When marketing a purpose-driven brand, you might wonder how to approach cultural holidays and heritage celebrations.
Do you risk joining in the conversation and potentially culture-washing or do you play it safe and stay silent about causes you care about?
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, and in its honor, we sat down with Sam Ruiz, the founder of Tgthr Collective, a growth marketing agency for purpose-driven DTC brands.
“If you’re not going to be adding value to the conversation, then amplify the voice of someone who is.”
Sam Ruiz - Founder, Tgthr Collective
Why brands should participate in AAPI heritage month
It’s important for brands to listen to Asian Americans and value their stories. “You lose out on a lot of perspective and diversity of thought and cultural richness when you’re not paying attention to other cultures, identities, and groups,” says Sam.
Asian Americans have been targeted by more hate attacks since the beginning of Covid. “We should be treating humans as humans regardless of anything else, but there’s also a huge economic opportunity for the companies that are able to authentically speak to these markets,” says Sam. Buying power is getting more diverse and Asian Americans (including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders) control over $1.3 trillion, more than the annual economic GDP of all but 13 countries.
What to avoid when supporting AAPI and other heritage months
Sam understands the feeling of potentially getting it wrong. “I’m half Filipina and I didn’t grow up with a big Filipino family,” Sam explains. “I think that people in my shoes who are half something or didn’t grow up with that strong culture share that sentiment…am I Asian enough to talk about this?”
But founders and brands—even those without AAPI heritage—shouldn’t let fear stop them. They need to couple their good intention with meaningful impact. Sam says that it’s important to make sure you’re not doing something just to “check the box.”
“I write a newsletter every week,” Sam explains. “During a cultural holiday, I thought I should write something about it. But as I was writing, it felt really off. In theory, the newsletter was purpose-aligned, but I wasn’t adding value to the conversation. I was just screaming into the void because I felt like I should. It would’ve been really inauthentic for me to do that.”
Instead of sending that email, she wrote openly about that very experience. She explained to her email list how and why she stopped herself. “If you’re not going to be adding value to the conversation, then amplify the voice of someone who is,” says Sam.
“There are so many people who have been fighting for justice and human rights for so long that need resources that brands can provide.”
Sam Ruiz - Founder, Tgthr Collective
What's the best way for brands to support AAPI heritage month
“Partnerships can be huge and really powerful,” says Sam. “Instead of playing hero, companies should look to partner with people who are already on the ground doing the work. They should look for opportunities to help amplify and bring attention to voices that may not be heard otherwise. That’s the most important thing.”
This can look like:
- Comarketing with a brand led by a AAPI founder, like Amber Thibaut of Coco Moon.
- Promoting a charity that supports the AAPI community and sharing specific details of their work, like AALDEF’s Immigrant Rights program and legal clinics.
- Quoting AAPI activists and directing your audience to check out their work, like Kamea Chayne’s eco-activism content on her newsletter (Uprooted) or podcast (Green Dreamer).
Rather than try to innovate from scratch, uplift those who are already making an impact. “There are so many people who have been fighting for justice and human rights for so long that need the resources that brands can provide,” says Sam.
Not only will this be a fairer and more authentic approach, but it also is more interesting, because you’ll have valuable content to share with your audience—rather than just making noise.
How to approach seeking guidance from internal AAPI staff
Sam cautions against putting too much work on AAPI employees to come up with authentic campaigns or review everything. “You shouldn’t turn to those communities to fix things that they didn’t break,” says Sam. “You can’t just use them as a scapegoat.”
Instead, companies should look in their own backyard to find out if any employees or community members are already actively participating in AAPI equity and inclusion work. “This is where you can definitely touch people internally—if they are already active. But it’s a balance because you don’t want to make them do the work for you.”
Your best bet will be to amplify the work they’re already doing rather than add more work to their plate.
The ethnic aisle: a growth cap that AAPI founders face
Comarketing and partnerships with AAPI founders can be a smart way to authentically reach the AAPI market while also uplifting founders who may be facing disadvantages you hadn’t even thought of.
For example, Sam personally knows of a founding team that still struggles to get their product out of the ethnic aisle of the grocery store.
“Because their snack product is founded by an Asian person and has Asian flavoring, it’s put in the ethnic aisle and their ability to grow is so much smaller,” says Sam. “There’s a lot of new cool bubble tea companies and I’m sure they’re going to come across the same thing. Grocery stores are going to want to throw them in the ethnic foods aisle and not allow them to be in the canned beverage section.”
Not only is this damaging to these brands’ potential, but it also keeps consumers from experiencing new flavors and products—further contributing to a sense of separation amongst people from different backgrounds.
To help, a food and beverage company with an aligned audience could do partnership marketing during AAPI heritage month—or better yet, at multiple times throughout the year. An easy way to uplift brands who might not get the same visibility opportunities would be to photograph your products together, share them on social media, and tag the other brands. But of course, you can get as in-depth as you’d like. The more thought and work you put into it, the better.
AAPI charities to support with Givz
“Our clients at Tgthr Collective already prioritize giving back,” says Sam. “What they need help with is doing it in a way that is impactful and that will resonate with customers.”
She recommends researching the charities you support in order to make sure they’re really making a difference.
You should also share details of their programs and impact, rather than just naming the charity on your website or social media. Make sure your audience knows what they do, why it matters, and how they can learn more about these nonprofits.
“This transparency not only helps bring light to what you’re doing, but it also helps educate your consumers and gives them an opportunity to get further involved if they’d like to,” says Sam.
Here are some great charities you can amplify and support this month: