messy situation unfold and to make sense out of it.  I just knew that I would be okay.  Here’s what I learned –

  • We all know our truth. Being authentic can be difficult.

The fear and angst were rooted in my struggle to fit the bill of an educated, young, confident professional.  I was supposed to live up to everything I was taught – strive to achieve my goals, to never ever give up, be strong in the face of adversity.  The reality was that I wasn’t being authentic, even though I already knew my truth – I was not in the right professional field and my soul was dying.

Many people don’t live authentically.  We live in a world that describes what success ought to look like.  By staying in a job that was not right for me, I was keeping up professional appearances and what I thought were other people’s expectations.  It takes guts to step off the beaten path and take the road less travelled.  Not everyone will understand why, and they will tell you that you are making a mistake.  If you listen to your inner voice, you will find your truth – what’s right and meaningful for you.

path

  • It’s not worth the effort to hang on because of the fear of losing what we think is valuable.

The job paid well and I could afford a very good material quality of life.  On the other hand, I was holding on to a job in which I wasn’t able to give of my best talents and gifts in a work environment that was wrong for me.  My soul was dying a slow, painful death.  If I quit, there was the real risk of financial hardship.

So it was decision time. I had to choose between fear and courage.  I chose courage.

It was the courage to see beyond the surface and to dig deeply within to find out I really wanted, what really mattered to me and what were the next steps I needed to take.  I knew that I had to leave that job and get on my own path.  And I did.  Once I had honestly confronted my fears I was ready to take a leap of faith. In the face of uncertainty and risk, I made some responsible decisions about how I was going to leave and move my career forward.  While introspection was the starting point in all of this, I actively sought help to support the process.  I was amazed at the number of people who were willing to offer good advice and who had “been there, done that” and could help me find the things I needed to get through this crisis.

courage

  • Never let a crisis go to waste. There’s always something to learn.  Some good will emerge in the aftermath.

As it turned out, this personal and professional crisis not only taught me some important life lessons, but I gained some very useful work experience.  I eventually moved on to another company where I had a very satisfying and rewarding career in marketing.  I can safely say that much of what I learned in my previous job has given me the business acumen needed to make critical decisions, manage budgets effectively and lead with greater confidence.  All of this has taught me to never let a major crisis go to waste.

crisis

Throughout my career, these three lessons have guided me to make decisions that are right for me.  It’s all about finding my life’s purpose and living authentically.  The organizations where I have worked, their clients and the community have all benefited because I am offering my best self, serving passionately and using my talents to the fullest.

I do believe that we’re all in constant evolution and that it is through life’s events – whether times of crisis or calm – that we somehow find direction for our life’s journey.  It takes courage to confront the fears that compromise our well-being and prevent us from living authentically. It’s well worth it.

 

Several business people wander through a maze looking for a job

When I published the article “You’re hired!”…and it took me a year, I had no idea that I would be looking for work three years later.  Back then, I had just concluded an intensive search after my position in a stable, global financial institution was abolished, ending a successful career that progressed nicely over 16 years.

When I accepted the offer for a permanent full-time position the following year, it was not quite the dream job I was looking for, but I was convinced, and still am, that I was forging a new path to take me to the next level.  In fact, I deliberately disrupted myself.  It was a newly created job with the mandate to develop and deliver a marketing strategy for products I had never marketed before.

Two years in, there were budget and staff cutbacks.  I sub-consciously knew that the time to move on was fast approaching.   Last summer, my position was eliminated.

Although it’s cold comfort, I realize that I am not alone.  I’ve met many mid- and advanced-career professionals on the job search trail.  I see the struggles to remain positive, diffuse anxiety and stay the course.  My career transition experience has given me some insights on stumbling blocks that can potentially derail a job search and how to avoid them.

  1. Other people’s stories are theirs, not yours

During my networking, I’ve met many people who’ve “been there, done that” and they tell their stories of how they got through it.  The Winners, who took only 2 to 4 months to land on their feet; the Whiners who give very detailed explanations as to why they won’t ever get hired (age…, conspiring former bosses and colleagues…, no one hires in summer… etc.) and the Copped-Out & Lucked-Out who boast about the luxury of being able to retire early so they avoid looking for a job.

