Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

The Importance of Demographics in Agency Marketing

Author: Jack Burke

There are lots of pro’s and con’s in the arena of marketing debate as to which is better – a well-aimed shot with a .22 caliber rifle or a broad sweep of buckshot from a shotgun. Well, I don’t intend to argue the arsenal! Instead, I am taking a middle position which will allow you to target all of your products to two significantly large, but defined, markets: ethnic minorities and women. 


This article is excerpted and digested from Jack Burke’s Creating Customer Connections: How To Make Customer Service A Profit Center For Your Company. Originally published by Merritt Publishing in 1997, this popular book remains in print at Silver Lake Publishing. Ordering information can be found by clicking the book title above.

“America has believed that in differentiation, not in uniformity, lies the path of progress.”  Louis D. Brandeis

Niche marketing. Target marketing. Guerilla marketing. The names may change but such narrowly focused marketing generally takes aim at a definite market with a definite product. Or, perhaps you choose to define your market by affluence, age, gender, or any other factor you want. Just call a list company or database management firm and they’ll provide the names, addresses and phone numbers for your indicated target.

There are lots of pro’s and con’s in the arena of marketing debate as to which is better -- a well-aimed shot with a 22 caliber rifle or a broad sweep of buckshot from a shotgun.

Well, I don’t intend to argue the arsenal! Instead I am taking a middle position which will allow you to target all of your products to two significantly large, but defined, markets: ethnic minorities and women.

The Minority Market

All too often minorities are forgotten or ignored in marketing campaigns.
Like the misbegotten impression of alcoholics as bums in “flash coats” who live under bridges, our misinformed preconceptions can be costing us serious bottom line profits. The reality is that most minorities today, like the Irish or the Italians or the Greeks (to name a few) of years gone by, are hardworking, industrious individuals with need of insurance and the means to purchase it.

My former next door neighbors were a good example. Fleeing from Iran for their very lives, this husband and wife with two children arrived safely in the United States and prepared to begin new lives. Under the Shah’s regime, he had been a colonel serving as a mayoral equivalent for a large city. She was an educated housewife. Literally penniless, he began driving a taxi since he couldn’t find executive level employment. Also unable to find work, she took computer training for database entry.

Today, he owns a dry cleaning establishment in an upscale suburb of Los Angeles and she works as a middle level manager for a major credit card processing company. One daughter is married and has moved out of state, while the other lives at home and works in the loan department of a bank. Together this family now owns the dry cleaning establishment, a new suburban LA home, their former condominium which is now rented with a positive cash flow, three nearly-new vehicles and two dogs. It doesn’t take an accountant to tally up their purchasing power.

We’re finding examples like this throughout North America. Budding minority entrepreneurs are opening small businesses, while education has opened corporate doors for many second and third generation minorities. In other cases, many foreign nationals sent here under corporate assignments for multinational firms are choosing to stay and many wealthy citizens of the Far East are migrating here as they purchase homes and businesses with hard cash. Despite all this evidence to the contrary, our tunnel vision toward minorities often precludes any marketing efforts to gain their business.

According to Time magazine, “Ethnic-minority shoppers, predominantly
African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians, spent $600 billion on everything from toothpaste to shoes to cars last year, up 18% in two years. The article indicated that, in less than ten years, minorities may account for 30% of the economy.” And this article was written in 1993!

In Los Angeles, the radio industry was jolted awake almost ten years ago as a Spanish-speaking station took first place in the ratings. Although many considered it to be a fluke, that same station has remained in the #1 slot from that time until this article was written.

Also in Los Angeles, the second generation owner of a Chevrolet dealership in a Pasadena suburb, watched his sales plummet as the demographics of his community changed to predominantly Asian. He had failed to learn the negotiation and buying habits of this minority, let alone figure out how to reach them with advertising. On a daily basis he watched his white, anglo-saxon sales staff idle away the hours without a single customer. And, when an entire family (we’re talking three generations) would arrive, usually with a translator, the sales staff would seldom close a sale. They did not know how to handle a “group” negotiation.

