According to Cheryl Grace, Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Consumer Engagement at Nielsen, the leading global measurement and data analytics company, “If you don’t have a multicultural strategy for your brand, chances are you are not going to have a brand within the next ten years. Multicultural consumers—as the fastest-growing consumer segment in the United States—are very important to connect with culturally,” says Grace. With 92% of the US population growth in the last 5-7 years coming from multicultural births, Grace urges beauty brands to use data in finding multicultural beauty insights to inform their strategic marketing efforts.
In her role at Nielsen, Grace is the lead content executive for all domestic multicultural and diversity initiatives, managing important conversations, presentations, and conferences on trending diversity issues of importance to Nielsen, its clients, stakeholders, influencers, and communities across the United States. She also leads a diverse team of thought leaders and researchers tasked with uncovering new trends and insights about African American, Hispanic/Latinx, and Asian American consumer segments.
Named one of Black Enterprise’s “Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Business,” the Purdue University graduate’s previous positions in advertising, broadcast media, public relations, nonprofit sectors, and local government were the perfect training ground for her current career at Nielsen, which has spanned over 16 years and various divisions within the company.
Grace understands the importance of “making research sexy,” helping to contextualize insights in a way that “everyday people can understand and own.” She’s also the visionary behind Nielsen’s groundbreaking report “The State of the African-American Consumer,” first released in 2011. That initiative led to Nielsen’s historic creation of its Diversity Intelligence Series (DIS)—a robust portfolio of comprehensive reports that focuses on diverse consumers’ unique consumption and purchasing habits and behaviors. At a time when major organizations, including Nielsen, weren’t prioritizing multicultural consumer insights, Grace fiercely advocated behind the scenes, taking a grassroots guerrilla marketing approach to highlighting and publishing the study’s findings. “I was on the receiving end of a lot of data insights about what consumers were buying and how and where they were spending time, and where they were spending their time. I realized that I didn’t know any of this and I was pretty sure that people outside of the research industry also didn’t know about it.”
Fast-forward a decade, and Grace’s commitment to using multicultural consumer segment data to fuel economic growth and empower consumers remains. So, what does knowing one’s consumer—and what they want—look like in practice?
Psychographics Matter. Image, product, and price point are the first areas to consider. Grace says, “If you’re selling a high-end beauty product, it would be helpful to know that 52% of Black women say that they would pay extra for a product that is consistent with the image they want to convey. That is 31% higher than non-Hispanic White women.” Furthermore, Grace says 82% of Black women agree that it’s important for them to be well-groomed. Tapping into this target’s psychographics should be a business priority.
Lifestyle Matters. Concentrating on connecting your brand to a lifestyle is another key factor to capturing and including the multicultural consumer, Grace recommends. “41% of Black women agree that they like to live a lifestyle that projects a positive lifestyle to others.” This is significantly higher than non-Hispanic white women. For brands, this means being inclusive in communications and advertising of that projected lifestyle. Being exclusive in terms of race and ethnicity severely limits a brand’s ability to tap into the power of the multicultural market.
Social Responsibility Matters. Likewise, brands should strive to be intentional about their stance on issues and how they support causes important to multicultural segments. “58% of African Americans are more likely to expect the brands they buy to take a stance on issues and 37% more likely to buy when they do.”
Grace implores that brands avoid “making the mistake of pledging money (towards a cause) then go back to pledging nothing.” Black consumers pay attention to consistency. If beauty brands want to win over multicultural segments, they must remember that “Black consumers pay attention to how well you’re walking the walk and that there is an alignment with what you say you’re doing and what you’re actually doing.”
Grace also serves as a strategic advisor for READY to BEAUTY’s soon-to-be-released, first-of-its-kind economic data study, entitled Readiness Is the New Green: An Economic Data Study on Beauty in America. Nielsen’s research team will assist with the qualitative data review—with Grace penning the study’s foreword. For Grace, the study is critical for creating a baseline, setting milestones, and showcasing the importance of using data to effectuate real change within the beauty industry. “There’s power in paying attention to metrics … if it can be measured, it can be managed and leveraged,” notes Grace.
With the help of Nielsen, questions for the READY to BEAUTY study were crafted with the hope of creating a baseline that beauty companies can utilize for plotting economic growth. With 2020 being a year of “social unrest,” as described by Grace, she encouraged the READY to BEAUTY team to explore the #buyblack phenomena and how social activism through intentional consumerism resonates with beauty consumers. “Black-owned brands need to see whether or not there is a movement for purchasing African American-manufactured products amongst just African Americans or whether there is a movement for other demographics to buy Black too.” Understanding that charity begins at home and understanding the types of conversations that are being had surrounding buying decisions is meaningful, as these insights have not currently been collected by Nielsen.
Grace believes that Black beauty entrepreneurs should also have the advantage of leveraging the African American $1.4 trillion of buying power to actualize true economic growth potential. And this can only truly be achieved by also leveraging data, she notes. “If you can fill a gap, market, and promote it towards an audience that has a need that no one has filled … you can be in the seat to [succeed].” For example, Grace lauds musician-turned-business mogul, Rihanna, as an example of having brilliantly used historical data to launch the Fenty Beauty empire. “Rihanna recognized the trend and the need. We needed skin tone hues that matched our own. She didn’t do it just for Blacks. She did the gamut. She made it cool.” Doing the research, finding out what the competition is (or isn’t) doing, and figuring out where there is a niche or gap in the market is still a viable pathway to success for Black business growth.
Plus, the data shows that Black innovation fuels buying trends. “67% of Hispanics and 73% of Whites believe that Blacks drive pop culture,” notes Grace. “If something starts to become a trend within the African American community, within 3-9 months that will trickle over into the general market.” Being at the forefront of cultural impact is an economic advantage that should not be overlooked by multicultural-led brands. “If you are a Black-owned business and African Americans are your primary source of revenue, you need to be able to understand segmentation and targeting just like any major corporation.” Access to data reports, like those that Nielsen provides, will be the future of inciting growth.
As for Grace, she’s proud of the work she has done to ensure that African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans are taken as a serious demographic that cannot be ignored by brands looking to grow. “I’ve introduced the US economy to segments that would have otherwise not received the recognition they deserve. I’m pleasantly surprised at the number of people who are total strangers to me—but for whom my work is something they use every day when pitching retail stores, acquiring new customers, or making advertising decisions.“ She hopes that brands continue to champion diversity of voice and inclusivity—and use data to make informed decisions about how to best meet the needs of the changing demographics of America.
Photo: via Cheryl Grace