Friday, May 18

Marketing To Hispanics: Think People First

Ten percent. That is the number of people in the United States who can trace their ancestry to Mexico. It doesn't include any other Hispanic or Latino cultural connections, which is why I'm sometimes baffled by the way companies try to segment Hispanics and the way some Hispanic organizations suggest those companies market to Hispanics.

If you ask most of these companies and consultants, they seem to think Hispanic marketing means adding Spanish messages to their marketing mix or making a Hispanic media buy. The Forbes article (referenced above) even highlights a Volkswagen spot as an example.

It features two white guys who listen to a Spanish tape during a car trip. At the end of the spot, they speak Spanish. That's it?

Don't misunderstand me, it's a brilliant little spot. But the reason that it works has nothing to do with dropping in Spanish. The spot is about gas mileage, which is a cross-cultural message. It could have been French and had the same impact. It just feels more relevant given the increasing number of people who speak Spanish (as a first and as a second language).

I might be more convinced if they added subtitles for English or dropped the subtitles for Spanish. But more than that, I don't believe Hispanic marketing simply means adding foreign flags, select fashions, subtitles, and actors who look the part. It's about doing your homework and understanding cultural values while avoiding cultural sensitivities. 

But doesn't this apply to everyone? Depending on your product and your market, it always makes sense to consider cultural values and sensitivities. It could be any group, even those that aren't based on heritage. It might include socio-economics, job description, faith, or political views too.

Likewise, it seemed disingenuous that the thrust of the article suggests that companies sustain a dialogue with Hispanic consumers rather than trying to push a message with monologue.

The secret to market segmentation is listening to individuals over groups. 

The dialogue tip isn't exclusive to Hispanics — it's a marketing lesson that includes everyone. And therein lies the problem with choosing market segmentation based on demographics alone. Marketers really need to do their homework and have a dialogue with consumers because Hispanic has become too big of a segment to work.

In the United States, for example, Hispanic is usually defined by the government as "persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Central or South American, or other Spanish or Portuguese culture or origin, regardless of race." Each of these sub-segments are as unique as the various sub-segments by the overly generic term Asian. And in some cases, those subgroups can be segmented too (Mexico is a big country, with many regional and urban-rural differences if you take the time to listen).

So where does that leave us? Hispanic marketing seems like a good idea today because research points to a rapidly growing Hispanic population that retains a significant amount of their cultural heritage (more so than many European immigrants). But over the long term, the Hispanic culture in the United States will not be synonymous with Hispanic culture as it is identified today.

It will eventually be something else, which it already has if you consider just how different Hispanics in California are when compared to Hispanics in Texas (or how different Californians and Texans are for that matter). In other words, marketing segmentation works but it works its best when marketers assess their entire customer base instead of trying to appeal to national demographics. Think global, act local.

In fact, it might surprise some to learn that the difference between Apple and Droid consumers is greater than the difference between Hispanic and non-Hispanic smart phone subscribers.
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