As a final effort before selling the dealership or filing for bankruptcy, he hired a new general manager who was experienced in trading within the Asian community. The new manager (non-Asian) began a multi-faceted campaign that began with an analysis of the community. It turned out that there were about five or six dialects in the Asian community and about 25% of the population was Hispanic. Advertising in the major papers was cancelled, and ads now ran in about a dozen small local papers that cater to specific languages.

A new sales staff was hired with language being one of the major job requirements. Among the sales personnel, each of the major Asian dialects was covered, four spoke Spanish and everyone must also speak English. Traditional closing offices were torn down to create an open atmosphere in the showroom. Remaining desks had plenty of extra seating available and three picnic tables were installed for dealing with the larger family groups. No physical changes were implemented in the service or parts departments, but new personnel were hired to cover the major language barriers. The sales staff helped out when some of the less-used dialects surfaced.

The dealership regained profitability. Solutions were still being sought
for major problems in areas of factory-mailed satisfaction surveys (most were tossed out by the customers who didn’t understand them) and the dealership had not resolved how to handle ongoing written correspondence with their customer base. Most communications were by the sales personnel over the telephone.

If the geographic boundaries of your business include some ethnic minority population, you may want to consider the corporate advertising approach. From virtually non-existent minority marketing twenty years ago, most major corporations today have some type of marketing aimed at various ethnic groups. Such advertising totaled over half a billion dollars as far back as 1992 and was expected to reach $1 billion by 2000. Proctor & Gamble allots 5% of its total advertising budget, which may be a good rule of thumb for certain areas.

Here are some basic guidelines for ethnic marketing:

1. Check the most recent census for your geographical area and determine the ethnic mix. Major U.S. categories were 30 million Afro-Americans, 22.4 million Hispanics and 7.3 million Asian-Americans.

Note: Prosperity among these groups has been increasing dramatically. Blacks earn twice the gross national product of Mexico, nearly $262 billion (over $8700 for every man, woman and child) and Hispanics earn $172 billion (nearly $7800 per person). Asians, meanwhile, have a higher average family income than whites: $36,100 versus $30,400 as far back as 1989.

2. Once you’ve determined the major ethnic categories within your area, look at the mixes within the categories. Don’t make the mistake of lumping all blacks or all Asians together into a single group. Haitian-Americans have little in common with American-born blacks; likewise major differences exist within the culturally-diverse Asian community.

3. Prioritize the ethnic minority marketing you wish to target. This could be by population ranking, income levels, home ownership, educational level or business ownership.

4. Hire, or retain as a consultant, someone who can speak the language, and remember to be aware of the dialect situation with Asian-Americans.

5. Create ethnic-specific advertising. Whether you are using direct mail, radio, television, print or telephone, your message needs to address the cultural realities of the particular group you are trying to reach. For instance, Hispanics react strongly to family security and will be more apt to notice an ad with a family setting. Asians, however, will be strongly motivated by a sense of accomplishment or achievement. With the black community, avoid placing white values within a black advertisement.

6. Investigate the potential media. Many of us are not even aware of the various publications and media that cater to the communication needs of the various communities. Search them out and discuss your plans and needs with their representatives. Many such conversations can open up a wealth of new ideas for you to contemplate and most will provide translations services for free.

Note: Be sure to investigate foreign language Yellow Pages. Ethnic marketeers swear by the results for such listings.

7. Involve your new customers. As you begin to add ethnic clients to your
book of business, invite them to share new ideas with you as to how best service their marketplace.

8. Become involved within the ethnic communities you are targeting. Look into community clubs, groups and charities. If you’ve hired an ethnic producer, support such activities. Most such communities place a high value on word of mouth endorsement, referrals and basically doing business with someone they know and trust.

Note: Don’t forget sponsoring children’s sport teams, holidays, festivals and church advertisements.

9. Conduct ethnic sensitivity training for your employees. You may create the most effective ethnic marketing campaign ever, only to sabotage it with inadvertent comments from employees that unknowingly offend. If you’re adding ethnic staffing as part of your efforts, this type of training gains in importance. Check with leaders within the specific community for available resources.

10. Give it time. In ethnic marketing, you’re the new kid on the street and they have to get to know and trust you first.

