Cultural Fluency 4-Step Roadmap

Use Culture to Connect Effectively and Efficiently Across Consumer Segments

Hispanic  •   Black  •   Asian  •   Gen Z   •  Millennial  •   Women  •   LGBTQ+   •  New Wave  •  Parents  •  Kids

Our cultural fluency roadmap offers guidelines on how to use cultural intelligence to efficiently and effectively connect with diverse America, across different consumer segments. 

In today’s market, cultural fluency is a brand’s lifeline to success. As Collage Group’s Jack Mackinnon states:

68% of American consumers say they would go out of their way to support a brand that supports Multicultural segments (Hispanic, Black, and Asian Americans).”
– Jack Mackinnon, Senior Director of Cultural Insights at
Collage Group

Based on our research, in 2023 we found that a significant 63% of consumers state brands don’t conduct enough research when integrating diversity into their advertising efforts. Essentially, consumers don’t see brands producing culturally relevant advertisements. 62% of White consumers share this perspective.

Fill out the form to download an electronic copy of our white paper,
Cultural Fluency Roadmap: 4 Steps to Win in Multicultural America.

Cultural Fluency Roadmap - Cover Example

Businesses must work smarter to tailor their marketing strategies so that efforts resonate with diverse communities, to foster both consumer trust and loyalty.

To help your brand achieve cultural fluency, we’ve put together a 4-step roadmap. This guide shows you how to use Collage Group’s cultural intelligence platform to assess your brand’s cultural fluency. By following our guide, you’ll enhance your brand’s performance in Multicultural America.

    1. What Is Cultural Fluency?
    2. Use Collage Group to Measure Your Brand’s Cultural Fluency
    3. Cultural Fluency Roadmap: 4 Steps to Win Multicultural America
    4. Why Does Cultural Fluency Matter for Your Brand?
    5. Cultural Fluency and the Halo Effect
    6. The Importance of Cultural Fluency: Lessons From Culturally Fluent Brands
    7. How to Build a Culturally Fluent Team

What Is Cultural Fluency?

Cultural fluency is the ability to use cultural intelligence to efficiently and effectively connect with diverse America across different consumer segments. Culturally adept brands strategically redefine conventional norms by placing multicultural and diverse segments at the core of operations. These brands harness the power of data and analytics to decipher and navigate cultural complexity and nuance. They ingeniously employ culture-specific elements that not only target specific segments but also captivate broader audiences, a phenomenon often referred to as the ‘halo effect‘.

Culturally fluent brands have an improved brand reputation, foster customer loyalty, drive superior success in Multicultural markets, and receive higher returns on investment for their marketing efforts.

Insights from Collage Group’s America Now research (2022) conclude that Hispanic (60%), Black (76%), and Asian (58%) populations are increasingly interested in supporting brands that support their race or ethnicity. (Sign up to access these insights, plus more.) 

Hence, it’s vital you achieve cultural fluency to better meet your consumers’ needs, and using College Group’s 4-step roadmap given below will help you do just that. But before you embark on this exciting journey, you must evaluate your current standing using our exclusive Brand Cultural Fluency Quotient (B-CFQ) metric. This invaluable tool will determine your brand’s current cultural fluency, helping you track progress, and identify areas for improvement to ensure you’re on the right path toward meeting your consumers’ needs.

The Cultural Fluency Imperative

We asked Collage Group members why cultural fluency is important to their work. Learn more about cultural fluency and why it’s a key objective for America’s iconic brands. 

Use Collage Group to Measure Your Brand’s Cultural Fluency

Collage Group has harnessed over a decade of research on Multicultural America to develop an effective method for evaluating brands’ cultural fluency. We’ll initially evaluate your brand using our Brand Cultural Fluency Quotient (B-CFQ) which assesses a brand along six dimensions, which we’ve explained below:

