MARKET RESEARCH: Ethnic insight

Marketers must research ethnic consumers to capitalise on the increase in their spending power.

Everybody intuitively knows the UK is becoming more multicultural.

But firm evidence came late last year, when the Office of National Statistics released figures from the 2001 Census. These show there are 4.6 million people in the UK who belong to an ethnic minority, equating to 7.9% of the population. The number has risen 53% in the ten years preceding the Census.

As the UK's ethnic minorities grow, so does their commercial significance.

Marketers need to understand better how to target these people, what they have in common with the mainstream and where the differences lie.

In light of this, last year the Market Research Society set up the Ethnic Research Network, which brings together those interested in such research to develop best practice.

Its chair, Anjul Sharma - who is associate director corporate and financial at TRBI - will be speaking on market research into ethnic minorities at a discussion session, entitled 'Not All Black and White', during next week's Market Research Society annual conference.

"The Network is a way to share knowledge and information across researchers," says Sharma. "It's about understanding anyone who chooses to define themselves as (belonging to) an ethnic community."

There are good reasons for researchers to pool knowledge and advice.

Interfocus head of strategic planning Stuart Leach says the first challenge is obtaining reliable data about each community. He says the Census, although useful, does not paint a complete picture. Thereafter, interviewing is "fraught with difficulties" such as overcoming cultural and religious differences, language barriers and deep-seated suspicions.

Breaking down barriers

To circumvent cultural barriers and create trust, Leach advises involving community leaders in the early stages of research. He feels they can provide insight into how best to conduct the research and give it a seal of approval that encourages others to participate.

The current trend for Bollywood themes in ads for brands such as Peugeot and Walkers Crisps shows the values of 'ethnicity' are being used by advertisers. But it also seems clear that ethnic minorities are under-represented in a lot of research.

"Given that roughly 10% of the UK population consists of people from ethnic backgrounds, you would expect to see them similarly represented in qualitative group discussions of eight or nine people," says Quaestor Research & Marketing Strategists senior research executive Shazia Ali.

"But in my experience this is rare and the industry should examine ways to overcome this."

A step in the right direction, she believes, is to recognise the cultural differences and try to factor these into research studies where possible.

A key issue is to raise awareness of what research is, to increase 'buy-in' from all types of consumer groups.

Other best practice considerations when dealing with respondents from different cultures include careful timing, so as not to coincide with religious festivals such as Ramadan, and the recognition that English may not be the first language for many.

"You do need specific techniques for accessing the ethnic market," says Ethnos managing director Hamid Rehman. He set up a specialist market research business three-and-a-half years ago, convinced that many within ethnic minorities feel outside the mainstream and are suspicious when approached to be interviewed.

Ethnos often conducts its research in community centres rather than plush hotels and tries to match the ethnic background of the interviewer to that of the interviewee.

The agency recently worked with Media Reach Advertising, which has also done work for the Royal Navy, on a Department of Health campaign to reduce smoking in UK Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities. Ethnos found executions using strong images of family or religious associations achieved the highest impact.

Building on diversity

Last year, the broadcaster Sky used Ethnic Focus to research the viewing habits of the UK's two million-strong South Asian community. Sky is the UK's largest distributor of Asian broadcasting, with an output of 17 South Asian TV channels and seven Asian-language digital radio stations.

The findings showed 96% of Sky customers within this community considered these channels - among them Zee TV, Star TV and Sony - as essential, while only 87% felt the same way about BBC1 and 54% about ITV1.

Older viewers and first-generation immigrants felt most strongly. Among the 45-plus age group, 18.5% watched only Asian TV, compared with just 2.1% of third-generation viewers. The research also found 75% of this community had home internet access - compared with a UK norm of 50%.

Beyond this, each of the channels appealed to a particular segment of the community for reasons such as language and age. Ethnic Focus director of research Saber Khan says: "These channels reflect the heterogeneity of the Asian community. Marketers have had the will to reach communities. But what they sometimes need assistance with is to capture the diversity. It's more than just Bollywood or Caribbean - it's capturing the fusion."

Pinning down this 'fusion' of cultural influences and attitudes was a central theme in a major research project commissioned by COI Communications last year, the findings of which are being shared across government departments and agencies.

Connect Research and Turnstone Research collaborated on the six-month 'Common Good' work, which researched population samples from the Chinese, Black African, Black Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and mixed-race communities.

"We are trying to develop ways of thinking about how identity changes in different contexts," says Turnstone director Philly Desai. "At home you may feel part of your ethnic background, but at college or work you may feel part of the mainstream."

Included in the findings was the fact that Muslims feel September 11 has created more divisions between them and British society and that the media has tarred them all with the same brush. This, the research says, makes them feel on the fringes of society.

It also found that black youngsters feel their contribution to British society and popular culture is often overlooked, especially by the mainstream UK media. "They see themselves as influencing things such as Beckham's hairstyle and Justin Timberlake's music. If brands can understand this and use it in a subtle way, it could put them ahead. One good way for a brand to take the lead would be to use positive, unexpected representations of black or Asian people," says Desai.

Desai cites a TV ad for BT, showing the wedding preparations of Afro-Caribbean and Scottish families, as an execution that works well and one that has proved universally popular with ethnic focus groups.

