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July 1, 2005

5 Min Read
Ethnic Marketing

I recently received a direct-mail piece from a company in Gretna, La., and the first page was written in Vietnamese. Unfortunately, I dont speak or read the language, but I was able to figure out it was for a company that sells karaoke equipment. Why did it come to me?

The sender, Phong Le Karaoke Co., practices what I call ethnic marketing. It likely bought a mailing list that included what it thought were Vietnamese first and last names. Even though Tron is a common Norwegian name, its similar to Tran, a popular Vietnamese namehence the marketing piece that came into my possession. Ive also been the recipient of catalogs for Norwegian or Swedish crafts, sweaters and culinary delights, especially during the winter holidays when companies go willy-nilly buying mailing lists.

Many businesses are starting to employ ethnic marketing, and its quite entertaining. For example, my neighbor and I got the same brochure from a bank opening in our community. The only difference was the family printed on the cover. My neighbor got one with an African- American family on it, while mine displayed a Caucasian family. (I bet you can guess my neighbors race.) The mailing gave us a chuckle.

Is ethnic marketing effective, and should you use it as part of the program at your self-storage facility? The answer is yesbut only if you use it well. When I used to run a bottled-water company, my salespeople would sometimes be particularly successful when it came to new customers if they managed to find a way to appeal to a particular ethnic group. For example, I had one route driver who had been stationed with the Army in Korea and could speak some of the language. He managed to get a water cooler into just about every Korean household in town. Another of my salespeople managed to sell to a Cambodian couple. Within a short time, he had added eight other accounts from their family.

Ethic marketing works because, like word-of-mouth, it involves close-knit communities generating referrals. Especially in big cities where there are many enclaves of cultural groups, expressly tailored marketing can be extremely successful.

Making It Work

Here are a few ways to take advantage of ethnic marketing at your facility. First, find out which ethnic groups dominate your community. Learn as much as you can about their culture, including their buying habits and the social approaches to which they best respond. For example, if a large portion of the local populace is Islamic, you wouldnt serve hot dogs that contain pork on customer-appreciation day. You want to learn how to appeal to all segments of your customer base, including how to make them feel comfortable with you and your staff.

An important note: Dont make fake tributes or promises, as they can easily blow up in your face. For example, dont advertise that you cater to Spanish-speaking customers if your manager only knows a few key words or you dont actually know anything about Hispanic culture. If you do employ staff who can speak multiple languages, include this information in your marketing, letting prospects know the days and times these employees are on duty. You can also post a sign in your office, for example, Our manager, (insert name here), speaks Urdu. He is available in the office from noon to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Take advantage of whatever language skills are available to you by putting them to work in your direct-mail pieces and other printed marketing materials. Attempt to procure lists of names that match the language youre using. Keeping in mind the above anecdotes, your list may not be pure; but the mailers should reap some positive results.

You can also try hosting social events at your facility that appeal to one or several ethnic groups. For example, organize a food fair and invite local ethnic restaurants to participate. Consider offering special promotions or discounts to the communitys various cultural and religious groups to help you spread the news of your event and appeal to their clients and members.

Practice Patience

Finally, learn to be patient and polite when it comes to language and cultural barriers. Dont assume someone who cant speak English isnt intelligent, educated or financially sound. Its easy to fall prey to stereotypingdont do it! I recently had a customer who spoke with an extremely thick accent. I thought he might not understand English very well. As it turns out, hes been living in the United States for 23 years, holds two Ph.D.s and works as a university professor.

Anyone who walks through your front door is a potential renter or source of referrals, so treat everyone with courtesy and respect. Beyond that, pay attention to the ethnic groups in your market and make the most of their presence. You might be surprised at the new business you find. In my area, Spanish-speaking customers are the largest language group after English speakers, and theyve become a popular target for marketing. Do you know the second most popular group? E-mail your guess to me and Ill send you a prize if youre right.

Good luck, and good selling.

Tron Jordheim is the director of PhoneSmart, an off-site sales force that helps storage owners rent to more people through its call center, secret-shopping service, sales-training programs, and Want2Store.com facility locator. You can read what he is up to at www.selfstorageblog.com. For more information, e-mail him at [email protected].

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