Sheba Nandkeolyar on the implications of a growing migrant population for marketers

Last week the results from the 2021 Australian Census were released, revealing, amongst other things, that Australia is now a majority migrant nation, with 51.5% of all Australians having indicated that either they, or at least one of their parents were born overseas.

The changing face of the nation is something should not only be acknowledged, but embraced by marketers, with the growth of culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia opening up new audiences for Australian brands.

However, for expert in multicultural and diversity marketing, Sheba Nandkeolyar, the Australian marketing and advertising industry is lagging when it comes to engaging with these growing audiences.

So, to learn more about why the latest Census findings should matter to marketers and advertisers, and what is required of brand’s seeking to engage these audiences, I caught up with Nandkeolyar for her take on the state of diversity in Australian marketing.

Key Census Takeaways

The founder and CEO of multicultural, diaspora and diversity marketing and advertising agency, MultiConnexions Group, and president of the International Advertising Association (IAA) Australia, Nandkeolyar says the Census findings are “groundbreaking” and the revelation that more than half of the Australian population is from an immigrant family is something that “you would never have imagined could have happened 20 or 30 years ago”.

“One in two people in Australia are coming from an immigrant family. That’s massive, absolutely massive. What does it mean? It means either they’re born overseas, or they have at least one parent born overseas, which matters a lot when you talk about multicultural audiences because the influence of parents are very strong on the children in terms of how they spend, what do they buy, how much do they save, and in general, their lifestyle habits.”

Alongside the overall growth of immigrant populations, Nandkeolyar highlights the rapid increase of Indian migration, with the number of Indian migrants having doubled since the 2016 Census. For reference, the Chinese population has increase around 7% since the last Census, making Indian migration the second largest diaspora, behind the UK. Connecting with the Indian diaspora, and other rapidly growing immigrant communities, can promise increased revenue for marketers who have previously looked only at the ‘mainstream’, particularly as these audiences continue to increase.

For many groups, authentic connection hinges on the ability to reach people in their own language – through which Nandkeolyar says you can touch their hearts, and truly engage. In terms of language groups, the number of people speaking a language other than English at home has gone from 24% up to 27%, or nearly 5.6 million people.

This number is compounded by almost 850,000 people who do not speak English, or speak English very poorly, which is especially relevant for government agencies and other marketers who need to ensure “there is equitable distribution of information to everyone”.

What is the state of the industry, when it comes to diversity?

Overall, Nandkeolyar sees the one million immigrants that have arrived on Australian shores since the last census as a huge opportunity for brands, however, this isn’t something she feels has been fully realised or embraced by the industry.

“That’s a huge number. We’re talking about 1 million migrants. And sometimes I love to ask myself that question: if I was to ask a certain brand, out of this 1 million, how many would be your customers? They would be struggling to give you that answer. On one hand, we are desperately looking how do we grow our market? How do we grow our revenue. And here, you have all these new people streaming in, and no one thinks about, hey, you know what, it’s easier to acquire these guys rather than snatching market share from here and there and from my competitors,” say Nandkeolyar.

“To be very frank with you, there are very few marketers in this country who are truly committed and do their best to treat this marketing strategy, of including these culturally and linguistically diverse audiences, professionally.”

Having worked across a number of international markets, Nandkeolyar feels that Australia is somewhat behind the US and UK when it comes to engaging diverse audiences.

“Australia is still pretty driven in terms of just the mainstream market, which is primarily more of a white market. They do understand that there are other audiences but they either find it just too hard, or try to convince themselves that the number are not strong enough that they need to set aside time, or budget or money to really look at these audiences,” she says.

However, Nandkeolyar points to a small 5% of marketers that have committed fully to these audiences, looking at their market share and asking whether it is “representative of the overall audience profile that they see in the market outside, and if it is not, why not?”. For this cohort, taking active steps towards closing the gap between the actual diversity of their market share, and the possible diversity of their market share was a priority.

For the many who have attempted to tackle diversity without this thorough commitment, tokenistic representation has resulted. Nandkeolyar, herself an Indian woman, recalls that she has seen many ads that portray a person of Indian background in a situation that she feels would not be comfortable or culturally appropriate for the typical Indian person. Of course, the example can be applied across a multitude of cases.

Marketers who target diverse audiences without thorough research can waste media spend on ads that do not reach the right audience.

“I have heard creative directors tell me, ‘we all cry, we all laugh’. Yes, we all cry, we all laugh, but for different reasons,” says Nandkeolyar. “Something which the mainstream might find very amusing is maybe not as amusing for an Indian.”

Advice for marketers looking to do diversity better

With a gaping space between the current and potential investment in diverse audiences, Nandkeolyar acknowledges that this space is not for everyone.

Her first advice is to be authentic – avoid stereotypes and tokenism. Here, she recommends cultural testing of mainstream campaigns as one way to get started.

“It’s so simple, it’s so easy, to just at least get it right that whatever you’re putting out there is inclusive and its not going to hurt or be insensitive to anybody else.”

Second, she urges marketers to be rigorous and do their homework, and for this, Nandkeolyar suggests working with the specialists.

“If you want to do it right, then do it thoroughly and properly with the same amount of rigor that you would be following in the mainstream, otherwise it’s best to save your money,” she says.

Multicultural agencies have a dedicated team who have understand culturally diverse audiences at a level of depth unmatched by mainstream agencies, and can ensure that you engage with the right audiences, at the right time, in the right way and through the right channels.

Nandkeolyar also reinforces the importance of working with diverse suppliers and diverse media, and helping to amplify underrepresented voices through dedicated campaigns.

“They are migrants, they’ve left everything and come to this country,” says Nandkeolyar. “They will always reach out to people who reach out to them in their own language, in their own cultural ways, respecting their traditions, and building a relationship with them, and they’re very loyal.”

As for the risks of ignoring the “writing on the wall” when it comes to the growth of culturally and linguistically diverse audiences in Australia, Nandkeolyar asserts that marketers would not only be missing out on some immensely loyal and valuable customers, but, in what is now a migrant majority nation, they are simply doing their business a disservices and ultimately setting themselves up to “go the Kodak way”.


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