How to integrate multicultural research into your insights strategy

“The way we do research is inherently out of step with multicultural America,” – Kalil Vicioso, board member of Insights in Color. “There are things we can do in the short-term, but it’s not a short-term fix.”

Market research certainly is much more meaningful and relevant when it gets the full picture from a representative group of consumers. Let’s get our research in step with today’s America. The only way to do that is by making sure to actually integrate multicultural research into your overall market research strategy. This is even more important today with the U.S. Census numbers released in 2021 and showing an ever-more diverse America.

In this article, I discuss how to do that. I’ll cover:

  • what is multicultural research?
  • why is it not happening at the level is should be?
  • steps to integrate multicultural research in your market research.

Let’s dive in.

What is multicultural research?

Multicultural research means to consider different backgrounds in your research. Given that many consumer groups are multicultural our research should also keep that in mind.

That means the research keeps cultural differences in mind, uses the right language and understands the subtleties of relationships between the brand and its consumers.

"You get inspiration when you are really in the world that you live in. And that is a multicultural world. That's just part of the reality we live in."

A bit of history

Multicultural research in the past was seen by some companies as a social responsibility activity, Kalil said on an episode of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” Others used multicultural research to account for different languages in the consumer base.

“It was when you had a different language group, then you needed to do multicultural research,” Kalil said.

For Latin audiences it was often about assimilation, he said.

“We were pushing the envelope then,” he said. “You know a lot of people will be multicultural. They are mixing different cultures together. And it’s not just language. It’s so much bigger than that.”

Then it became “and we need to do multicultural,” he said.

“It’s time to disrupt all that because we live in multicultural America,” Kalil said.

Instead, multicultural research should be part of your research in general.

Why is multicultural research not happening?

Attention was high on multicultural issues in 2020 with the George Floyd murder, for example, Kalil said.

“Suddenly we are all very aware of it,” Kalil said. “But once it’s not as hot, then attention moves back and we revert back to this is an add-on. But it can’t be an add-on. It’s not just a component. Because multicultural audiences aren’t a component of America. It’s integral to the population of this country today.”

It is important because how else can our research be reflective of the world we live in?

How to integrate multicultural research

“That’s what the insights industry should be about – inspiring and guiding,” Kalil said. “You get inspiration when you are really in the world that you live in. And that is a multicultural world that’s just part of the reality we live in.”

Read next: Who are the customer influencers that matter to your brand?

“It’s really a mindset shift as opposed to ‘here are three steps to take to conduct your multicultural research’,” added Jenn Vogel, vice president of marketing at Voxpopme and host of “Reel Talk.” “It’s really about thinking about all the research we are doing differently.”

"You have to make multicultural research intuitive and the only way to do that is you have to have people who have that life experience."

Kalil said that it starts with thinking about a number of things:

  • how we set up our research
  • the way we create our research instruments
  • wording that is used
  • the sample

Once you integrate multicultural research into your strategies, it’s also important to consider how to analyze it.

“And how do we give it meaning?” Kalil said.

That can mean:

  • Changes in process
  • Changes in makeup of a team

“How reflective is your organization?” Kalil said. “You need somebody who can interpret it.”

And the team that creates and implements the strategy needs to reflect the marketplace.

“There’s a real opportunity that gets missed when the research team doesn’t have that representation,” he said. “You are missing a different perspective on the world.”

Short-term to longer-term initiatives for multicultural research

The amount of time can vary for insights teams and companies to implement and integrate multicultural research into their overall market research strategy. But quick wins are possible and some changes will take a bit more effort. Let’s dive into those steps.

Awareness (Short term)

None of this will change if we aren't having these conversations.

Being aware is the first step to probably any necessary change. How can anything be changed if there’s no awareness?

To understand your company’s level of diversity awareness, use the Diversity Sense tool from Insights in Color.

“You can get an immediate sense of ‘wow, we weren’t thinking about that,'” Kalil said.

The tool asks questions about what has been done with multicultural issues – including for the research project  and the makeup of the team conducting the research. Once complete, you receive a score with a summary of where things stand. An example:

Your project is in danger of researching consumers and producing insights through a restrictive lens that does not allow for diverse narratives to exist beyond mainstream expectations.

Let’s talk about how to immediately fix some of these issues, and then let’s explore further consulting solutions for your business.

“It allows researchers from brands or agencies self-assess and what their practices are,” Kalil said. “To really get a sense for bias in research design and seeing where can I shore things up, where are we falling short and what is it that I’m not thinking of? Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.”

The right conversations (Short to medium term)

From there, teams need to have the right conversations and the right mindset. What do we do next? How do we move forward from here?

“I know for me, even just having these conversations is really helpful,” said Jenn. “We were looking recently at how do we word our demographic questions? There’s a difference between language and culture. It’s so eye opening. None of this will change if we aren’t having these conversations.”

Think about the language used in surveys (Short to medium term)

The language we use in surveys matters. What words work best to be culturally inclusive? Are we using them?

“Culture is dynamic and it’s shifting,” Kalil said. “We have to stay on top of how language is changing. How is it shifting and why is it shifting.”

The quality of questions matters! For example, Kalil said, asking vague, high-level questions can be a problem. That can include:

  • What do you think?
  • How do you feel?
  • What are your thoughts?

Find specific open-ended questions to use here!

Remember that some answers can’t be given in the form of text. Let’s take a survey about cooking. Some people might not be able to answer questions about what they are doing when they are cooking.

“There’s like wisdom in your hands when you are cooking,” he said. “You have to show what you are doing and can then explain it.”

Working with the right partners (Medium term)

You might need help from somebody outside the organization – like a consultant or a new role on the team or somebody with different skillsets.

“Work with people who have expertise working with diverse audiences,” Kalil said. “Work with people who have been thinking about these topics for some time – both through lived and professional experiences.”

Consider using the Insights in Color standards as a starting point as well.

“The goal of those is to provide some guidance,” Kalil said. “That’s everything from the language we use, the questions and how to do that in a thoughtful way.”

Talent (Longer term)

“Part of the long-term solution has to be talent,” Kalil said.

Insights teams must have the right makeup that reflects the community.

“You have to make it intuitive and the only way to do that is you have to have people who have that life experience,” Kalil said.

Read next: Building teams that work to understand your customers better

And there are ways to build a diverse team today. For example, take distributed teams. Can’t find the right candidates locally? Hire remote. This really hit home for me when I talked with Michelle Ngome of the African American Marketing Association. I said that diversity can be hard in a state like Iowa, where I live and where the majority of people are white. But why does an insights team need to be restricted to an area, she asked. Find the best fits wherever they are, she said.

Reflecting the community correctly is the right thing to do and can get us better insights for our businesses.

Asking the right inclusive demographic questions (Ongoing)

On another episode of “Reel Talk” we discussed the importance of asking the right demographic questions to have an inclusive set of respondents. What demographic questions to ask and how to ask them is an ever evolving field. People are redefining how they are identified and want to be referred to. Keep this strategy in mind as well to make your research multicultural.

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What’s a question you’d like to ask consumers?