Then there are those who haven’t “been there.” They have never lost their jobs.  They are really Secretly Scared that this could happen to them, while they hint that they pity you and don’t envy you.  There are also the Helpers and Hinters who in an awkward effort to provide good advice, actually end up saying exactly what you don’t need to hear (“You’re doing something wrong, otherwise it wouldn’t take so long…”) or they send you job postings that are no match for your skills and experience.

It’s so easy to buy-in to other people’s stories.  Comparing your experience with other people’s stories is a waste of time and energy.  The truth is you need to own your story.

Instead of trying to explain your story, make a commitment to yourself to be clear on what’s best for you.  Only you can make sense of your life’s journey.  Only you really know the things that motivate you and ultimately matter to you.  Very few people will understand your story.  Most people are trying to figure out their own story and others don’t have the time or are not really interested in listening to yours.

The temptation to set low expectations and settle for less becomes real when you compare yourself with other people. It takes courage to say “no” to seemingly good opportunities in order to say “yes” to the very best.  You are not a loser if you haven’t found a job within a given timeframe or if you made it to the final interview but didn’t get the job.

Even if you don’t have the financial independence to prolong your search, if you accept a position out of necessity, remind yourself that you can work while continuing to search for your dream job.

  1. The corporate ladder is an obsolete metaphor

Job seekers, who have progressed over many years in one company, tend to be overly concerned with titles, organizational structures and status.  In most progressive organizations today, dotted lines, flat organizational structures and collaborative team environments are the norm.

I agree that people should look for challenging work that fits their experience and expertise.  But looking for a job with a title that fits into the next step on the corporate ladder can prevent you from finding enriching opportunities for meaningful work that expand your talents and capabilities.

The truth is that we are living in a new corporate world order where the corporate ladder is fast becoming an obsolete metaphor.

Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In, encourages professionals to forget the corporate ladder and consider careers in terms of a jungle gym. You can venture down different paths and explore numerous possibilities on the way to achieving your goals, just like trying to climb to the top of a jungle gym.  It took me quite some time to get this during my career transition four years ago.  I am glad I did, as I ended up finding an interesting opportunity which has broadened my experience not only professionally, but in my volunteer work and social life.

  1. Being stuck really sucks!

Following on my two earlier points, getting stuck can happen very easily if you can’t define what you want or if your definition of what you want doesn’t fit in the new corporate world order or with your values.

I’ve come across a few people who are stuck within a destructive ‘my way or the highway’ mindset, hanging on to what was and what will never be, taking job loss personally and feeling victimized.  When corporate priorities change, it so happens that some jobs are no longer needed. That’s why no one should take a layoff personally.

I know that it can be a drag to be out of work and pounding the pavement can be tough.  But here’s the upside:  going through a career transition can be the best opportunity to reorient a career.  On reflection, many people thank their lucky stars that they had the chance to move on, rather than stay stuck in a career that was no longer meaningful.

Most successful careers rarely ever follow a smooth, upward north-eastern trajectory.  Compromises and disruptions do occur along the way.  The truth is that compromises can be beneficial.

Speaking from my own experience, the job with a lower salary with less formal influence may just be what you need to gain more relevant experience in a changing world, while applying your past experience in a way that is beneficial to the organization and to your career in the long run.

 

Take ownership and responsibility for your career transition

The world is waiting to embrace talent and you have a fair shot to offer yours. Don’t let people, old ideas or a closed mind derail your job search.  The power to shape the future resides within each of us. That’s why it is important for every job seeker to take ownership of their career transition.

When you can clearly articulate to potential employers, who you really are and why you care, they will see that the value you bring to their organization is far greater than what you know and what they expect you to do.  This sets the stage for you to find meaningful work and for your future employer see you as a true partner, stakeholder and contributor to the organization’s success.

 

You may find the following articles helpful –

Career mistakes you must avoid@Deepak Chopra MD (Official)

Forget the Ladder; Try the Jungle Gym: What Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Says You Can Do for Your Career Right Now – Maggie Malon

It’s called a life, not a life sentence!  How to move forward when you’re feeling stuck@Michaela Alexis

 

Camille N. Isaacs Morell is a proven marketing strategy and business development enabler. She is passionate about inspiring people to make decisions that support business success.  

