"The African American male is the most imitated person on earth." Such is the infamous assertion of comedian and social critic Paul Mooney. You'll have to pardon Paul's hyperbole, but there's always a grain of truth in the best observational humor, and indeed African American males have been long regarded as trendsetters in the consumer retail sector.
Market research publisher Packaged Facts' soon to be released demographics report on the African American consumer segment reveals that black males are significantly more likely than the average consumer to agree with several shopping-related psychographics indicative of their status as retail trendsetters. These include significantly above average agreement that:
People come to me for advice before buying new things
I'm usually the first among my friends to try new clothing styles
I like to keep up with the latest fashions
I like to make a unique fashion statement
I like to experiment with new clothing styles
Most everything I wear is of the highest quality
I like to stand out in a crowd
I'm usually the first among my friends to shop at a new store
The realization of this demographic's influence has been a pillar of the marketing strategy of the Nike empire. Though Nike has faced occasional controversy for its overt pursuit of minority patronage, it's hard to ignore the brilliance of these efforts considering the company's $24.1 billion revenue in 2012 with an 8% five-year compound annual growth rate.
According to Forbes, a sizable chunk of Nike's revenue comes from its Jordan Brand subsidiary, which controlled 58% of the U.S. basketball shoe market in 2012 and is immensely popular with African American males in particular. The Jordan Brand grew between 25-30% in 2012, and generated more than $1.75 billion globally including apparel (Jordan Brand sneakers alone generated $1.25 billion in wholesale revenue in the U.S. in 2012). Michael Jordan, an icon of the African American community and the primary reason why Nike became the shoe brand of choice in the black community, annually earns an estimated $60 million from royalties associated with his Nike deal.
Building around someone like Jordan was no accident. Larry Miller, president of Jordan Brand, has openly discussed the brand's marketing strategy as a very intentional effort to reach the young black consumer segment--especially black males. During a speaking engagement, Miller went so far as to say that "the young black [male] consumer in the urban communities is the trendsetter for America and for the world really."
Other marketers wishing to reach this trendsetting demographics may want to take a page out of a book by a different Miller--Pepper Miller--who last year literally wrote a book on marketing to African Americans. The website Small Business Trends' review of Black Still Matters in Marketing: Why Increasing Your Cultural IQ about Black America is Critical to Your Business and Your Brand highlighted business advice in the book that included:
Recognize the growing power and influence of black social networks and the black blogosphere, and how and why engaging blacks in cyberspace can have a profound positive impact on marketers' bottom lines
Understand the importance and impact of portraying black men in a positive light, and the power of showing black men as role models in the black community.
In harmony with the book's recommendations, Packaged Facts' research reveals that African American males are significantly more likely than average to be receptive to marketing that reaches them via the internet and their cellphones. Likewise, it's evident to that African American males' purchasing decisions are often influenced based on a product's association with a celebrity.
Nike banking on Michael Jordan's celebrity, in combination with his status as someone traditionally portrayed in a positive light (i.e., tall, successful, ambitious, wealthy, and business-minded), has proven to be a lucrative stroke of genius. Jordan himself is, quite possibly, the undisputed trendsetting African American male. Other businesses would be wise to find the next person who can someday grow to be like Mike and influence generations of other black males who in turn will influence the retail world.
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