    1. Fit: Fit pertains to how well a brand’s product or service matches the needs and wants of the consumer. A key question to ask yourself when it comes to assessing brand fit is: “Does your brand meet a specific need that fits in the consumer’s cultural life?” 
    2. Relevance: Relevance refers to a brand’s ability to deeply resonate with a group’s identity. A key question to ask yourself is: Does your brand connect with the consumer’s specific cultural group traits and passion points?
    3. Memories: Memories refer to whether a brand leaves a significant impression and delivers a lasting experience.
    4. Values: Values refer to a brand’s commitment to supporting and upholding the core beliefs and principles of the communities they serve. Is your brand an ally in the key social issues affecting your consumers’ lives?
    5. Trust: Trust refers to whether a brand is reputable and reliable. A key question to ask is: Has your brand earned the credibility to warrant the consumer’s loyalty?  
    6. Advocacy: Advocacy refers to a brand’s power to foster positive word-of-mouth endorsement. A key question to ask is: Are consumers willing to recommend your brand to their peers and community

We explain how you can achieve cultural fluency in our 4-step roadmap given below.

Cultural Fluency Roadmap: 4 Steps to Win Multicultural America

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Step #1: Assess Brand Cultural Fluency

Get a head start on assessing where you stand versus competitors. Unlike any other product available, our Brand Cultural Fluency Quotient (B-CFQ) dashboard [at fluen.ci] takes you beyond comparison to understand the “why”, giving you the insights that will best help you develop the messaging to competitively activate those segments.

At Collage Group, we understand that cultural intelligence is essential for success in a diverse America. Through our cutting-edge AI-driven cultural data and analytics, we provide distinctive, brand-tailored cultural insights that elevate marketing campaigns for a competitive advantage.

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Step #2: Drill Into Improvement Opportunities

Decipher where to focus your attention by examining your brand’s performance across the six B-CFQ component scores to identify areas needing attention. Ask yourself: Where are you weak or strong, with what demographic segment, and why?

Cultural fleuncy - step #2 B-CFQ components

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Step #3: Apply Insights Linked to Key Components

Every component of the cultural fluency quotient is linked to powerful research providing you with insight into terrain areas, such as Holidays & Occasions, Category Insights or Passion Points that can address the opportunity.

In the table below, we give the percentage of consumers who agree with each cultural fluency component statement.

Percentage of consumers who agree with cultural fluency statements

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Step #4:  Dive Deep Into the Key Insights

Identify the specific insights that can be uniquely applied to address your problem, such as why Asian consumers are less likely to respond to Asian-holiday themed marketing than would be expected    

Together, these strategic steps empower your brand to harness the power of cultural intelligence and achieve cultural fluency, transforming consumer insights into dynamic and effective go-to-market strategies. By leveraging our comprehensive suite of tools and expertise, you can unlock new avenues for growth, foster deeper connections with diverse consumers, and drive your brand’s success.

Why Does Our Cultural Fluency Roadmap Matter for Your Brand?

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the U.S. population will be more racially and ethnically diverse by 2060 and that by 2045 collective minorities will become the new majority.  

Hence, understanding the needs, values, and pain points across cultures is more important than ever for effective communication, collaboration, and understanding. It’s a superpower businesses can use to break down barriers, foster positive relationships, and create a world where everyone feels valued, heard, and represented.

However, research by Collage Group found that a staggering 63% of consumers feel brands are not conducting sufficient research when it comes to creating culturally relevant advertising. This means many consumers believe brand advertisements don’t resonate with their cultural experiences. 

Putting These Findings into Perspective in Terms of Business Outcomes

In 2021, the United States spent nearly $300 million on advertising. However, based on the aforementioned data, only 37% of consumers recognized this expenditure as culturally relevant. This suggests that a substantial portion, equivalent to $180 million in advertising, is perceived as culturally disconnected or out of touch.

On top of this, if a brand’s campaign disrespects an individual’s culture, then there are far-reaching and severe consequences. According to a recent comprehensive study conducted by the Cultural Marketing Council (CMC), the Voice of Hispanic Marketing, over half of individuals aged 13 to 49 have decided to sever ties with a brand that displayed cultural insensitivity, citing offense and disrespect towards their values as the primary reasons. 

The statistics become even more alarming, with an astonishing 72% of Black female parents aged 25 to 49 expressing their discontent with culturally unaware brands and opting to disengage from them as a result. Furthermore, 30% of both teenagers and adults who’ve already abandoned a brand attribute their departure to advertising that appeared alongside offensive content.