She currently seeks opportunities to contribute to the success of enterprises and non-profit organizations with direct responsibility for developing the marketing strategy to support business development and stakeholder engagement.

See the BIG picture…Focus on what’s important

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

Align Marketing & Sales. Build Customer Communities.

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Today’s savvy marketers know that consumers want to have access to information 24/7 to help them navigate the maze of purchase choices. Content marketing – the creation, curation and distribution of relevant information to attract and retain customers – has emerged as a key component in marketing strategies with the aim of building communities of engaged customers and contributing to the achievement of sales targets.

But how effective has content marketing been in generating quality sales leads? To what extent is content marketing contributing to business development goals and revenues?

Just over half — 51% — of marketers told Forrester Research their content marketing efforts are only somewhat effective in delivering business value; 27% rated the strategy as “neutral”; 6% said it was somewhat ineffective at delivering value; 1% said it was not effective at all.

Providing more engaging, relevant content could possibly lead to an improvement in these results.

However, I believe that for content marketing to be effective, Marketing and Sales have to be aligned on the definition of the customers they target, on how prospects will be engaged and converted to customers and on key performance indicators.

Aligning Marketing and Sales

  • Defining qualified leads

Generating a targeted number of sales leads from content marketing activities is not an indication that Marketing is effective or contributing to business success. What really counts is whether leads will generate sufficient revenues to achieve sales targets.  Effective content marketing strategies build engaged communities of prospective and loyal customers who have the potential to generate new business that meets or surpasses sales targets.  Therefore, Marketing and Sales must have a clear and common definition of a “qualified lead.”  A “qualified lead” ought to be defined in relation to current and anticipated customer needs and the short to long-term revenue potential of the lead in relation to Sales’ targets. It is the responsibility of Marketing to ensure that content material provides relevant information, engages interest and prompts responses from consumers who will be considered as qualified leads.

  • Managing the pipeline

The aim of pipeline management is to ensure that business development opportunities are optimized, target customer populations are reached and that qualified sales leads are generated and nurtured. This means that Marketing’s plans must be timed and managed in tandem with Sales’ capacity to follow-up on qualified leads to avoid clogging the pipeline.

Important planning activities should include agreement on data capture from engagement tactics, screening criteria to identify qualified leads and the content material that will be distributed at various stages of the customer journey.   Both Sales and Marketing must work with a common data base, marketing automation or CRM system and agree on how interactions with potential and current customers will be interpreted in relation to needs anticipation and their place on the customer journey.

  • Moving from content to conversion

Mapping appropriate content, its format and delivery to the various stages of the customer journey increases the likelihood of sales conversion.  To do this, there has to be an understanding of how the target customer populations access and use content resources.

More importantly, Marketing and Sales must agree on a clearly defined business process for lead capture and determine the points at which Marketing refers qualified leads to Sales.  Incentive compensation for referrals and conversions should also be integrated in the business process.

The table below presents high-level suggestions on the mapping of content to the stages of the customer journey.

journey

Measuring content marketing effectiveness

Today’s marketing technology tools make it possible for marketers to identify and contact anyone who shows an interest in digitally delivered content.  Under pressure to prove ROI, marketers devise tactics that are intended to create and build engagement.  The download of an eBook, the posting of a favourable comment or interactions of any kind should not be interpreted as readiness to purchase and are not the best indicators of content marketing effectiveness.

Quantitative and qualitative engagement metrics and qualified lead ratios are better indicators of content marketing effectiveness. 

  1. Community engagement and advocacy metrics –

The ratio of visitor engagements to social media impressions and/or visits to web sites indicates if the content marketing material has been effective in creating awareness and purchase consideration. Engagements include the number of clicks on social media posts and click throughs to other web pages, retweets, shares, comments and direct inquiries.

Customers, who are brand advocates, are loyal, repeat buyers, influence others to purchase and are considered a trusted source by their peers.

Advocacy is a very important qualitative and quantitative metric.  Qualitative, because it involves observing what customers are saying about the product and the brand in on-line posts, discussions and various social media.  The number of shares, followers and discussions initiated provides quantitative data on brand advocacy.

  1. Lead generation metrics –

Key lead generation metrics should focus on qualified leads as defined by Sales and Marketing.

