Post-pandemic Recovery In The Marketing Space Targeting South Asians

July 14, 2021

“Disruption” is a word often used to describe a scenario where conventional playbooks or norms get upended in business. The launching of the iPod in 2001, disrupted the music industry; the portable phone changed how we communicated, and the internet transformed human culture to its core. But the COVID-19 pandemic has to be the biggest “disruption” in the 21st century. 

When the pandemic began, businesses had to wipe the slate clean and redefine everything — communication, messaging, and even product advertising. Brands understood that the situation needed a deeper connection with their audience. They used the digital space to connect and communicate hope. Ford’s Built to Lend a Hand and Cottonelle’s  #ShareASquare campaigns are prime examples of brands changing their messaging to suit the times. But the time has come to reopen and bring out the drawing board for the new normal. 

So, how should brands address South Asians post the pandemic? This article will discuss that in detail.

Primary Focus — An Evolving Diaspora

The South Asian diaspora has always been a very tight-knit community. They tend to socialize with people who share common interests and beliefs. And even if many have become naturalized citizens of the US, they still have family connections and ties in their home country. 

For example, 55% of Indian Americans have an immediate family member (brother, sister, son, wife, father, or mother), who is currently living in their Indian home. This signals a close influence of their roots in consumer behavior among South Asians. However, there also exist groups that deviate from the tendency of staying connected with their origins. The communication, therefore, has to be tailored, keeping in mind a community’s behavior.

Based on their habits, marketers can classify diaspora into four main categories:

  1. Assimilators — Groups that do not retain specific customs and practices from their home culture. They are quick to adopt the local cuisines and culture.

Unlike groups like first-generation Korean-Americans and Mexican-Americans, who prefer goods made in America, the number of South Asians in this category is are very less. Marketers who want to target this segment will have to communicate how their sentiments tie up to their aspirations to assimilate.

  1. Ethnic affirmers — This segment clings to their ethnic culture, lifestyle, values, products, and brands. 

They tend to socialize primarily with people from their home country or region. This makes them a less attractive target audience for emerging brands. However, for established brands that have a connection with their home country, they are the perfect target audience. 

India’s Reliance MediaWorks (RMW) is tapping into this group by marketing a close-to-home experience with Bombay Cafés that provide Indian snacks like samosas. They are also setting up mediums to watch Bollywood movies as a family, especially with teenage kids. 

  1. Bicultural — They are groups that embrace the cultures of the US without compromising on their identity. 

The majority of South Asians fall under this categorization. For example, studies show that most Indian-Americans prefer to eat American foods and dress like Americans when they venture out of the house. However, they like to eat Indian food and wear ethnic clothes at home. 

This segment has the highest incomes, socio-economic status, and is more involved in local work. Their friend circle is wide and are more accepting of newer brands. To target them, messaging that mirrors their mindset of involvement and culture works the best.

In a post-pandemic world, these segments have the potential to become more prominently demarcated. To market specific products or services successfully, campaigns should be tailored around the specific diaspora’s interaction behavior. 

However, while diaspora marketing can narrow the target market and make campaigns more focussed, marketers cannot forget the common behavior that all South Asian diaspora share — the tendency to resonate with cultural messaging.

Cultural Resonance — A Need of The Hour 

The segmentation of South Asians can be varied when their daily activities are considered. For consumer brands that market daily usable items, communicating how the product fits into their everyday life, works well. Functionality and convenience — are often the prime attractions for them. However, for brands that market lifestyle-related products, services, and premium items, cultural resonance will become a key factor in getting South Asians attracted to the messaging.

According to the Asian American Advertising Federation (3AF), 43% of Indian Americans engage far more frequently with advertisements that show messaging with cultural relevance. For example, 45% of Indian Americans respond more readily to ads that include celebrities or actors of Asian or Indian origin. 52% also tend to prefer messaging in local languages rather than English.

With regards to festivals, Diwali, Holi, Christmas, Eid, and Independence Day seem to the most popular. Brands can leverage these festivals by aligning their products with the cultural significance it has with South Asians. 

The Ground Rules Of The New Normal

In the post-pandemic world, South Asians will tend to gravitate towards brands and marketing messages that resonate more with them culturally. Customers will expect brands to have exactly what they are looking for without having to explain their preferences. This is possible only through a deep understanding of their cultural preferences and social circles.

Any brand looking to promote its products should therefore focus on building lasting relationships. And while digital integrations will make purchasing easier, a mindset of marketing agility is likely to become prominent. Consumers will tend to demand more information on the benefits of a product or service.

Values will be another key aspect in marketing to a South Asian audience. Brands will need to shed their concept of “growth through good products” and widen the definition to include “growth through good values.” Respect for elders, the importance of family, helping each other — these are some of the key messages with which a South Asian will resonate. And in a world where staying apart has become the norm, social values like this are likely to take precedence over any other form of messaging.