Leach argues that more brands should undertake ethnic minority market research since it offers a route map to how the UK will look and think in the future. He says: "Ethnic groups don't just absorb white Anglo-Saxon culture, they actively influence the development of that culture. Most brands have an ignorance of it because most agencies are non-multicultural. If you can get ahead of the curve and be a brand for new Britain, you'll win in five or ten years' time."

An example of this sort of potential was the first London Mela, held by Ealing Council last summer to celebrate Asian culture, which attracted 50,000 people.

Multicultural approach

Media Reach Advertising managing director Saad Saraf says things are improving. "When we started 17 years ago, few people wanted a black or brown guy next to their brand and they made it abundantly clear. Now they are more and more in demand."

Saraf's agency has produced ads for West Bromwich Building Society, which feature a young Asian. West Bromwich has 48 branches and in 2002, after conducting local research, it launched a mortgage specifically for Muslims, as the paying of interest is prohibited by Islamic law.

West Bromwich also decided to involve its staff, says head of relationship marketing Richard Purser. Punjabi language training was given to some, and those already proficient in an Asian language were put on a database so skills could be matched to customer needs. Branches were also sent promotional material in the predominant language of the local community.

While many members of ethnic minorities consider themselves British, the concept of 'Britishness' creates confusion. Working with TRBI, the British Council carried out a study last year among young people in Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Turkish and Nigerian communities in the UK.

According to British Council head of research and evaluation Patrick Spaven, the study showed Britishness has positive associations in terms of education and careers; scope for personal independence; and some aspects of popular culture, especially music.

Negative associations include colonial political oppression; decadence; antisocial behaviour - especially racism - and football hooliganism.

National, ethnic and community identities are far more complex than they superficially appear, which has clear implications for brand positioning.

If marketers really want to understand consumers in Britain, they must ensure their market research presents a true picture of the target market.


Event: Welcome to the Dream Economy (MRS annual conference)

Date: March 11-12 2004

Venue: Barbican, London

Visitor profile: Marketing professionals from all disciplines: research, advertising, branding, marketing and management consultancy.

Speakers: Paul Feldwick, executive planning director, BMP DDB; Anjna Raheja, managing director, Media Moguls; Michelle Mone, entrepreneur and creator of the Ultimo bra; and Kjell Nordstrom, assistant professor of The Institute of International Business Stockholm School of Economics.

Not All Black and White A discussion session introduced and chaired by TBRI associate director Anjul Sharma, which will examine market research among, and marketing to, ethnic minorities.

For information or to register, visit or call 020 7566 1878.


In November last year, RHM relaunched its 40-year-old flour brand Elephant Atta with new packaging and a TV campaign on all major Asian stations. Research guided everything from the positioning strategy to the creative execution and media planning.

RHM began with a comprehensive use and attitude survey, which enabled it to gain a clear picture of market share, brand profiles and brand image.

Elephant Atta is used to make traditional Asian flatbreads, such as chapattis.

And a round of qualitative research examined the cultural context of making chapattis and assessed perceptions of the brand.

The research highlighted an emotional bond between Elephant and the consumer, based on a perception that the brand is part of the tradition of chapatti-making.

Previous communications activity had focused on the functional performance of the product, but RHM soon realised this was not making the most of Elephant's unique emotive connection.

A brief was sent to three agencies.

The challenge was to communicate the heritage of the brand and its association with the culture of South Asian communities. It covered brand identity, packaging design and TV advertising.

Another stage of qualitative research evaluated packaging and advertising concepts. This was conducted among a broad spectrum of ages, ethnic groups, religions and regions.

The concepts were developed further in view of the research results.

For example, an illustration of a mother teaching her daughter how to make chapattis was added to the packaging. And the final scenes of the existing advertising were altered in the light of feedback from the research.

RHM then commissioned new TV ads, which were filmed in India by Media Reach Advertising.

"Unfortunately, South Asian TV channels such as Zee, B4U and Sony, are not audited," says RHM ethnic brands manager Joe Bull. "So we commissioned research to establish what South Asian women were watching, reading and listening to at certain parts of the day. An in-home media diary was completed and the results analysed. This enabled us to plan a cost-effective campaign, with the required reach and frequency."

Bull adds that RHM has identified "two segmentation variables" in its market - cultural integration and ethnicity. Both drive variations in lifestyle and product use that have important implications for the way products are marketed.


Marketing's Research Awards were launched last year with the express aim of celebrating the role market research plays in driving business success. The closing date for entries for this year's awards is March 26 2004. Judging will take place during April, with an awards event to follow on June 21 2004.

In the Awards' first year they generated the highest number of entries of any awards in the UK research industry.

Entry is open to all agencies, consultancies and clients' in-house departments that have responsibility for initiating, planning, implementing, evaluating and publishing research activities and findings.

The eligibility period for entries is from October 1 2001 to December 31 2003. There are 15 industry and product sector categories: FMCG; Financial; Healthcare & Pharmaceutical; Media; Government/ Public Services/Social Research; Automotive; Retail; Telecoms & IT; Travel, Leisure & Entertainment; Business & Professional; Customer Insight; NPD Research; Advertising Research; International; and Budget under £20k.

Entry forms can be downloaded from by clicking on the awards icon. The fee per entry is £155 + VAT. For enquiries call 020 8267 4318 or email lucy.ager@ for further information.


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