Some brand strategies have more appeal to bi-cultural consumers

By our News Team | 2022

As bi-cultural consumers become more common in the US, business schools are researching how brands can better resonate with them.

Bi-cultural consumers such as Asian Americans or Hispanic Americans are the fastest-growing demographic in the US, and one of the challenges marketers face is how to build brands that resonate with consumers who have assimilated norms from different cultures and are able to code-switch between behaviours in response to social cues.

According to a recent paper co-written by a team of consumer marketing experts from the University of Illinois, so-called ‘paradox brands’ – brands that can straddle contradictory meanings or possess opposing characteristics – are more appealing to bi-cultural consumers than traditional singular-meaning brands.

Their research will also have wide appeal for African marketers, given that so many people on the continent are bi-cultural.

Bi-Cultural Consumers

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Because of their higher levels of cognitive flexibility through their multi-cultural milieu, bi-cultural consumers in the US evaluate paradox brands more favourably and choose them more often over traditional brands that lack contradictions, said Maria A. Rodas, a Professor of Business Administration at the university’s Gies College of Business and a co-author of the research.

“Bi-cultural individuals constantly toggle back and forth from one culture to another, whether it’s switching languages or responding to different cultural stimuli,” she explained. 

“They have this cognitive flexibility that other consumers might not have in that they’re constantly comparing and contrasting things from their respective cultures, and that makes brands that are contradictory more appealing to them. The net effect is that bi-cultural consumers become more strongly engaged with the paradox brand, resulting in more favourable evaluations.”

Bi-cultural consumers are a huge marketing opportunity

“Bi-cultural consumers are a huge opportunity for marketers because they’re the fastest growing demographic in the US, yet we know relatively little about what brand strategies work for them,” added Carlos Torelli, a Professor of Business Administration and a co-author of the paper. 

“Our research demonstrates that building a paradox brand can be a particularly successful approach to win over bi-cultural consumers.”

The researchers tested their hypothesis through seven studies, including a field study of consumer brand preferences and subsequent evaluations of the process responsible for those effects, providing evidence for the causal links between cultural background, cognitive flexibility and paradox brand evaluations.

Paradox brands were defined as brands whose identities incorporate seemingly inimical traits or contradictory meanings. Examples include the Janus-faced characteristics found in the “rugged-yet-sophisticated” brand personality of the automaker Land Rover, or the opposing values found in the “traditional-but-trendy” brand of fashion company Burberry.

The studies show that bi-cultural consumers, with higher levels of cognitive flexibility, engage more with paradox brands, which leads to more favourable paradox brand evaluations compared with mono-cultural consumers.

“All of this is driven by the greater cognitive flexibility found among bi-cultural consumers,” Rodas said. 

“Paradox brands invite that kind of engagement due to opportunity for divergent thinking. And stronger brand engagement contributes to more favourable brand evaluations and choice. But the overall picture is that our conclusions go against one of marketing and advertising’s bedrock principles, which is that successful branding involves a single, clearly expressed and unambiguous claim about a brand’s position.”

The findings point to opportunities for brands and marketers to appeal to a rapidly growing segment of consumers, the researchers said. 

“Marketers are well aware of the opportunities that exist in developing brands that would appeal to bi-cultural consumers, and are responding with increased budgets and tailored marketing campaigns to target this group,” Rodas noted.

Read the full research here: https://academic.oup.com/jcr/article/48/4/633/6302569