In Light of These Insights, Brands Need to Employ Smarter Approaches

As such, leading brands have made cultural fluency a top priority, relying on cultural intelligence to efficiently engage with diverse consumer segments. 

Culturally fluent marketing places diverse consumers at the heart of a given campaign by incorporating their insights early in the marketing process. By doing this, brands gain a competitive advantage by launching campaigns that resonate with consumers as early as possible. Effective brands rely on trustworthy data, cultural intelligence, and proven culturally-centric insights to engage consumers, steering clear of subjective opinions and gut instincts. Without data-driven cultural intelligence, missteps are more likely to occur, potentially resulting in a backlash against campaigns and/or the entire brand.

Cultural Fluency and the Halo Effect

Our mission here at Collage Group is to empower brands to leverage cultural fluency to unlock the full potential of culture for driving growth. Our deep analytics on consumer behavior unveil cultural variations, traits, and attributes, enabling the identification of unique similarities and differences among diverse consumer segments. With this comprehensive understanding, brands can effectively tap into commonly connectable themes and cultural traits that resonate with all Americans. 

We know that running effective and culturally fluent campaigns can have cascading benefits across the entire business portfolio thanks to a phenomenon known as the halo effect. This understanding means Collage Group’s solutions are designed to help you leverage the full benefits brand cultural fluency has to offer.

What Is the Halo Effect?

The halo effect describes a phenomenon where a given marketing campaign has a positive impact on consumers not included in the original target segment. The most competitive marketing organizations are now using the Halo Effect to break the trade-off between marketing spend that targets diverse segments and spending intended to appeal to the whole mainstream.

For example, this phenomenon is evident in Subaru’s crosstrek girl’s trip advertisement, as explained in the video below. Although tailored for Hispanic consumers, the ad achieved commendable ratings among all consumer groups. That is, ratings from Black and White audiences surpassed ratings received from targeted Hispanic consumers.

The ad features a multigenerational family, which authentically reflects the attachment Hispanic Americans feel for their extended family members. And as this is a connection that resonates with everyone, the advertisement successfully engages White and Black segments too.

Another instance of the Halo Effect was observed in one of Collage Group’s top-rated ads of 2021, which is again featured in the video below. In this example, Band Aid uses precise targeting toward multicultural audiences that resonates across all demographic groups, with significant success within White populations.

How it Connects to Brand Cultural Fluency Quotient (B-CFQ)

Coming back to our Brand Cultural Fluency Quotient (B-CFQ), this ad’s triumph lies in its ability to activate diverse dimensions of Cultural Fluency. For instance, the ad particularly resonates with Black consumers due to its “relevance” – Black consumers felt Band-Aid’s product has been tailored for people like them.

Although marketing efforts focused on engaging Black consumers, the ad also struck a chord with numerous White and Asian consumers too, who recognized the importance of inclusivity – the main message conveyed by the advertisement. As described by a Black millennial man we interviewed: “This ad was fantastic. It demonstrated Band-Aid’s commitment to inclusivity by catering to all skin tones.”

Using broadly appealing cultural nuance to put specific multicultural consumer groups at the center of mainstream marketing is a powerful strategy. Brands can craft their messages to resonate with particular segments while simultaneously utilizing other facets of the message to connect with a wider audience.

You too can unleash the full power of the halo effect by completing the 3-steps given below (as we initially discussed in AdAge’s How Cultural Fluency Helps Multicultural Marketing Succeed With All Americans).

Step #1: Express Universal Truths in Culturally Specific Ways

For instance, themes that are universal and resonate across all consumer segments include family, friends, and community. Brands must express these themes in distinctive culturally specific ways to avoid irrelevance.

