Last week I had the opportunity to attend and participate in the Rainbow PUSH 2014 Global Auto Summit in Detroit. It was an incredibly insightful experience. During the Summit, as you can imagine many important topics were debated, both about the auto industry and marketing to minorities as a whole.

What was perhaps most intriguing was the panel discussion examining the highly controversial multicultural issue: segmented marketing vs. the total market approach. The total market is essentially an approach that begins with the general market, and then adapts the general market campaigns to reach multicultural audiences as branch. To some, it feels more like what is left over is used to target minority segments. To me, it is a classic case of efficiency over effectiveness.

The second school of thought is to consider multicultural audiences as their own group—replete with their own backgrounds, cultural nuances, explicit and sub-textual meanings and, as we at LimeGreen believe, should be handled as unique—not as a splinter from the core. This requires unique research, insights and understanding which is inherently not present in the general market. Nor is it often considered.

Some argue that total market represents the future of advertising and marketing. We believe the total market approach commits, ironically, the primary fallacy—leaving multicultural communities under-represented. Multicultural communities will soon to be the majority of the U.S. population (by 2043, according to some accounts).

Cynthia Perkins, VP Multicultural Marketing, Cable TV Advertising Bureau described the total market approach as a table laid with a variety of dishes representing the cultural diversity with in the market. The individual legs of the table represent the different cultural insights for each ethnicity and act as important pillars for the table itself.

Another irony is that if today’s brands opt to follow the “total market approach” for any reason (whether consolidation or impression of ‘safety’), they too will find themselves looking eventually for a true multicultural agency. And they will be saying, “Ok. Now we’re really ready”, hat in hand. Because in our experience, the answer is clear. Yes, anyone can do research. But nothing beats first-hand experience with the topic.

Michon EllisCo-Founder & CEO, LimeGreen LLC