A particular note of interest from the Direct Marketing Club of Southern California relates to the Hispanic community. While the average American household receives up to 300 pieces of direct mail per year (or more), the average Hispanic household only receives 13 pieces of direct mail. The impact of direct mail to these households is estimated to be extremely high and Hispanic households were estimated to undergo a 48% increase by the end of 2000. One direct marketing test of Hispanic response in New York drew a response rate nearly six times greater that average Anglo-American marketing.

On a final note relating to the value placed on repeat business for long term growth and profit, most analysts agree that the minority consumer has a far higher propensity to loyalty than the average customer!

The Female Market

Every time I think about targeting the female buyer, Joseph Conrad’s comment comes to mind: “Being a woman is a terribly difficult task since it consists principally in dealing with men.”

In the mid-seventies, the automotive industry misunderstood the importance of marketing to women and simply ignored them. Any such marketing aimed at females was secondary in nature and sometimes accidental. The standard line was: Women might have input on the color and the interior decor, but men make the purchase. That was the philosophy and so went the marketing. The auto industry has changed, but many others have not.

Today, the automotive industry recognizes that women are the primary force in over 50% of all automobile purchases. This dramatic shift can be attributed to both the increased factor of women in all levels of the workplace and greater sharing of decisions among married couples. As a result, we’ve all experienced the new style of automotive marketing: less dependence on the maxim that “sex sells,” more female spokespersons emanating a confident aura of professionalism, less emphasis on raw power and mechanical detail, greater concern on safety and durability.

Does your industry or business stand at the same brink of impending change that the auto industry experienced twenty years ago? Looking into that chasm of change. I can’t promise hard answers, nor a 1, 2, 3 remedy. I can promise to jar your thinking and perhaps initiate a process of change. All of which brings to mind one of my favorite sayings, “There is no pain in change, only in the resistance to it!”

Here’s just a few examples from various industries:

Example: A recent radio ad campaign in Los Angeles: “If you’re a woman, (major company) sells life insurance!”

Comment: At least give them credit for trying to market to women, but targeting women in this manner will backfire. Reminds me of a sewing machine ad in the LA Times headlined: WIFE WANTED!

Example: Yours truly on the telephone to major financial companies: “May I talk with someone knowledgeable in marketing to women?” Replies: “We don’t have anyone with that background.” “What do you mean by marketing to women?” “That’s an interesting concept, maybe we ought to look into it.” “If you find out anything, let us know about it.”

Comment: As the group Chicago once sang, “Does anyone really know what time it is?”

Example: My wife and partner saying “You are!” on the telephone to an insurance telemarketer asking to speak to the owner. Their reply: “Oh!”

Comment: Typical male dominated philosophy within industry. Indicates a lack of preparedness to deal with the female realities of the marketplace.

Example: Major insurance company advertisement headlined: MRS. BLOOMER PULLED NO BLOOMER.

Comment: Addresses significance of the female market, but has an undercurrent that is almost patronizing. Would you use the historical perspective of slavery to target the black market?

Example: Car salesman to Mr. and Mrs. Jones, “....and Mrs. Jones, this model features a lighted cosmetic mirror on the passenger side visor...”

Comment: That’s where the car industry was, where are you?

Female Vision

Oppenheimer Funds is a leading force in effective marketing to women within the financial services industry. It should come as no great surprise that this emphasis on marketing to women comes directly from Oppenheimer president and chief operating officer, Bridget Macaskill. According to Macaskill, “The cultural barriers are falling. Women have the smarts, the disposition and the confidence to invest successfully; what they’ve lacked is the experience.”

Macaskill knows of which she speaks. Prior to leaving a successful position as the marketing director of a $2 billion-a-year British food company to join Oppenheimer, she was apprehensive about making the change due to a lack of experience in financial products.

Marketers should pay close attention to Macaskill’s comment, “The good news is that women know they have to move up on the learning curve, and many of them seem genuinely interested in doing so. In any event, lack of knowledge should never be confused with a lack of ability.”

From a marketing and sales standpoint, education will be key. In general, women are more comfortable in admitting that they don’t know something and then asking the questions that will enable them to learn. This will require a shift from marketing to males who often fail to admit their lack of knowledge. Assumptive presentations that have worked with men, will probably fail with women.

In a survey of 2,021 men and women commissioned by Oppenheimer Management Corporation, 95% of all respondents (men and women) said they generally discuss a major investment before it is made. On an interesting side note, 93% of the men felt their loved one would be able to handle household finances were they to die or become incapacitated. Only 89% of the women felt their spouse could handle it.

