Friday, August 3, 2012

Marketers! When It Comes To Bi-Cultural Markets, Do You Really Know What You Are Doing?

There are 50+ million Hispanics in the United States. Think about it. 50+ million. I stand proud as one of those millions. I was born in Mexico City, Mexico and have had the privilege of moving between the U.S. and Mexico all of my life. As a native-Spanish speaker, this experience has made me incredibly aware of what it means to be Bi-Cultural in the U.S. in the 21st Century. Currently, I am a graduate student in the Northwestern Medill IMC program with a deep interest in the impact that this continuously emerging market will have across all industries in the U.S. and abroad, particularly in terms of marketing opportunities. If you are a marketer attempting to reach this target (or even someone seeking to expand your efforts to promising target markets), what does the significant growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S. mean for you?

In a recent blog published on the Huffington Post, Chris Cummings (CEO of Curiosity Media) notes that “the growth of the Hispanic population has translated into a powerful consumer base with buying power estimated to exceed 1.3 trillion by 2013.”

This growth (and spending ability) carries a need for:

A) Bilingual services which permeate every industry in the U.S.

B) (For marketers,) a careful analysis of what it means for this population to be labeled with a pan-ethnic label like "Hispanic" or "Latino".

We run the risk of failing to create powerful connections with these consumers by pigeonholing groups of people—which otherwise are vastly different culturally—under an overarching umbrella like “Hispanic” or “Latino” solely because they share a common language. Ignoring how sensitive definitions of identity among Hispanic groups are can severely compromise the effectiveness of your marketing campaign for Bi-Cultural markets.

In April 2012, the Pew Hispanic Center published a report titled “When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity,” meant to showcase a conversation about identity facilitated by Latino/Hispanic journalists, scholars, and civic leaders in the U.S. A nationwide survey of Hispanic adults found that 51% of Hispanics say they most often identify themselves by their family’s country of origin; just 24% say they prefer a pan-ethnic label. Furthermore, 69% versus 29% of survey respondents say that Latinos in the U.S. have—often—varying cultures and not a single common culture.

Are you catching what I’m dropping?! As a marketer seeking to reach Bi-Cultural markets, this is the best time to think outside the box and not limit your efforts to the obvious—literal translations to Spanish. Your goal should be to speak fluent culture successfully with your target markets. Meeting these cultural needs will positively impact ROIs for companies seeking to maximize profits within markets that attract Spanish-speaking populations (remember that “1.3 trillion by 2013” spending power?).

This is obviously a multi-layered issue (my favorite part of this conversation) and finding the “sweet spot” will not be easy.

A good place for you to start is to consider:

1.   Who comprises your Bi-Cultural target market? For example, are they primarily U.S. born Hispanics or Hispanic immigrants? Chances are these two groups behave vastly different. The same is probably true for differing generations.

2.   Testing. Try varying translations or messages with all of your communications. As a resident of Chicago, so often I see ads which I can recognize were literal English translations to Spanish. They work—but they read (or talk) insincere and would be so much better if they carried a cultural nuance to them. I promise you your consumers will respond better if they can tell you were thinking in Spanish the whole time.

3.   Immersing yourself in a little bit of Hispanic pop culture. Particularly, search for content directly from Latin American countries (or Spain). It can be anything—read the major newspapers (i.e. El Universal de Mexico), watch TV in Spanish (Azteca streams online), watch the latest movies, or listen to music in Spanish. This will help you get a feel for conversational language, and will help you reach your target markets in a way that is fresh and that is familiar to them.

Marketing to any target market is about relationships. Hispanics need stories they can relate to and that make them feel understood in an environment they don’t necessarily call home. Get this right, and the sky is the limit in terms of how much you can achieve with this group!

Karla Del Angel is a part-time graduate student at Northwestern's Medill program, studying Integrated Marketing Communications. Currently working at Northwestern’s Office of Alumni Relations and Development, she is very interested in brand strategy for bi-cultural markets and hopes to follow this career path upon graduation. Follow her @kdel87 and connect with her on LinkedIn: Karla Del Angel.

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