To illustrate, we take a look at how Folgers Coffee successfully implements step #1 in its “Allow Us to Introduce Ourselves” campaign. As Folger’s campaign partner BCL Entertainment founder and CEO Bettie Levy explains: 

“Through this campaign, we hope to show viewers Folger’s pride in the heart of their coffee, as well as the community behind it” –  Bettie Levy, founder and CEO of BCL Entertainment 

The brand celebrates the New Orleans community by using music to represent the rhythm and vibe of the city. Native Trombone Shorty leads a traditional jazz band through the streets of New Orleans in the advertisement. This music ushers a fun and modern tone, giving new life to a heritage brand while maintaining authenticity, expressing the universal truth of music and community across diverse America with ethnically diverse actors.

Step #2: Recognize Your Consumers Embrace Diversity

While emphasizing commonalities is essential, it’s equally important to showcase how most individuals embrace diversity. This is called the outgroup-bias phenomenon – empathy across differences.

An excellent example is Target’s “Bring Home Support” campaign featuring entrepreneurs and business leaders in the American-Black community. This ad resonates beyond the Black segment due to its powerful message of inclusion and diversity. The ad emphasizes the importance of recognizing and celebrating diverse achievements. The campaign’s impact lies in how it communicates a universal message of unity through business.

Step #3: Achieve Cultural Fluency to Minimize Backlash

Even with well-intentioned and inclusive ads, backlash may still occur when content is perceived differently by various segments. Collage Group’s research reveals the backlash rate for an average commercial, regardless of content, is around 11%. With culturally fluent ads, the backlash rate drops to a range of 3%-10%.

Brands must tell stories that authentically speak to the universal truth of human connection, enabling all segments to find a point of resonance. Collage Group’s 4-step roadmap ensures marketing campaigns are created using well-researched cultural insights, to be positively received by all Americans.

The Importance of Cultural Fluency: Lessons From Culturally Fluent Brands

Now that you understand what steps to take to ensure cultural fluency, and how you can harness the power of the halo effect to your advantage, we want to illustrate effective and culturally fluent advertising in action. 

Using Collage Group’s Brand Cultural Fluency Quotient (B-CFQ) metric, we were able to identify culturally fluent brands that are winning in Multicultural America. These brands have a deep understanding of their consumers’ pain points, values, and desires, and demonstrate cultural fluency. We can learn from these brand’s doing it right.

We discuss three top brands below and explain how their marketing campaigns represent brand cultural fluency. (You can learn about other culturally fluent brands by signing up for Collage Group to access our latest reports) .

Examples of Cultural Fluency: Visa​

The American multinational financial services company, Visa, offers essential resources and tools that cultivate a sense of trust among Black American consumers. To gauge how the Visa brand is perceived in this community, analysts from Collage Group conducted a survey that yielded the following results:

    1. 70% of respondents affirmed that Visa’s branding deeply resonates with their group identity (relevance).
    2. 67% acknowledged that Visa provides a personally desirable product (fit).
    3. 56% recognized that Visa’s branding triggers positive recollections of past experiences (memories).
    4. 63% concurred that Visa’s branding aligns with their values (values).
    5. 71% confirmed that Visa’s branding has successfully garnered their trust (trust).
    6. 74% agreed that Visa’s branding deserves positive word-of-mouth endorsement (advocacy).

How has Visa achieved such high measures of cultural fluency within the Black American community? 

Below we explain how Visa’s marketing efforts demonstrate high levels of cultural fluency and employ the halo effect to connect with Black American consumers and beyond.

Visa drives advocacy by partnering with black influencers to educate consumers on their financial services 

Visa launched their new ways to get paid campaigns to educate consumers on financial literacy. Our research has found that 70% of Black American consumers want to be more knowledgeable about finances and banking. By meeting this need, Visa goes above and beyond to drive positive word-of-mouth endorsement for the brand. 

Halo effects: Once more, this initiative has a positive impact on consumers beyond the target Black American market. That is, financial literacy is a universally valued skill, important to most Americans across segments. Visa’s partnership with Black influencers has both specific and broad appeal because it is educational.

Visa’s online banking services drive both fit and relevance to Black consumers who predominantly use digital payment options 

By offering extensive online banking services, Visa has created a personally desirable product for the Black American community. Our research has found that 58% of Black Americans use payment apps and/or a digital wallet to make purchases (compared to 49% of the total population). Visa has successfully identified this cultural preference and meets the needs of Black American consumers.

