Only six weeks in, 2017 is already showing signs of being a big year for multicultural marketing. Corporations are doubling down on diversity initiatives. Strategic purchases and mergers have occurred and projected multicultural spend is trending upward for the year.

But despite this year’s momentum, I just can’t shake the notion that targeting and segmenting via ethnicity is weighing us down.

The execution and creation of quotas based on census demographic data is what drives market research. Essential to creating representative samples, especially in the multicultural space, is ethnicity. And for decades, this has given marketers accurate reads of ethnic cohorts across the U.S.

The Rise of Cross-Cultural Marketing

But times are changing and even the Census is grappling with how to ask about ethnicity in their surveys. When you combine that with the rise of cross-cultural marketing, one starts to ask the question, “How relevant is ethnicity when building representative samples?”

Cross-cultural marketing is quickly becoming a reality for many brands, and not because it’s trendy. Marketers have realized that culture is fluid and that different ethnicities are embracing a multitude of cultures other than their own.

We saw that play out in our recent “We Are Gen Z” report. The data revealed that the majority of Gen Z consumers across ethnicities are open to trying foods from other cultures. This is telling because food is one of the most critical components of culture. To see a cross-pollination of food choices and preferences across ethnicities, in my opinion, illustrates that this fluidity is here to stay.

Diluted Traditional Ethnic Quota Models

Traditionally, market researchers have built ethnic quotas based on ethnic background coupled with other demographic data such as census regions, income, and education. For example, a bicultural Mexican-American from Los Angeles would be representative of a West Coast Latino and a low acculturated Dominican from Brooklyn would be representative of an East Coast Latino.

This classification now seems dated as the bicultural Mexican-American could have more in common with an African-American millennial from the Bronx than a fellow Latino from Los Angeles.

Technology and Passive Behavioral Data

So how do we construct quotas that are inclusive of culture? And how do we define the different cultures that will comprise these quotas? I mentioned in my previous column that we need to move beyond segmentation for segmentation’s sake and that is a good place to start.

Technology has accelerated the cross-cultural makeup of the U.S. (and the world). With that shift comes a wave of data that marketers have barely penetrated due to the sheer volume of it.

The key to creating relevant cultural quotas, in my opinion, lies in the analysis of passive behavioral data. Specifically, mobile behaviors, which give us an unprecedented look into the habits and preferences of the majority of Americans.

Creating digital cultural buckets based on these preferences will enable market researchers to go beyond ethnicity and create meaningful quotas for custom market research.

Pairing this research with behavioral data will allow marketers to unveil key consumer insights at a deeper more meaningful level, empowering cross-cultural marketers with the tools to develop creative that resonates beyond ethnicity to what matters — culture.

This blog post was originally published on MediaPost – Engage: Hispanics