Leads should be qualified using the data captured through engagement tactics.  As explained earlier, leads should be qualified and categorized according to revenue potential and needs anticipation.

Cost per qualified lead and cost per sales appointment are two metrics that indicate the return on the investment in content marketing.  They are calculated by dividing the number of qualified leads or sales appointments by the content marketing budget for lead generation or engagement tactics.

 See the BIG picture. 

The consistent measurement and analysis of results over an extended period of time provide benchmarks and trends that indicate the effectiveness of content marketing and the value it contributes to the business.  Content marketing effectiveness should ultimately be determined by the positive correlation between the number of leads generated and the number of new customers acquired.

Focus on what’s important.

It is important to carefully assess the results obtained.  For example, declining ratios may indicate that marketing activities are ineffective for all or some segments in the qualified lead population.  This calls for corrective action, adjustments or changes in strategy and tactics.

Finally, the on-going investment of time and budgets required to profitably sustain engagement and loyalty of new customers must be assessed in order to justify repeat investment in content marketing.

 

Related posts:

3 Mistakes e-mail marketers make and how to avoid them

These 3 KPIs may get your marketing budget approved

3 Ways to measure engagement ROI

 

Camille Isaacs-Morell develops performance-driven marketing strategies that produce measurable results in the areas of brand awareness, new business leads and sales. 

She currently seeks opportunities to contribute to the success of business-to-business enterprises and non-profit organizations in a senior leadership role with direct responsibility for developing the marketing strategy to support business development and stakeholder engagement.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com  

See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.

 

Delegate-741x480

“Check, double check and check again.”   This was possibly the best advice I received early in my career.

I followed through on my boss’ advice. I believe that this was the reason why it was noted on my performance evaluation that I was action-oriented and reliable without supervision.

In later years I realized that the checking, double checking and checking again advice wasn’t going to work for me or for the people I was leading.

During my very first role as a people manager, I understood that there is a fine line between being an effective leader and being a micro-manager.

Effective leaders know that they are ultimately accountable for the mandate that they have been given to deliver through the people they lead.

Micro-managers, in their zeal to produce results, get overly involved in the work of the people they lead.  These managers don’t confidently delegate and set expectations.  And when they do, they obsessively check, double check and check again on the work of their people, instead of letting their people, who are responsible for operations, implementation and deliverables, do the required checking.

I believe that micro-managers act the way they do mainly for the following reasons –

  • The fear of failure, which leads to the need to control other people’s actions
  • They don’t know how to manage any other way
  • They have an “agenda,” a personal need they want to fulfill

Here are 3 tips on how managers can avoid micro-managing, or can take to stop micro-managing and 3 tips on how employees can avoid being micro-managed.

 

The fear of failure and the need to control

For the manager –

  1. Gain clarity on the mandate you’ve been given. This means –
    • Identify the resources required – hire the right, competent people, ask for budgets
    • Set realistic expectations with your senior leadership and the people you lead on deliverables
    • Establish a formal schedule of checkpoints and accountabilities

For those being managed –

  1. Communicate confidentially with your manager to uncover the root cause of the fear of failure. This means –
    • Reassure your manager of your commitment and that you have his/her back
    • Mutually agree on how you will be accountable

 

Not knowing how to manage any other way

For the manager –

  1. Be courageous. Take feedback from your people and other managers seriously and seek ways to improve the situation.  This means –
    • Seeking mentorship and coaching from experienced, respected professionals you trust and who can help you to develop an effective leadership style.
    • Open communication in a dedicated forum (e.g. team meeting, off-site retreat) to discuss the mandated goals of the team and how team members will be empowered, engaged and held accountable.

For those being managed –

  1. Reduce your manager’s need to micro-manage. This means –
    • Proactively support your manager by honouring reporting commitments
    • Avoid surprises by forewarning your manager of possible delays and problems, and coming with suggestions for precautionary, preventive or risk reduction actions

 

The personal agenda or need the manager wants to fulfill

For the manager –

  1. Empowerment and accountability are essential for leadership success, regardless of what your personal agenda or motivation may be. Remember –
    • The mark of a great leader is the capacity to inspire and work with and through other people to achieve goals.

