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Understand Hispanic Culture To Get A Piece Of This Pie.

by Corporate Logo on January 21, 2008

If you’re ignoring the growing Hispanic market, you may be missing a very lucrative opportunity. And chances are, your clients want in on this growing market, too. But reaching out without understanding cultural sensitivities could be as costly as not reaching out at all.

So, before you jump head first into a new outreach, be sure you know what you’re doing.

You know you have a great promotion, the price is right and you’ve spent a bundle on a barrage of slick, witty presentations. Yet sales are slack, so your ship sinks while your competitors sail away on surging revenues. If this sad tale sounds familiar, you may have neglected the most critical aspect of your marketing plan – targeting.

Would you try to sell a stack of Bibles in a Las Vegas casino? Or a hot cocoa drink in the desert? Every target is a culture. Know it well, or you’ll miss your mark. The Hispanic community is a prime example. With hefty political clout, rich traditions and a lot of money to spend, this is an ideal target audience for American companies eager for new income streams. But leaders of the dynamic and diverse Hispanic populace have a message for mainstream corporations: When you come calling with your hand out, be prepared to offer more than just, “Hola!”

Hispanic community members say much gets lost in translation when American companies try to reach out to them. Merely converting an English message to Spanish is often ineffective. And when mainstream corporate America fails in its attempt to reach out, it is usually the result of one glaring mistake: assuming all Hispanics are alike, when in truth, their origins trace back to a wide range of nationalities with distinctly different customs, expressions and cultural sensitivities.

That’s not to say there is no common ground. In fact, some Hispanics may very well respond to the same media campaigns designed for the general English-speaking population. Confused? Don’t be. Instead, recognize the key factor that absolutely must be measured and respected when targeting a marketing blitz: acculturation.

“The Hispanic market has been lumped into a big bucket, and that doesn’t serve the market properly,” says Salvatore Cavalieri, president and CEO of Cilantro Animation Studios, which was founded to help corporations hit the cultural bull’s eye. The company’s 10 staff members represent a wide range of educational backgrounds and Latino-American cultures, and they work to compose media messages targeted specifically to the growing Hispanic audience in the United States.

“We’re in an age where we have to listen more carefully to what the audience says,” Cavalieri adds. “Before they give you their money, they want to know you went the extra step. Who’s your audience? What is their age? What are they consuming? Where do they come from historically? If you don’t know that, you won’t be successful.”

Cavalieri says there is no set timetable for adopting the cultural traits and social patterns of another group. The young may adapt faster than the elderly. The number of years a Latino has lived in this country is also a factor, as well as the number of generations that have assimilated.

Other key factors include levels of education and the reasons each person has come to the United States. Also, the time-frame each person has lived here may shape social references. For example, a person born in the United States in the 1980s may respond in a different way than someone who was born in a Latino nation but moved here at the turn of the 21st century. And then you must ask, is your target audience first-, second- or third-generation Hispanic? Knowing the answers to these basic questions will save time, big bucks and the unpleasant blunder that reveals a corporation’s cultural ignorance – a costly setback that may be difficult to overcome.

Raymundo Varela, vice president of Hispanic marketing for a pre-paid cell phone firm, believes some American corporations miss their mark because they lack a diverse staff that can help avoid cultural pitfalls. And some organizations are simply too hasty when developing outreach for segments of society they haven’t previously approached.

“You can’t skip steps. You have to follow the exact same steps when you create for the general market and the Hispanic market. You must consider age, gender, other demographic variables and the grade of acculturation they have,” he maintains. “And you have to have on your team people who are able to understand that culture and can create something relevant to that target.”

Varela believes corporations too often assume Hispanics are all of Mexican descent. Although 70 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population hails from Mexico, that culture isn’t dominant in all American cities. For example, only 4 percent of the total U.S. Hispanic population is Cuban; yet, in Miami, Cubans make up the majority of the Hispanic population. Meanwhile, Mexicans dominate the Hispanic populace in Los Angeles. Therefore, corporations should develop different marketing plans for the two cities.

Greater San Antonio offers yet another challenge. Although more than half of the 2.3 million residents are Hispanic, the culture has been present in this Texas city for generations. “Hispanic? Yes, it is. But 75 percent is acculturated. So, how should I talk to them? Should I use English or a combination of English and Spanish?” Varela asks. Cilantro’s solution: Spanglish.

Another important aspect of cultural relations is knowing the difference between educating and persuading, points out Juan Guillermo Tornoe, a marketing consultant in Austin, Texas who authors a Latino marketing and advertising blog called Hispanic Trending. “‘Walter Cronkite Spanish’ is perfect if you’re delivering the news. But if you are persuading, you need to relate emotionally.”

Several years ago, Heineken USA used both in a clever radio campaign called Traducciones (Translations) that won a Best of Show Hispanic Creative Advertising Award. In each spot, a Heineken drinker at a party tells a simple story using the accent and slang of a different national dialect: Argentine, Mexican, Dominican and Puerto Rican. The humor came when a second voice blandly translated each colorful, colloquial sentence into standard Spanish. The advertisements entertained while educating about cultural differentiation. And they earned a lot of air play: One Houston DJ played the spots continually simply because he liked them.

It is easy to understand why Heineken and other companies have targeted the Hispanic community. In a report called The Multicultural Economy 1990-2009, the Selig Center for Economic Growth says the Hispanic population is growing faster than other groups. By 2009, it reports, one person out of every six living in the United States will be of Hispanic origin, up from one in eight in 2000. And by 2009, Hispanics will account for 9 percent of this nation’s buying power, up from 5 percent in 1990. In 2006, the Washington Post reported that by 2011, Hispanic buying power will have grown by a daunting 48 percent, to nearly $1.2 trillion. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that pie?

But even though the population is huge, not every Hispanic is a potential client. Depending on what products and services your client offers, it may be wise to narrow your niche. Knowing a specific culture well will help define a target and avoid the dreaded shotgun syndrome: big blast with small returns.

This article was written by Douglas Glenn Clark for corporate Logo Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

Douglas Glenn Clark is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

 



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