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How Marketers Are Missing the Mark With the API Community Because of Aggregated Data


VMLY&R's Sahrish Qureshi, Bediz Eker and Kevin Kwan share how aggregated data around the Asian Pacific Islander community has created a monolithic view of the population

How Marketers Are Missing the Mark With the API Community Because of Aggregated Data

The experience of filling out questionnaires in the United States poses a unique challenge for immigrants and expats, particularly given they’re expected to declare their race and ethnicity. This expectation, unlike in many other countries, can be particularly difficult for those who do not identify with the predefined categories established by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 1997, which the US Census Bureau follows. It may come as a surprise to most people from Germany and Egypt that they are grouped together in surveys. This disconnect between self-identification and official definitions has resulted in a significant increase in the number of individuals selecting 'Some Other Race' on the 2020 census, with nearly 50 million residents doing so - a 129% increase from a decade ago. This not only undermines the purpose of asking about race and ethnicity in surveys, which is to identify underserved communities and allocate resources to assist them but also influences survey design in the marketing industry, causing brands to miss opportunities for a more inclusive approach. This aggregates people and lived experiences into a tight box that leaves no room for an inclusive audience understanding, an issue particularly prominent in the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community in the US. 

For the API Community, Data Aggregation Keeps the 'Model Minority' Myth Alive

The API community is the fastest-growing single racial group in the United States, encompassing over 20 million individuals and comprising 5.6% of the population. The audience’s rapid growth is largely driven by immigration, and their increasing purchasing power is projected to reach $1.6 trillion by 2024.

Despite their significant influence, data aggregation hinders marketers from effectively engaging with this community. The API community is commonly stereotyped by the 'model minority' myth, which postulates that all API individuals are educated, and hardworking, leading to achieving high levels of success. But this audience is not a monolith. Aggregating all API subgroups as a monolithic community blurs the socioeconomic, cultural, and consumer differences across the API diaspora. Consequently, this approach has resulted in unmet needs, a lack of inclusive representation, generalisations, and stereotypes. Yet, for marketers, these untapped opportunities hold immense potential to engage and connect with the API audience. 

1. Unmet needs and untapped business opportunities

Aggregated data groups Asians as a monolithic group portraying the community as high-income earners with above-average employment and education levels compared to non-Asian counterparts. 

However, when taken apart, significant ethnic disparities emerge, revealing a large majority falling below the national average. Unfortunately, public policies, programs, and ultimately marketing efforts such as product/service development, consumer experiences, and communications often overlook these invisible communities. For marketers, the disaggregated data reveals rich untapped consumer problems and opportunities to close these gaps. But without it - these opportunities may go unnoticed. 

2.  Lack of meaningful representation in advertising

A Morning Consult survey reveals approximately 62% of Asians in the US report 'rarely' or 'never' see people who look like they do in advertising materials.

Data informs business and creative decisions. Without sufficient data, it’s hard to justify spending advertising dollars to reach and connect with the API audience effectively. Market research studies that rely on census population data often suffer from inadequate sample sizes and representation for the API community. Despite efforts for a diversity push across the industry, we continue to see a lack of Asian representation in advertising. 

3. Fuelling negative generalisations and stereotypes within marketing and advertising

The API community is incredibly diverse, yet our understanding and depiction of this audience falls short. Asians in America represent a wide range of cultures, data from the Pew Research Centre shows six origin groups make up about 85% of all Asian Americans, with Chinese (24%) and Indian (21%) leading. 

The lack of sophisticated data around these subgroups fuels the existence of the 'model minority' stereotype across all subgroups. Instead of celebrating their unique qualities, Asians in advertising are often depicted through this narrow lens. There is vast diversity, cultural nuance, and tradition across the diaspora - from Western Asia to South Asia to East Asia. By lumping all of 'Asia' into one category, we inadvertently create generalisations and one-size-fits-all narratives that lack the depth of understanding of this sizable audience. These nuanced stories deserve to be told.

Actions marketers can take to understand and engage with the API audience

While data disaggregation at a US Census level and rethinking the design of the survey is an ongoing, long-term conversation, there are steps that marketers can take today to better understand and connect with the API audience in a nuanced way.

1. Stop thinking about Asians as a monolithic group

Especially because the growth rate of this audience is driven mainly by immigration, brands must be cognizant of countries of origin and take great care not to treat the API community as a monolith. Instead, nuances between each individual group must be considered, celebrated, and respected.

2. Overrepresent, if necessary, in market research design

Understand not just the census but the market-specific compositions, and consider boosting the sample to ensure you’re getting an accurate understanding of the audience.

3. Invest in API-focused market research

The API community in the US is powerful and growing - invest in audience-specific research within your market to better understand the opportunities with this audience as a whole, as well as the subgroups.

4. Disaggregating your brand's first-party data to inform better audience strategies

When thinking about how you set up your brand's first-party data capture, think about ways you can capture subgroup-level data to inform your audience targeting strategy.

5. Go beyond representation through casting

Casting for Asian representation shouldn’t just be a check box - think about the nuanced and diverse stories you're telling about the Asian community.

6. Give the API community a seat at the table

When making both business and creative decisions, ensure that you have diverse Asian perspectives represented and nuances are taken into consideration. Brands can leverage the power of authentic storytelling by tapping into talent across your company to share their lived experiences in their own voice.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki.

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VMLY&R, Wed, 31 May 2023 15:33:10 GMT