For those being managed –

  1. Find a way to see your manager’s “big picture” of what he or she is working towards. Observe and ask yourself a few questions –
    • What’s his or her motivation?
    • Who does he or she network with?
    • What’s his/her vision of the future role of the department or his/her leadership?

 

Important considerations

Managing people is not for everybody.  Managers who find it difficult to delegate and are caught in the micro-management trap should consider alternative leadership roles, such as an internal consultant, technical expert or advisor, and make an outstanding contribution to corporate objectives.

Moving on is an option for employees who are being micro-managed.   If excessive time and effort have to be invested in trying to understand and work with a micro-manager to the detriment of job satisfaction, engagement and optimal performance, the employee should decide whether to stay or to leave.

 

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

Leadership Heart

 

There are numerous definitions of “leadership.”  No matter how you look at it, leadership is really about inspiring people to achieve goals.

It takes effective leadership to successfully achieve goals, regardless of whether they are tied to revenues and profits, a desired future state of a country, implementing a new programme or promoting a cause.

Then there is the eternally debated question – “Are leaders born or made?”

While I won’t attempt to definitively answer this question, I do know that there are some people for whom inspiring others to achieve goals comes naturally.  There are others who, with coaching and formal training, perform remarkably well as strong, successful leaders.

Having served in formal leadership positions in the corporate world and in voluntary and not-for-profit organizations, I am convinced that a key determinant of success is the personal motivation to lead.

Those who aspire to leadership positions must really want to lead and must be highly motivated to achieve goals through and with the people they lead.

To determine their level of personal motivation, aspiring leaders and experienced leaders considering a new mandate, should be able to answer these two questions –

  1. Do you love power more than you care about people?
  2. Is competing for the position more important than your commitment to the cause / vision / goals ?

 

Leaders must love people more than power.

 They must be more committed to the cause than to competition.

 

Nothing is wrong with aspiring to positions of power.

In a civilized society, positions of power – whether corporate, social or political – provide opportunities for leaders to influence and create change that ultimately benefits people.  Good, ethical leaders should be motivated to aspire to positions of power because of the opportunity it affords them to help people.

Aspiring to positions of power involves competition.  Competing for a position of power should really be a healthy activity, giving aspiring candidates the opportunity to demonstrate why they should be selected to lead.

When competing against other candidates, a truly authentic leader should be able to

  • Clearly articulate his/her understanding of the vision of the future state he/she expects to create;
  • How he/she will inspire and engage others in the creation of the vision; and
  • How people will benefit from his/her leadership.

 

It’s not just about getting the leadership title,

it’s about being committed to the cause.

 

As the saying goes, “Once you’re in, you’re in.” 

Once a leader is in place, success will be largely dependent on several leadership traits.  For me, the most important is courage, both inner courage and outer courage.

Inner courage is the unwavering commitment to personal values and integrity, including the ability to honestly decide if the leadership position is the right fit and in the best interest of all concerned.

Public courage is about being prepared to make tough calls, unpopular decisions and persistent commitment, even in the face of scathing and unfair criticism.

Above all, at the heart of effective leadership is the desire and motivation to serve.  Although leaders serve by inspiring people to achieve goals, outstanding leaders always see the big picture of the overarching benefits of achieving the goals.

More important than focusing on the position of power and the process to get there, is that every aspiring leader must be even more committed to the sustainable success of the organization, people and country they intend to lead.

 

See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

@Camille21162

Camille Isaacs-Morell is a proven marketing strategy and business development enabler who thrives when leading in contexts of transformation and change.  She enthusiastically seeks her next leadership challenge.

Camille was motivated to write this post in the aftermath of the Brexit campaign and the US Republican and Democratic Parties’ National Conventions.

valueprop

One of the hardest things I had to do early in my marketing career was develop a compelling and unique value proposition for the group benefits plans offered by the insurance company where I worked.

In a price-sensitive, highly competitive market, we repeatedly asked ourselves how we could demonstrate and differentiate our solutions and services.

Our business strategy team agreed that when compared to our competitors’ capabilities, we offered superior customized solutions, outstanding customer service and integrated solutions.

