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Why mobile marketing works for multicultural audiences

By Jose Villa

The Apple iPhone 3G is opening up a whole new world for mobile marketers.

With an easier-to-swallow price point, the iPhone now can compete with other mobile phones on a mass-acceptance level, spreading its 3G capabilities across genders, income levels and races.

The iPhone's open and improved Web-browsing platform (which is similar to that of PC browsers) will change the mobile paradigm, inevitably leading to a larger interest in mobile marketing by companies looking to capitalize on the extreme access 3G phones give to consumers. And for companies looking to target the multicultural population, mobile provides a perfect avenue to reach this niche marketplace.

When desktop Internet access became big in the late 1990s, the multicultural population was often the "left behind" group that failed to adopt this new technology -- a direct result of the relatively high costs of PCs and Internet access.

However, the latest mobile statistics show a completely different scenario. Not only are a large percentage of multicultural consumers using mobile phones, but they are heavy mobile data users as well.

For example, an M:Metrics study conducted last year showed that 42.9 percent of Hispanic mobile users had downloaded a mobile application, compared with only 18.8 percent for the general market.

A similar study by Advertising Age confirmed these results, showing that U.S. Hispanics are early adopters of mobile data services including messaging, downloading ring tones and music files and sending and receiving email.

For African Americans, a Pew Internet and American Life Project study reported that 50 percent of African Americans use mobile applications on a daily basis. It also has been shown that African Americans will spend beyond their means on "hot" or "trendsetter" items, such as the new Apple iPhone, giving them increased access to mobile applications.

In addition to the penetration statistics, mobile marketing also works for multicultural audiences because of its targeting capabilities.

The important thing about marketing to multicultural populations is creating a one-on-one communication with your intended audience.

Culturally sensitive messaging is the key driver of success for reaching any multicultural audience. This is especially true for the Asian American consumer.

The Asian American population in itself includes a diverse population of individuals speaking a number of different languages (i.e. Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Tagalog). Mobile marketing, when done properly, can give you access to them all and in a culturally relevant manner.

But as you enter into the multicultural mobile marketing world, remember that mobile as a standalone initiative is still risky.

Simple SMS programs work best as an activation point with other campaign components.

For example, try having print ads, out-of-home placements and radio ads instruct your audience to text a short code for more information about your product or service.

This way, you will have multiple touch points to reach your audience and can leverage the omnipresence of mobile in the multicultural market.

Once you engage a user on the mobile platform, you have permission to provide useful and relevant information that can build brand awareness or drive direct response via mobile.

Plus, with 3G phones just entering the marketplace, now is the time to be testing a mobile campaign. Go ahead and get the kinks out now so that you can be well-positioned in a year or two when a 3G is the norm, especially for the multicultural population.

Jose Villa is CEO of Sensis, a multicultural agency in Los Angeles. Reach him at