Black History Month serves as a good reminder for us to celebrate achievements in the African-American community, but we should also engage in open conversation on where shortcomings exist and progress remains to be made. To that end, HEINEKEN USA, as part of the company’s Brewing A Better World platform, recently hosted a panel of leaders to discuss African-Americans’ influence on business and branding.
The panel, The Evolution of the Black Consumer: A panel discussion focused on the evolving image of African - Americans as consumers and their impact on business, was moderated by Bjorn Trowery, Director of External Communications for HEINEKEN USA. It included leaders from the industries of corporate, media, and academia: Cortney Charleston, Client Manager of Multicultural Growth & Strategy, Nielsen; Renea Nichols, Assistant Teaching Professor of Advertising/Public Relations, Penn State College of Communication; and Jason Parham, Senior Writer, Wired.
The session highlighted the immense, and continuously growing, impact African-Americans are having on the economy. According to a recent report, black buying power is projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020, up from up from $320 billion in 1990 (source). As African American buying power expands, the panelists noted how companies are responding.
“Black consumers play a unique and also variable role in society – we need to open up the dialog to foster understanding,” said Nichols. “Otherwise companies like P&G, who are actually doing a good job of connecting with Black consumers via campaigns like “My Black is Beautiful,” will remain the exception and not the rule.”
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The panelists also addressed how African-Americans define themselves as a group, and how that’s evolving.
“I think the success of Black Panther speaks for itself. This is a cultural space that is always evolving – it’s thriving and innovating,” said Parham.
Panelists agreed that brands cannot successfully penetrate the growing African-American consumer base without genuinely connecting with the demographic. Incorporating African-American culture into marketing, media, and company culture - without appropriating it - is vital. The panel also highlighted the importance of companies looking within their own walls.
“Diversity and inclusion should be an obvious thing for companies to embrace,” added Charleston. “You need different perspectives to help inform the direction of companies and brands in an authentic way. Your people are your bridge to your consumers.”
HEINEKEN USA’s Brewing A Better World agenda focuses on three main areas 1) environmental sustainability 2) responsible consumption, and 3) diversity & inclusion. Throughout the year, HEINEKEN USA will be facilitating employee events highlighting key cultural moments. Next up is Women’s Day – stay tuned for more!