DA op-ed: How cross-cultural marketing can improve your school communications

By: | Issue: June, 2019
May 8, 2019

Trish Rubin is a marketing instructor at Baruch College in New York and is the author of BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Empower Learning.

Amy Gómez began her career as an academic researcher and instructor, but left the academy to pursue a marketing career focused on multicultural consumers. After 9/11, seeking a more purpose-driven path, she spent time as a bilingual third-grade teacher in the South Bronx of New York, where she advocated for her students and their immigrant parents. Gómez’s expertise in cross-cultural marketing enabled her to be a more effective educator. This experience made her realize that the principles of cross-cultural marketing are as beneficial for school communications as they are for brand marketing.

Understanding cross-cultural marketing can benefit a school leader’s communication growth mindset. Just as brand marketers today must learn how to communicate effectively with increasingly diverse audiences, so must school administrators.

From multicultural to cross-cultural messaging

Gómez says that many marketers still use the multicultural marketing model that was developed in the 1970s, when advertisers targeted their brand messaging to a general market of predominantly white consumers. Then, they’d simply translate or adapt the ads—often badly—for other population segments. The practice resulted in siloed messaging that varied in quality and relevance for multicultural buyers.

This approach might have worked then, but it won’t work today, since 92% of the population growth in the past 20 years has been multicultural. The majority of the U.S. population will be multicultural by 2044—but the majority of the U.S. population under age 9 is multicultural today.

Educators can adopt a cross-cultural approach as they make their school’s brand narrative relevant and impactful across diverse communities.

What distinguishes the cross-cultural approach is that it begins by understanding the distinct insights for each cultural segment of the school community, including Hispanic, black, Asian American and non-Hispanic white.

The majority of the U.S. population 
will be multicultural by 2044—but the majority of the U.S. population under age 9 is multicultural today.

The school can then use those insights to build communications that are relevant to everyone, but are particularly resonant for multicultural parents and their children because the insights are part of the messaging from the start.

How can this approach be used?

Educators who prioritize dialogue with parents and observation get important data and powerful insight about the distinct attitudes, values and beliefs that characterize different cultural groups. Some areas to focus on are parenting styles, relationships with school bureaucracies, and experience with pedagogy.

Gómez offers two tips to add to your communications strategy:
• Make communications relevant for all parenting styles. Different cultures express love in a different way. Non-Hispanic white parents may be comfortable with an egalitarian dynamic and negotiate with their children. Hispanic parents may have high levels of intimacy with their children and may be strict. Black parents may instill obedience to protect their kids.
• Understand the concerns of mixed-status families. In immigrant communities, mixed-status families, in which some members are living in the country illegally and some are not, are common. These families can be hesitant to supply personal information or to participate in school activities if other public entities are involved. How do you accommodate their concerns and modulate your communications accordingly?


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Superintendents must consider how their words connect with their unique communities. Cross-cultural marketing may be one way to shrink the communication distance between schools and diverse groups of parents.

Trish Rubin is a marketing instructor at Baruch College in New York and is the author of BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Empower Learning.