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Friday, May 21, 2010

Se Habla Español - Working With Latinos

As the debate on immigration reform heats up in the political arena, and the numbers of raids by ICE and reports of these in the news continue to give an alarming glimpses of a plight prevalent to and affecting a large segment of the Latino community, an obvious fact is sorely missing from most reports, and that is that Latinos, whether here legally or not, represent a huge economic force in all communities where they reside. After all, the money they earn allows them to pay rent, buy cars, put food on the table, support worthy causes, and a number of other things that make some industries show impressive profits, and a reason why many keep paying for promotions in the media catering to this group – in their native language, “Español”. Let’s consider what is important to work this market, because, as the saying goes, “…if you can’t beat them, join them…”

Evaluating how best to approach the Latino market starts no different than how one might approach any other market being served. The main difference is language. However, it is also important to note that not all Latinos who speak Spanish or have brown skin are of “Mexican” descent. This belief is a gross mistake made by many a well-meaning advertiser. The term “Latino” is a broad-brush stroke used to denote this group. Keep in mind though, that national pride plays into people’s psyche and is a deeply rooted and unforgiving concept, particularly if you make such errors in your marketing theme.

What else is important besides political correctness on addressing folks in this group? The U.S. Latino market is comprised of natives from over 20 countries from Central and South America, the Caribbean and Spain, with a large percentage of Mexican descent. Any marketing to reach this diverse group, where customs differ, is more than just translating exiting materials or messages. It is more about conveying a sales message and theme apropos to the respective segments within the larger group, e.g., Mexican, Salvadorian, Cuban, etc., perhaps in Spanish. The question is how can you do this for such a divergent group? Any notion to reach all Latinos with a uniform message is misguided. The best you could hope for is being effective in percentages.

Although Latinos share a common language, albeit with certain differences in dialects and/or pronunciation, the diversity of their origins, the assimilation, the education level, and the social economic level all affect attempts to lump your marketing message into one global campaign. Making things a bit more interesting is the next generation of Latinos, where yet another factor surfaces, that of communicating a specifically targeted message predominantly in English interspersed with Spanish – “Spanglish,” if you will.

Advertisers and media companies will highlight the usual breakdowns found in “regular” markets, e.g., 18-35 year olds, upper middle class, level of education, etc., to explain their target markets, as in the media of choice, radio. However, there are varying degrees of receptivity among any such demographics. For instance, Mexican 18-35 year olds may be inclined to listen to a musical genre known as "tex-mex or Banda," Salvadorians in that age group may lean towards Reaggeton or Salsa. Thus, if you want to reach one group you may have to advertise in one type of station, and do something different for another group. No one type of media will work well for all Latinos, so choosing the target group carefully, evaluating its potential return on investment (ROI), is the place to start.

What are the best communication channels that will reach the highest segment of the Latino population? With the advent of the worldwide web, many are resorting to the Internet. However, Latinos as a percentage, represent a very small segment of Internet connected groups, opting instead to word of mouth advertising or television or radio, unless you’re talking about the next generation younger segment, who is mostly connected via wireless devices, e.g., I-phone, etc. Surprisingly, print advertising is among the least effective methods, yet popular still for the publisher, as there are plenty of weekly papers catering to the Latinos with news content, albeit a weak choice for a cornerstone to any effective marketing strategy. In order of importance and reach, and possibly cost, and perhaps effectiveness, we have:

Television (49% of U.S. Hispanics watch television)
Radio (The entire family may listen to one station and tune in, on average, 26 - 30 hours per week)
Print (Minority newspapers are an inseparable part of the local minority community.)
Event Marketing (including sponsorships) (Events create excitement, reinforce image, and allow you to hand-deliver your marketing message face-to-face or in a venue where this is permitted.)
Direct Response (including telephone marketing) (Latino households are 3.5 times more likely to respond to a direct mail solicitation than a non-Hispanic household; and telephone solicitations are still an effective way to reach this group, provided it is done in a professional manner and in their native language)
Seminars, Workshops & Presentations (Although this approach sometimes does not fare well, complemented with the other types of promotions, it is a highly effective method to capture client for future business development)

As is true in any marketing campaign, one can certainly spend much more money and diversify to their advertiser’s content. However, any prudent businessperson will do a bit more research to the select targets within the larger Latino population they want to reach, e.g., studying buying habits, income levels, brand loyalty, and other such matrix, and then conclude on the selected group, and choose the best media to reach it. Test marketing on a smaller scale is always appropriate and a prudent thing to do, in spite of what any of the representatives may try to tell you.

Obviously novice entrants will grovel along doing what well-meaning media executives may suggest, believing that they ought to know, they work in that venue. However, many such executives are little more than poorly trained order takers, and culturally relevant marketing is more than just running a promotion that was effective in another venue or language, expecting the same level of success. There are countless examples of failed best intentions. For instance, a classic is the “Nova” (one of GM’s model cars). The term means “Doesn’t Go” in any Spanish-speaking country, so to market something that “doesn’t go” even with the fanciest of pieces or promos isn’t going to change that – RESULTS, a promotional flop.

Marketing that gets results comes from a careful study of the Latino subgroup one is targeting (after careful research of the buying power of that group, of course), and establishing a promotional campaign that is sensitive to what is important to that group. Obviously, this will mean an investment, but at the end of the day, the ROI will certainly leave a nice positive number on your balance sheet with increasing numbers of loyal buyers, and with a little care, a repeating trend with their referrals.

Oh, and let’s not forget, the growing numbers in their up and coming offspring, even though they may have transformed the language, still, Se Habla Español.