Halo effects: Plus, tech-savvy Generation Z and Millennials also gravitate towards payment apps and digital wallets, making Visa a great fit for younger consumers too. Hence Visa’s branding and marketing messages resonate with consumers beyond the Black American community.

Examples of Cultural Fluency: Google

There’s one notable area where Google has achieved remarkable success within our Brand Cultural Fluency Quotient (B-CFQ) metric, and that is the dimension value. Google manages to align its values with those of its target audience.

For instance, consider Google’s 2019 “Black Girl Magic” campaign, which celebrates, highlights, and honors the achievements, resilience, and cultural contributions of black women and girls. The campaign struck a chord within the Black community and beyond, and not only showcased the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion but also effectively tapped into the cultural zeitgeist surrounding empowerment and representation. 

The campaign’s success with Black consumers can be attributed to the authenticity, cultural relevance, and positive imagery portrayed. By acknowledging and amplifying the voices and experiences of Black women and girls, Google demonstrates a genuine understanding of their aspirations, challenges, and unique perspectives.

The “Black Girl Magic” campaign serves as an exemplary case study showing how leveraging cultural understanding and valuing diversity can lead to both commercial success and social impact.

How to Build a Culturally Fluent Team

Any culturally fluent brand needs a strong team driving it forward. With this in mind, before concluding this article, we have a few quick tips to help you maintain cultural fluency in both your professional and personal life.

    1. Assess your team’s cultural fluency using IDI: The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) stands as the most precise and reliable measurement tool, providing an objective assessment of cultural competence in leadership. Based on a rigorously validated developmental model, it not only evaluates your cultural competence but also offers a roadmap for future growth by identifying the necessary mindsets and behaviors for improved leadership.
    2. Seek external guidance: Consider working with someone outside your organization to identify areas where you can improve the cultural fluency of your team. For instance, maybe your onboarding processes need refining, or you need help motivating Multicultural teams.
    3. Be curious and open: Encourage communication through active listening and observing team members’ preferred communication styles. Think about an individual’s first language – especially important if your business has international operations. Learning a language will give valuable insights into the logic and thinking of a given culture. 
    4. Handle conflict non-judgmentally: Before addressing conflicts, understand your employee’s perspective, consider the cultural context, and seek guidance from a knowledgeable intermediary or coach.
    5. Immerse yourself within the given culture: Immerse yourself in books, movies, music, and literature from a given culture to understand references and topics. Actively participate in cultural activities, festivals, celebrations, and rituals to grasp the main values of society. Understand and appreciate the cultural nuances of humor to connect and engage with people from different backgrounds. Show a genuine interest, ask questions, and observe how others express emotions or seek help.
    6. Avoid Assumptions: Tailor communications based on the listener’s preferences and cultural background. Be aware of cultural disparities in areas like authority, conflict resolution, and humor, while acknowledging and challenging your own biases to promote understanding.
    7. Extend Beyond Culture: Apply cultural fluency skills for you and your team to interact effectively with diverse groups, whether due to religion, gender, or other differences.

Forge Deeper Connections With Your Consumers and Lead as a Culturally Fluent Brand

In our diverse and interconnected world, cultural fluency is crucial. It means understanding and appreciating cultural differences in norms, values, and communication styles to effectively engage with diverse audiences.  

For brands, cultural fluency is vital for building authentic connections, trust, and loyalty among consumers from various backgrounds.

The Collage Group’s 4-step roadmap is a comprehensive guide to help your brand achieve cultural fluency and resonate with target audiences. By using this roadmap and our Brand Cultural Fluency Quotient (B-CFQ) metric, you can unlock new growth opportunities and tailor marketing strategies to diverse consumer segments.

However, achieving cultural fluency goes beyond this roadmap. You and your team must understand cultural differences, engage with diverse communities, and continuously improve your cultural competence. Using our 7 tips to build a culturally fluent team will help you do this.

Cultural fluency is a superpower, one that unlocks growth opportunities and connects with consumers from all walks of life. By valuing diversity and understanding unique consumer needs, your brand can become a culturally fluent leader, ensuring a successful and sustainable future.

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