Close the gap: The state of the 'total market' industry

If we do not get the total market topic right, businesses could lose the next 50 years of market share, writes author and founder of Reframe: The Brand.

We should have gotten it right by now, but we haven’t. We’ve had the data, the tools, the observation skills and the creativity to recognize a bad plan, and yet little has changed in almost 60 years.

That bad plan could be called "Separate But Equal Marketing," and it was introduced in the 1950s and 1960s. It was inappropriate at the time and has been ineffective since then—and with good reason. McKinsey introduced the topic of "Total Market" in the mid-1960s. At the time corporations were not paying attention to the upward and mobile black consumer. Companies started creating ethnic marketing departments to target blacks and diversity compliance initiatives for their employees in the 1960s. The marketing and communications industry created two different ways of buying services known as "general market" to focus on the "mass" consumer audience and "ethnic marketing," which later became "multicultural marketing," to focus on blacks, Hispanics and Asian consumers. Over the last 50 years, nothing changed. 

In 2010, the topic of general market and multicultural marketing was revisited at great length and reinvented through the innovation of total market. However the topic was more relevant and it was defined as a new way of buying services from suppliers whose offerings reflected the new America. The innovation, definition and approach were met with resistance and pushback from general market, ethnic and some industry associations. Why? This required structural changes for buying services within the $350 billion marketing and communications industry. As a result, we’re still pursuing a direction that proves inefficient and ineffective. But there is a clear and better way forward. 

After five years of weathering the total market topic storm, my team and I sought to uncover why there is resistance to innovation and provide clarity on the topic, while committing resources to providing educational leadership. To identify industry best practices, we conducted over 50 interviews and observations with leading brands, agencies and collected data at conferences and through many hours of desk research. With our inaugural "State of the Total Market Industry Vertical Report," our goal was to help others truly understand and apply the principles needed for their best employee and consumer outcomes.

If we do not get the total market topic right, businesses could lose the next 50 years of buying consumption. Why? Statistics show that the entire human race is going to flip generationally, racially, ethnically, religiously and in terms of gender, creating a new marketplace and workplace. Therefore we should stop using dated service models, and companies should have new ways of creating value in the new workplace and marketplace. 

What’s wrong with the way things are now? Today, a business chooses to buy marketing and communications services based on a segregated model in which general market is separate from multicultural. If you are talent or a business owner within the marketing and communications industry, your ideas and services are likely chosen or purchased based on this model and often multicultural service providers get the short end of the stick even though the multicultural consumers have the highest growth demographically.

Based on our report findings, employees within major brands are two generations culturally removed from consumers. Most big companies culturally reflect a monocultural society or a homogeneity, whereas, culturally in America, there is the debate about moving away from multicultural society to either cross-cultural or poly-cultural society.

Because of the macro cultural and population shift, accept that this is just as much of an employee (workplace) outcome as a consumer (marketplace) outcome. In order for this to work, it has to start internally and then impact externally. You have to have the talent within the organization to fully comprehend and execute the total market approach for the new marketplace and the total market enterprise approach for the new workplace. This starts with education.

This is not a quick sales lift action. If you are attempting to use the total market approach for marketplace results, focus first on strategy, then execution. Many in advertising and marketing have tried using this approach without any strategic planning or outside help. There is now a graveyard of brands that rushed into this only to have discovered their organization was not mature enough. They’ve reverted back to the old and ineffective models. You don’t have too.

Expect some structural changes. For more than 60 years, brands and their service providers have allocated resources and funding under the model of "separate but equal," meaning mass and multicultural audiences are equal. As multicultural audiences are increasingly the mass audience, this presents a fundamental opportunity about how to restructure budgets, partnerships and departments to accelerate growth within this new marketplace and workplace.

Be honest with yourself and your organization to drive structural change and transformation. Organizations first have to identify and accept where the gaps exist in understanding and acting within the new marketplace and workplace. This requires you to assess your organization. 

We are committed to transforming the work and marketplace and are partnering with Campaign US to share our findings over the next several months. Our ambition is to make a difference for the future of the work and marketplace and redirect the industry towards a better way forward. Please join us and #CLOSETHEGAP. 

—Jeffrey L. Bowman is an author, and president and CEO of Reframe: The [Brand] – A Business Acceleration Platform.

Come celebrate inclusive creativity at Campaign US' first-ever I&C summit, taking place at New York’s Dream Hotel on Feb. 28, 2017. This unique half-day event combines frank conversation about diversity and advertising with a recognition of creative teams breaking barriers. Learn more and buy tickets here.

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