When Oliver Chin and his wife had their first child, he looked around for children's books with Asian American characters.
The publishing veteran and lifelong cartoonist was discouraged by what he found. So in 2002 he started Immedium, a children's-book publisher specializing in picture books with Asian American and other ethnic characters.
Chin isn't the first entrepreneur to found a company aimed at an ethnic group. This business strategy can be a success -- just look at Black Entertainment Television or Latina magazine -- but it isn't without its challenges.
Before going multicultural and tapping into that $2 trillion market, here are some things to keep in mind:
Know Your Customer
It sounds obvious but when dealing with issues of identity, be sure to have your sensitivity meter turned on
. For example, an Asian American can be someone of Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, even Tibetan descent.
In fact, the Asian American market is the toughest to crack, says Kay Madati, vice president of marketing for Community Connect, a Web company that created social-networking sites such as
Glee.comfor the gay and lesbian community.
Then there's the issue of language.
Are you appealing to recent immigrants and their children or to those born in the U.S.? For instance, Community Connect's Latino social networking site,
Migente.com, caters to English-speaking Hispanic users.
Be a Team Player
If you're not a member of the club, then connect with those who are. Advertise in that ethnic group's publications. There are more than 350 ethnic outlets in the U.S., according to the Independent Press Association-New York. And many would be happy to help you craft the right message, says Lisa Skriloff of Multicultural Marketing Resources (
Another way to gain an audience: sponsor an event that benefits that community. "When you combine some kind of charitable/philanthropic/community service contribution, it's a good way to drum up business, especially if the community is marginal," says Marilyn Halter, professor of history at Boston University and author of "Shopping for Identity: The Marketing of Ethnicity" (Schocken).
Have Your Cake and Eat It Too
Going multicultural doesn't mean you can't try to appeal to a broader audience.
Although Chin reached out to Asian American outlets like the Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles and Chinasprout.com for his books, he also targeted any place that would be interested in quality children's books.
"For me, I like the flexibility of publishing what I want," says Chin. "Though a priority is Asian American books, I am not going to strap myself down." He has also published a photography book on the annual Burning Man event in Nevada, and "Robot Stories and More Screenplays."
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Lan Nguyen is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has written for the New York Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, Worth magazine and Star magazine.