The metaphor of the American melting pot has been around since the foundation of the republic, though the great breadth of peoples coming to the US did not really expand until the end of the nineteenth century. But along with the melting pot have come vociferous and sometimes violent resistance to immigrants – especially toward specific groups at specific times (the Irish in the mid-nineteenth century, in the early twentieth century, Mexicans today…). The fact of the matter is: the various groups who make up the population of the US have shifted and reshifted over the last couple of hundred years. They are mostly looking for a safe place to participate in the American experiment and raise their families. Therefore we ask if housing marketers and organizations are taking on board the population trends in their outreach.
Thethat though the population will continue to grow, it will do so at the slowest rate in its history through the middle part of this century. The retirements and deaths of the Baby Boomer generation is a significant cause of the slowing, but the slowing is mitigated by the increase in projected immigration, especially from Mexico and other Hispanic countries.
Anuradha Kher of “Multi-Housing News Online” asks if owners and managers of multi-family units and nonprofits who work on housing are taking such demographics into account in their marketing. Mostly the answer is no, though she sees the problem as one of misplaced views on economics, not as resistance or racism: “In many cases, managers and owners aren’t even thinking about reaching out to the minorities,” though even today the Hispanic population alone has $1.3bn in wealth to spend on housing (and that amount is sure to grow).
Diversifying the office can be an important first step to reaching out to a broader clientele. Leah Brewer, owner of Full House Marketing (Michigan) is quoted, “Hire into your office someone from the community you are serving, who understands the cultural differences. You want to diversify your office to reflect your residents. You can’t pick and choose but you should ensure your search base includes people from that community.”
Discussion of race is a terribly difficult one for most Americans, but Americans are also known for our naive optimism and willingness to chat, even with strangers. Generalizing about the audience/clientele, without stereotyping, is part of the balancing act a housing agency or service must constantly be engaged in, because the community it serves also changes. Training is key, as the entire staff can learn from one another as they interact with each other and with the larger community. Ms. Kher includes four starter points to help begin the conversation within an organization:
- Be careful of differences in dialect, not all Spanish is the same and there are different meanings.
- When dealing with a third party designing your campaign, make sure your message will properly represent you. For example, Chevrolet went into the Latin American market with a car named Nova (meaning no-go in Spanish). The car flopped. Even the biggest companies make mistakes so keep that in mind.
- Have more than one point of reference for any understanding you have of a culture. Tap into colleges and universities.
- Bear in mind differences in culture. Calling an Asian person Oriental is like treating them like an object. There is power in your message. Be a wordsmith, be careful with your words!
Changes in demographics are inevitable, and the trend of changes in the US seem pretty clear. Opportunities to market goods and services to recent immigrants will serve the profit interests of businesses, the mission motives of housing organizations, and the hopes of blending and success that almost all our immigrants want – Ask any American who has ever emigrated to start a new life in another country.