Marketers have been napping against millions of dollars of lost sales this Diwali

MultiConnexions Group founder and CEO Sheba Nandkeolyar argues that marketing in multicultural Australia is full of lost opportunities.

Are Australian marketers culturally aware? Last week the whirlwind of Diwali – the five-day festival widely celebrated by Indians and South Asians – was on, and I have been left feeling like we as marketers are lacking. How many of us have even heard of Diwali? Or Holi?

Diwali is like Christmas for Australia’s South Asian-born population (which includes those from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh), and sees the lighting of candles, firecrackers and clay lamps known as diyas as well as increased consumer spending and celebrations. It is a huge celebration, revered by billions of Indians in India and around the world.

But while it was wonderful for me to observe many participating in Diwali festivities this year despite COVID – including Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s heart-warming Diwali message – I cannot help but reflect that Australian retailers and brands, including jewellers and supermarkets, have largely missed out on the immense marketing opportunity of targeting Australia’s South Asian population during this festival.

I think it may be due to a lack of cultural knowledge and understanding.

There are some 800,000 South Asians in Australia, with the population by ancestry an estimated 1.5 million – a sizeable market share by any definition. South Asians are culturally rooted; they celebrate and thrive on their cultural events such as Holi and Diwali.

South Asians are also highly targetable as they tend to cluster in certain suburbs, and New South Wales and Victoria are home to most of Australia’s South Asian diaspora (35 per cent NSW, and 37 per cent VIC). This audience is growing too – Indians have been the top source of migrants and new citizens to Australia for a few years now. MultiConnexions’ Lifestyle Survey found this audience tends to over-index on spending in many categories too.

Even despite the pandemic of 2020, many categories of consumer goods are topping the shopping list during the festive season sales with gadgets, clothes, appliance, fashion accessories and, of course, jewellery topping the list.

Size? Tick.

Growth? Tick.

Potential? Tick.

Targetability? Tick.

Resilience? Tick.

So why are Australian retailers not doing more?

Let us look at jewellery – including gold and silver – as this is a big one for the South Asian audience.

Dhanteras is the name of the opening day kicking off Diwali. It is an extremely auspicious day for making new purchases, especially of gold or silver coins, utensils, and other items. It is believed that new ‘Dhan’ (wealth) or some item made of a precious metal is a sign of good luck. On this day, every Indian worth their salt tries to purchase gold or silver, with decorative coins being a very popular purchase. Those celebrating Diwali will spend as much as their budget allows them to.

A proud Indian-Australian myself, I was keen to buy some silver coins on Dhanteras too. I drove around to visit five different well-known jewellery retailers across Sydney looking for silver coins before I finally gave up. Not one of the jewellers I visited had a ‘Happy Diwali’ sign up, let alone a single tray of special products to sell to those celebrating. When I asked the sales assistants, they did not even know what Diwali is.

Every Indian family wants to buy gold and silver on Dhanteras, so I can only imagine the lost opportunity – in the millions – for all jewellery retailers in Australia! Jewellery is almost an essential in Indian culture, regardless of the region in consideration.

The value of India’s jewellery market is well over A$55 billion p.a. (3 trillion rupees) and growing. The jewellery industry in Australia was valued at A$4 billion in 2020, with South Asian Australians contributing a sizeable portion with spending during festival periods and, of course, Indian weddings.

Cricket is another big opportunity. It is a religion with this audience, and it is a crying shame that IPL was a missed marketing opportunity too – there was no coverage of the IPL matches in Australia. When you go to a cricket match you see a sea of blue being worn by Indian cricket fans, and yet marketers are shy of sponsoring such sports.

They are family driven. Indeed, family influences all major decisions including shopping. When purchasing, they value the opinions of friends and family, seek value and place importance on relationships with both brands and salespeople.

They are highly tech-savvy; they live and breathe social media especially Facebook and WhatsApp, spending an average 2 hours 25 minutes per day on social media according to WEF data.

And finally, South Asians are enthusiastic and voracious consumers of media – spending just shy of five hours every day consuming media – from digital, social media, print, TV, eDMs, radio and so on. A lot of the media they consume is country-of-origin and community media. The receptivity points and mindsets are very different to the mainstream Australian consumer journey.

The emotional connection that a brand can make with such customers through the cultural route is priceless. It helps your customers look past price tags and towards the value of a brand or product.

The revenue opportunity is immense for brands to tap into the power of the South Asian/Indian market, and other attractive multicultural segments including Chinese and Arabic-speaking, among others.

Marketing is about understanding your customer and providing products to suit your customer’s needs. I am concerned that most marketers do not understand their customers fully, and still see them through rosy mainstream-tinted glasses. There is no personalisation of messages and minimal engagement.

But perhaps there is still hope. Lunar New Year is around the corner in early 2021… and there’s always next Diwali.

Sheba Nandkeolyar is the founder and CEO of MultiConnexions Group.


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