Expanding Into Ethnic and Niche Markets

By: Cheryl Whitman

Most aesthetic practices serve a culturally and ethnically mainstream population, and until the recent extended economic downturn, that was enough to have a busy and profitable practice.  However, since 2007, several factors have conspired to change that.

First, with budgets tight, fewer people have sufficient funds to enjoy the same level of elective treatments and services they’d once enjoyed.  Where once it was a challenge to keep up with new business, over the past seven years, it has become an increasing challenge just to remain profitable.

But a second – and often overlooked – factor involves the growth in the number of doctors offering aesthetic services.  As payments from insurance, HMO, and other traditional third-party payers became more restrictive, many doctors have expanded their practice into elective cosmetic and aesthetic procedures.  Today, OB/GYNs, ENTs and Internal Medicine specialists routinely offer Botox and fillers, while general and thoracic surgeons, ophthalmologists and other surgeons are offering cosmetic and plastic surgery procedures.

As a result, more doctors are chasing fewer patients, with predictable results in terms of volume and revenue.

However, a growing number of aesthetic medical practitioners are growing their practice by reaching into one of the specialty or niche markets, including ethnic markets.  We’ve seen this among our clients, and have actively encouraged them to branch out.  For instance:

  • A physician in Northern Jersey has strengthened his practice by reaching into the Russian émigré market 
  • A physician in Louisiana is reaching out into the darker-skinned Creole market 
  • A dermatologist in the South Beach area has tapped into his own Cuban roots to serve the distinctive needs of the Cuban-American market. 
  • An physician in North Miami Beach is reaching out to a market of his  Orthodox Jews, offering distinctive services that cater to their medical needs, as well as their strongly-held religious faith. 
  • An Egyptian-born doctor north of Detroit is reaching into the Arab-American market that has made Dearborn one of the largest Arab-heritage cities on earth, trading on his linguistic skills and cultural sensitivities to provide distinctive services for that distinctive audience.

These are just a few examples, but there are many more.  Physicians in Oklahoma and the Dakotas are serving patients with a Native American heritage, while others in Florida serve the Haitian community.

Major cities – New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles – have so many ethnic groups that savvy cosmetic and aesthetic physicians and surgeons are quickly segmenting their markets and building brand loyalty, referrals and profits.

Reaching into ethnic markets or other niche markets can be made easier because of a few distinctive factors:

  • They have their own local media, which reach the target market 
  • As minorities outside the mainstream, they tend to cluster together, making them easier to reach, and to generate word-of-mouth 
  • They extend loyalty to those who respect their cultural sensitivity

There are three primary types of niche markets:

  1. Those based on race – reflected in skin tone and distinctive facial features 
  1. Those based on distinctive national ethnic origin 
  1. Those based on lifestyle choices and orientation

The first two groups are fairly self-evident, but there is a growing demand for services offered to gays and lesbians, as well as others with distinctive lifestyle choices.  These groups tend to have higher-than-average buying power, and they respond with loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals to those who treat them with respect.

When you market to gays, or to any ethnic minority, you are telling them, “you belong here – you are welcome here.”  There is, however, a risk that culturally mainstream patients may first ask the “do I belong here” question, which can lead to a “This isn’t for me, I don’t belong here, I’m not welcome here” kind of subconscious rejection of the practice.

Therefore, marketing efforts toward cultural mainstream and ethnic niche markets should be kept distinct and separate, to reap the best of both worlds.

This highlights the advantages and risks of niche marketing – but the risks can’t change the fact that there is a huge aesthetic-market opportunity to reach the “ethnic skin color,” “culturally-ethnic” and the “lifestyle-choice” markets.  These markets are now so large and so profitable as to justify  considering them in detail.

To successfully market into these groups, consider the following ways to effectively attract members of the target groups while minimizing the risk of alienating the cultural mainstream.

  • First, really understand what defines this market 
  • Use specialized narrowcast ethnic media; do not use broadcast media 
  • Create culturally-sensitive messages that are pre-tested to avoid unseen cultural landmines 
  • Adjust to enable culturally-sensitive responses to marketing messages 
  • Create culturally- or ethnically-distinctive web pages just the target group

Now, let’s go through this list point by point: 

Really understand the market.  From the outside, ethnic groups appear one-dimensional, but all have variety.  For instance, not all Hispanics are alike. Cubans tend to be very “European,” and are very unlike Mexicans or Puerto-Ricans.  Orthodox Jews have surprisingly little in common with Reformed Jews, and thinking that all Native Americans share a single tribal culture is wrong – by a factor of about 500.  Finally, there is no one-size-fits-all gay market – there are many distinct sub-cultures, with their own interests and needs.

But you’ll only know this if, as the Music Man said, “You’ve Got To Know The Territory.”

Use Ethnic niche-market media.  The best and most efficient means of reaching members of any cultural sub-group is through their own specialized media.  For instance, to Miami and South Florida Hispanics, in both your PR and advertising, use Hispanic-oriented local Hispanic media.  It is also important in using targeted Social Media.


Culturally-Sensitive Messages.  Consult with cultural members to avoid making unwelcome mistakes in translation – including “translating” for cultural nuances even if you’re using English.  Don’t seem like an outsider – your marketing must be right on-target.

Culturally-Sensitive Responses.  Make sure you phone receptionist and patient-care staff can speak the language and understand the culture. If you run ads in Spanish, your receptionist and staff must speak Spanish – and if you run ads in Russian or Arabic, the same holds true.  If you don’t speak the language, run ads in English in the ethnic media, to create the proper expectation.

Create Distinctive Website and Collaterals.  Reaching a niche market requires ethnically- or culturally-distinct web-page and collateral materials, such as brochures.  On the home page, offer access to a specific web-page for each separate target niche market.  This must also apply to Social Networking.

Bottom line.   There are real opportunities to profitably reach out to patients with certain national or cultural heritages, specific inherited skin tones, or certain lifestyle choices. To be effective, follow these five steps, and always – always – show respect for the patient’s national or cultural heritage, their racial ethnicity or their lifestyle choices.  Do that, and they will reward you.

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