Macaskill also pointed out, “Our survey suggests that the popular notion that money is a constant source of conflict in most relationships is out of date. With the great increase in dual-income households, finances are emerging as a shared responsibility.” The survey, however, found that 57% of all women respondents felt that women were treated with less respect than men by financial advisors. And 54% of the men agreed.

“Financial advisors,” says Macaskill, “can play an increasingly important role in helping women to take charge of their financial futures, but this will only happen if women believe they will be treated with the same respect as men. Women don’t want special treatment; they want equal treatment.”

Overcoming The Negatives

How to achieve this equality in treatment with a difference in approach is the challenge that lies ahead. Perhaps the first step is to reduce the negatives in our advertising and marketing. Avoid the blatant “if you’re a female” and “wife wanted” approaches. Look for and discard that which might be patronizing or demeaning.

Reverting once again to the auto industry, other manufacturers might learn from Hyundai’s recent decision. Based on a consumer protest group’s letter advising 60 advertisers in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue that the issue is degrading to women, Hyundai pulled their advertising. Hyundai advertising manager Joe Corey commented, “If this particular issue is of concern to some of our customers, we’d prefer to stay away from it.”

Hopefully other companies will learn from Hyundai’s action. But at the moment, letters were sent to 60 advertisers; only Hyundai listened. And the reply of letter writer Linnea Smith, a North Carolina psychiatrist who started the lobbying effort, “I’ll tell you this, my next car will be a Hyundai!” All of which illustrates the importance of carefully evaluating where your advertising and marketing is placed.

Accenting The Positive

Positioning your company with an effective image in marketing to women clients can be invaluable. Some ways might be:

Utilize the women within your own operation as spokespersons within your community. Don’t hide them behind the desk and the phone, get them out into the public eye. Evaluate their areas of expertise and promote their participation in these areas at seminars, workshops, community speaking engagements and etc.

Highlight the women in your organization and their contributions in your public relations efforts. If you show yourself to value your female staff, it will create a favorable image in dealing with female clients.

Avoid making marketing decisions within what has been described as a “macho-male bonding rite of the Madison Avenue variety.” Invite the women within your company to equally participate in the advertising and marketing decisions.

Many businesses use client-endorsements within their brochures and descriptive literature. Are you using the endorsements of female clients on a parity basis with male clients? If not, perhaps it’s time to update your brochures.

Several suggestions to more effectively market to women are:

1. Use an educational approach in both marketing and sales presentations.

2. Adopt an attitude or sales style that treats every client with the proper
respect. Don’t be condescending to the female buyer.

3. Avoid the high-pressure approach, it will quickly and surely turn off
a female prospect.

In case you’re wondering about the “real” potential of the female market, these somewhat dated statistics from The Oppenheimer Fund can provide an answer:

In 1990 the earnings of American women rose to $931 billion, up from
$202 billion in 1975. (That’s a 461% increase in 15 years...and rising.)

In 1986 there were 3.3 million Americans with gross assets of
$500,000 or more. 41.2% of these Americans were women!

In 1990 there were 56.6 million American women in the civilian labor
force. (That’s more than double the number from 1960.)

Females born in 1990 will, on average, live seven years longer that
males born in that same year.

In 1989 there were 10.9 million female-headed families in America, up
25% from the 8.7 million of 1980.

[And remember, these statistics are over ten years old! - Ed.]

These statistics only scratch the surface when you consider the increased number of women-owned or operated businesses and increased numbers of women decision-makers in middle and executive management positions.

What’s the “real” potential of these target markets? The “real” potential is so big, your future may depend upon it.


Jack Burke is the president of Sound Marketing, Inc., host/producer of Audio Insurance Outlook, editor of newsletter, and author of both Relationship Aspect Marketing and Creating Customer Connections. For more information, please visit, call 1-800-451-8273, or e-mail

Copyright 1997 by Jack Burke. Used with permission.

​127 South Peyton Street
Alexandria VA 22314
​phone: 800.221.7917
fax: 703.683.7556

Follow Us!

​Empowering Trusted Choice®
Independent Insurance Agents.