My marketing colleagues and I decided that none of these capabilities could be used in our value proposition.  Not only were these capabilities becoming buzz words, but we realised also, that since benefits plans are tailored to the specific needs of our plan sponsor clients, customization was the expected norm as was outstanding customer service.  Furthermore, with clients using the services of multiple providers, it was also expected that our benefits administration systems should be interoperable and capable of being integrated with other systems.

We understood that to be meaningful, our value proposition had to speak to a critical customer need and had to be perceived as a bonus beyond the price paid for our solutions and services.

Multiple stakeholders.  Multiple motivations and priorities.

Staying away from buzzwords was hard enough.  What was even harder was crafting a compelling value proposition that worked for several stakeholders  – the benefits plan advisor who negotiated the best plan with the insurance company on behalf of the employer/plan sponsor client, the plan sponsor’s finance and human resources leadership teams, people managers and employees.

All of these stakeholders had different motivations and priorities.  Not all of them were decision-makers.  Some were influencers and others were the end-users.  All of them were going to be influenced by the value proposition at some point during the marketing, pre- and post-sales cycle.

Five steps to create a multi-stakeholder value proposition

Our marketing team did eventually define a compelling, overarching value proposition that worked really well for all stakeholders.  Here is a five-step process, which I believe can guide the development of a value proposition for multiple stakeholders –

  1. Identify stakeholders and their role in the purchase process
  2. Define the pain points/key issue, usually related to their mandate
  3. Identify the solution benefits each stakeholder requires
  4. Determine how value is created for each stakeholder
  5. Identify a common theme on how value is created for all stakeholders, develop a value proposition statement that reflects the theme and stands out from the competition.

The BIG picture – finding the common theme

Identifying how value is created for each stakeholder should always lead to a value proposition that is based on an overarching theme that resonates with all stakeholders and that can be expressed from several angles.  For example, “wellness” as the overarching theme can be expressed in terms of financial and physical wellness.  Financial wellness resonates with the CFO and benefits advisor, and physical wellness appeals to the CHRO and employees.

Focus on what’s important – finding the tipping point for each stakeholder

To bring the value proposition to life, it is important to identify the tipping point for each stakeholder audience, and then clearly state the way value is created without diluting the overarching value proposition.  For example, the CFO decision maker will almost certainly select the benefits plan that is affordable and contributes to financial success.  Therefore, in the marketing pitch to the CFO, the benefits and outcomes of the “wellness” value proposition should be explained in financial terms, demonstrating how investing in employee wellness will produce a positive ROI that translates to fewer or lower claims experience and higher workforce productivity.

A final word

In addition to using the 5-step approach outlined above, it’s important to bear in mind the following tips, when determining how to bring the value proposition to life –

  1. Understand the current and long-term bias of the organization – e.g. cost avoidance, risk management etc.
  2. Have the prospective client define what success looks like
  3. Build momentum through communication tactics targeting the decision-makers prior to the final sales pitch

 

See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.

http://www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

@Camille21162

stand out from the crowd

This year, the world’s largest multi-cultural event will take place in Brazil.  The Summer Olympic Games bring together athletes from many nations.  When the events end, the athletes return to their countries of origin… Well, not quite!  You only have to look at the multi-ethnic face of Team Canada to see that Canada is not the country of origin of many of our athletes.  The multi-ethnic profile of the team mirrors the multi-cultural mix of our country and so many other countries of the world.

Changing demographics in Canada and the emergence of potentially lucrative ethnic markets have brought attention, effort and investment in marketing to ethnic groups, with varying degrees of success.   “Multi-cultural marketing” may be a buzz word for some, or may mean big business for others.  To be successful, marketers should embrace fundamental truths, which, when understood, will dispel some persistent misconceptions and support successful multi-cultural marketing strategies.

3 Myths and 3 fundamental truths

Myth #1 – Ethnic groups are “one big happy family.” 

Fundamental truth #1 – There are sub-groups and cultural differences within ethnic groups.

For example, there are linguistic and cultural differences among Africans, people of colour from the Caribbean and African-Americans.  However, I often wonder what ROI has been achieved on Canada Post’s full-page ads in the Community Contact newspaper for MoneyGram transfers to Africa.  Community Contact is a Montreal-based newspaper that caters primarily to Black Anglophones of Caribbean origin, many of whom are avid cricket fans.  I was quite surprised a few years ago, when Canada Post did not chose to advertise its promotion of the World Cup of Cricket in the Community Contact newspaper, but continued to advertise MoneyGram transfers to Africa – a service used primarily by Québec’s African community, which does not comprise the majority of the newspaper’s readers.  This example illustrates that Canada Post, like many marketers, don’t understand that there are linguistic and cultural sub-groups in ethnic communities with different lifestyles and interests.

Myth #2 – Ethnic consumers always identify with their cultural heritage. 

Fundamental truth #2 – Ethnicity does not always play into consumer choices.  Members of Canada’s various ethnic and cultural groups generally feel a sense of belonging to Canada. 

An Ethnic Diversity Survey conducted by Statistics Canada indicated that half of the population identifies with their ethnic or cultural group.  The study also found that ethnic attachments persist, but weaken over several generations and Canadian identity increases with the number of generations a person’s family had lived in Canada.

It is important for marketers to understand the conditions in which ethnicity and cultural affiliations become relevant to consumer engagement and purchase behaviour.

I do believe that strong ethnic attachments emerge under certain conditions, such as international competitions and cultural and sporting events.  For example, the stellar performance of the Jamaican Olympic team in the track events elicited strong ethnic and cultural affiliations among second and third generation Canadians of Jamaican heritage.

Myth #3 – To appeal to ethnic groups, marketing efforts should be focused only on ethnic products.

Fundamental Truth #3 –There is a higher demand by ethnic groups for some non-ethnic products than among the general population. 

An Environics Multicultural Imperative study found that recent immigrant and second generation members of visible minority groups are highly educated, are interested in status symbols, recognition and appearance and are likely to own their own homes within the first six years of living in Canada.

For this reason, marketers in the banking, retail and home improvement sectors should pay particular attention to ethnic consumers.  It is important to understand when and where to invest in marketing activities geared to this audience and build worthwhile relationships without alienating non-ethnic clients.

That saidthere are needs that are specific to ethnic markets that are not being met through the mainstream supply chain.  A good example is beauty products, particularly hair and skin care products specific to the needs of ethnic groups, are not widely available in the major retail stores… I can personally say that this is my biggest frustration living in Canada!  With the new immigrant and ethnic populations growing at a rate faster than non-visible minority groups in Canada, retail marketers should consider ethnic products as potentially lucrative contributors to their product line-ups.

The BIG picture

Accepting these fundamental truths, I believe, is an essential step in the right direction for successful multi-cultural marketing.  But this is not enough.   Although some marketers may consider multi-cultural marketing as a branch or special practice of mainstream marketing, multi-cultural marketing will play an increasingly important role in understanding overall consumer trends in Canada.   

Statistics Canada predicts that by 2031, roughly one in every three people in the labor force could be foreign born.   The presence, needs and influence of these consumers cannot be ignored, and will have to be addressed in demand surveys and other market research activities, now and in future years.   Multi-cultural marketing in Canada will have to be integrated in the marketing plan of every business that intends to be sustainably successful.  This, in my view, is the BIG picture.

Consider the following areas to focus on:

  • Get to know more about ethnic and cultural communities– not just demographic profiles but also research consumer patterns and purchase motivations and how they differ from those of the general population.  (Be aware that most of the available research is on economic and sociological subjects with generalized conclusions and therefore must be read with caution as the disparities in economic and social conditions among ethnic groups could be misleading to marketers.)
  • Poll customers purchasing ethnic products– ‘Did you find what you were looking for?’ ‘If not, can we order for you?’
  • Faith-based centres, ethnic/cultural associations, particularly among the older generation, are important centres of community life and open the door for local marketing activitiessuch as the promotion of services that are discounted when bought/subscribed to by groups.
  • In marketing research surveys,integrate questions that will provide information relating to cultural differences (e.g. alcohol consumption, recreation, consumer purchases).
  • Acknowledge the Canadian identityof ethnic target market segments, while respecting their cultural values and differences in a positive way.

A final word

There is a growing body of research and resources to support multi-cultural marketing.   There may be other resources available.  Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.

This is an updated version of an earlier post.  Although the post was written 4 years ago, the myths about multicultural marketing still persist.

@Camille21162