If art imitates life, then advertising surely imitates society. And if advertising to African Americans is any indication, society is changing. After all, marketers ignored African-American consumers for years, believing they lacked money to spend and influence to spread. Time has proven them wrong, however, as African-American consumers now make up 13 percent of the U.S. population and spend more than $600 billion every year. Smart companies realize that it’s no longer enough to send out general marketing messages and hope they stick to all of their collective customers. To be truly successful, they understand that they must create customized messages for individual audiences. And one of those audiences ought to be African Americans because:1. African-American buying power is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2010.2. Approximately 26 percent of African-American households—3.7 million of them—had incomes of $50,000 per year in 2000. 3. Approximately 64 percent of African Americans—versus 51 percent of Caucasians—spend more on products they perceive as “the best.”4. The African-American population is expected to grow from 34 million in 2000 to 42 million by 2020. Customize your products Every marketing effort starts with a product or service. To truly win over African-American consumers, then, focus first on designing products especially for them, and second on selling products to them. Be relevant to your customers In order to appeal to African-American consumers, you must show them—literally—that you’re committed to them. The first step is including African-American models, customers and spokespeople in your advertisements. The second step is finding messages that resonate with the community. Advertise in African-American media Of course, it’s not enough just to show African Americans in your marketing materials. You must actually reach them with those materials, too. Do just that by avoiding a mass-market approach and embracing a more targeted strategy using niche media, including African-American newspapers, magazines and radio. Hire African-American employees African Americans like doing business with other African Americans; they’re most likely to spend their money with companies that hire more African-Americans and in more prominent positions. Sponsor community events Companies can better market themselves to African Americans by being active within their communities. Invest your time and money to support African-American events and to fund African-American causes. Spread word of mouth within African-American hot spots When it comes to buying products and services, African-American consumers often rely on recommendations from their friends, family and neighbors. Earn those recommendations—and encourage them—by interacting with African Americans in the places that they frequent most often. African-American consumers tend to value brand names and the status that comes from owning tangible items. African-American consumers tend to be incredibly brand loyal and rely on certain brands to help them make purchase decisions. Hair care, automobiles, telecommunications, entertainment, groceries and clothing are the most popular product categories among African Americans. Be careful to recognize nuances and differences within the African-American market. Not all black consumers will behave the same; African Americans of different age, geography and gender demonstrate different purchasing habits. Don’t assume that general marketing efforts are adequate in reaching the African-American market; African Americans consume more content more quickly when it directly represents their lives. Consider your customers’ geography: African-American consumers are most concentrated in the South and the top five African-American markets are New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.