Brand opportunity: Engaging Australia's diverse migrant community

Terri Hall
By Terri Hall | 14 August 2023
Terri Hall.

Terri Hall, Managing Partner, TRA Sydney

Picture this: packing up everything you own, saying goodbye to friends and family, and bidding farewell to everything familiar. Moving to a country where they don't speak your language, follow your customs, or enjoy your favourite foods – perhaps a place you've never even been to before.

For many of us, this is not hard to imagine. In fact, many of us will have lived parts of this experience first-hand. We know this because a remarkable 52% of Australians are first or second-generation migrants – people who have moved to Australia from overseas or have at least one parent who has.

Australia’s Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) migrant community are a vibrant group with many nuanced and complex differences, united by one common thread – the decision to move from countries where English is not the primary language and establish new lives, careers and roots in Australia.

Marketers and advertisers have both a privilege and a duty to represent and meaningfully incorporate the richness of their experiences, traditions and perspectives into brand experiences. However, while many of us are aware of the moral obligation to meaningfully connect and communicate with this community, recent research reveals a disconnect.

Research reveals a major disconnect

The results of a comprehensive study - conducted by TRA in partnership with Newscorp Growth D_stillery – which incorporated a quantitative read of over 2,000 Australians, evaluating 30 different brands (both local and global) from diverse categories, indicated less than one in five CALD individuals found brands to be personally relevant or reflective of people like themselves. The numbers drop even further when considering brands that make them feel respected, acknowledged, and understood.

The efforts towards representation, while well intended, are blinkering brands from a deeper connection. As one study participant expressed: “Seeing people like me in advertising is often a westernised version of what they understand my culture to be… If instead they involved me, or better understood me, they would have a more realistic connection with me”.

This disconnect is disheartening. With only one in three CALD individuals saying they feel accepted and recognised as true Australians, it’s clear there’s some work to be done.

The solution is for brands to find practical strategies to meaningfully engage as migrants progress through the identified passage from beginning to belonging.

Utility at the beginning

As migrants first arrive in Australia, they often need help and support to navigate the new environment – but close to half of CALD migrants are not getting the assistance they require. This early stage can be confronting, with often unexpected new realities of finding jobs, understanding new language and slang, finding a home, clashing of workplace norms, to name a few. Brands can play an early role in utility by following a few practical strategies:

  1. Demystify Aussie-isms

Taking care with complex Australian cultural nuances, language, and humour is crucial. Consider how your brand uses humour and slang across all touchpoints and ensure it can be understood even with limited context. Utilise diverse visual cues, stories, and voice to facilitate understanding and don’t assume migrants can read between the lines.

  1. Provide opportunities for aspirations

CALD migrants are deeply aspirational, with 85% of new migrants embodying an Aspirational Mindset, compared to the 44% in the wider Australian population. The challenge for brands is to engage CALD communities with relatable stories they can aspire to; plus create possibilities that open doors and unlock opportunities through must-see and must-do experiences.

  1. Utilise trusted peer networks

When seeking support, CALD individuals are three times more likely to turn to their peers rather than government, brands, or community groups. Brands can tap into this multiplier effect by stimulating conversation and contribution within these networks. By being present in incidental conversations during everyday activities like setting up bank accounts or shopping at supermarkets, brands can contribute to the process of piecing together life in Australia.

Fostering pursuit of belonging

The ultimate aspiration for Australia’s CALD communities is not about assimilation or disappearing into Australian culture – it’s about finding a sense of belonging or equilibrium between their ‘two worlds’.

One first-generation migrant respondent stated: “Moving to Australia and bridging two cultures is extremely formative. Anyone that does this ultimately makes a choice about which parts of which culture they choose to incorporate into the person they are.”

This pursuit of belonging is fluid and dynamic. People move at their own pace. However, research has illuminated three core parts of life that follow similar patterns – and the principles for brands to meaningfully engage across each.  

  1. Respect the world migrants bring with them

Retain: Parts of CALD peoples’ lives that are inherently linked to identity remain anchored and influenced by their cultural heritage – family values, religion, food and spirituality. This remains true well into second generation. The imperative for brands here is respect: it is vital for brands to acknowledge specific cultural rituals, moments, and needs. This isn't about isolation or separatism, but rather about demonstrating a genuine desire to participate in a migrant’s world.

  1. Help migrants balance equilibrium between two identities

Adapt: Parts of life that reflect how we engage and live in society are adapted by CALD people over a period of time, often spanning generations: language, dating rituals, medicine, aged care and socialising. In many cases, these are catalysts for their move to Australia but are not immediately intuitive. In this core part of the CALD journey, cognitive overload is common, and reassurance is crucial. Brands can accelerate their connection by providing information without assumptions, being repetitive in affirming support, and creating a comprehensive map of the journey you will take migrants on. Showing migrants the bigger picture and helping them experience the totality of their new life is vital.

  1. Create opportunities to showcase Australian culture

Adopt: There are parts of life CALD migrants quickly adopt upon arriving in Australia. These reflect the ‘Australian dream,’ and give them social currency to be part of the conversation – such as fashion, sport, travel. These areas of life create opportunities for immediate brand engagement. This is about inviting them in and being the shop window that showcases the benefits of being part of Australian culture. Even if your brand isn't directly linked to certain aspects of Australian life, find ways to connect and be the dream they came to Australia to fulfil.

Connecting meaningfully

It is not good enough that only a fraction of CALD individuals find brands personally relevant or reflective of themselves. To bridge this gap, we must take action.

By respecting migrant heritage, embracing their stories, and breaking down barriers, we can connect meaningfully with CALD communities throughout their journey of finding equilibrium in Australia, and create branded experiences where our CALD community feels seen, recognised, and appreciated.

Using the practical strategies above as a starting point, brands need to ensure their marketing strategies reflect the reality of contemporary Australia and celebrate every individual's unique story, language, and background.



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