Multicultural matters

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It will take some time before we begin to see top-line results from the 2010 US Census. However, it's a pretty safe prediction that the new census will show us that we are at or near the point where more than one out of every three of the more than 300 million Americans did not designate themselves as white. That means not only that a third of the US population self-described themselves as "non-white" in racial and/or ethnic terms. Presumably, that one-third also have an ethnic heritage that has different perspectives, beliefs and knowledge on various health issues.
In other words, we've reached a point where, as healthcare marketers, we can no longer turn a blind eye to the multicultural aspects of health education, healthcare promotion and pharma marketing. This has nothing to do with our social obligations as an industry or being politically correct. Rather, it has everything to do with consideration of ethnic/racial/cultural differences as audience segmentation criteria in the same manner we use other demographics and psychographics differentiators.
The concept of including multiculturalism in pharmaceutical marketing is not new, of course. It has been tried on an "on-again, off-again" basis over the past four decades for a number of brands—most notably in the hypertension and diabetes markets where African-Americans and Hispanics, respectively, make up a disproportionate number of actual and potential patients. 
As an example, let's consider cholesterol reducers. The epidemiology of hypercholesterolemia shows no significant racial/ethnic skew in general. As a widely occurring condition, there's a high probability that elevated cholesterol exists in a large portion of the patient base of most primary care practices.
The majority of underrepresented "minority" patients are treated by "majority" healthcare professionals. This is because only about 10% of the physician workforce consists of under-represented minorities (African-American, Hispanic, Native American), according to data from a 2000 study by the Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Health Professions. Yet, these minority groups comprise about 32% of the US population. Thus, an average primary care practice will have a substantive number of non-white potential users of cholesterol reducers.
If the potential patient is Hispanic, he or she is statistically more likely to have limited or no health insurance. The Asian potential patient may be culturally predisposed to prefer using nutraceuticals to control his/her lipid levels. The potential African-American patient may be reluctant to alter his/her culturally-based dietary habits. Thus, the Hispanic may be more responsive to a message that offers financial assistance, the Asian may need assurance that a given cholesterol agent mimics natural enzymes and the African-American may need to hear that the brand has demonstrated efficacy even in the presence of a high-fat, high-salt diet. It is less important whether these message adaptations are delivered directly from the pharma marketer or through their healthcare provider. To get the patient to adhere to prescribed therapy, it is essential that the message resonates with the patient's cultural-based perspective.

So, the next time you are examining the SWOT analysis for your brand, ask yourself this question: "Is there a multicultural marketing opportunity here?" In all probability, the answer is, "Yes." 

Frederick C. Foard is EVP, strategic insights at Communications Media, Inc.
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