Don't Get Lost In Translation: 3 Rules For Effective Hispanic And Latino Outreach

With more than $1 trillion in annual spending power and projected growth of 48 percent over the next three years, Hispanics and Latinos do not represent a market segment; they are a market unto themselves. As such, marketing and communications outreach to this ever-expanding American population isn’t a homogeneous, one-size-fits-all proposition. Rather, it is a far more targeted exercise that demands a true understanding of the subtle nuances that define myriad Hispanic and Latino communities in the U.S.

The Hispanic and Latino diaspora extends across all geographies, generations, and income demographics. There are Mexican, Cuban, Dominican, and a host of other heritages, all with distinct cultures, histories, and even languages. There are first, second, third, and fourth generation Americans, all of whom demonstrate varying levels of assimilation. Hispanics and Latinos live in urban, suburban, and rural settings. Some measure their incomes in tens of thousands of dollars a year. Others make tens of millions.

Such diversity is the foremost challenges for corporate marketers and communicators seeking to tap into the Hispanic and Latino market. Too often, companies fail to understand that messages designed to reach the entire population are too broad to tangibly resonate with anyone in it. As with all advertising and public relations endeavors, you have to know who your audience is before you can paint fine enough strokes to connect on a personal level. In the Hispanic and Latino context, that means knowing where your audience is from, where it is going, and how it is likely to interact with your unique corporate identity.

1. It all starts with geography.

Jose Nino, President of the El Nino Group, Co-Chairman of the Hispanic Alliance for Prosperity Institute, and former President of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, believes that effective Hispanic and Latino outreach begins with careful considerations about the region in which companies are communicating. "If you’re operating in the southwest, you’ll be talking predominantly to people with Mexican heritage," says Mr. Nino. "In the southeast, the population hails largely from Cuba and other Caribbean nations. In New York City, you’ll find a number of people of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent. There are, of course, exceptions in every city and state – but if you know the basics of the Hispanic and Latino diaspora, you already know a great deal about how best to target your efforts."

Mr. Nino says that’s because country of origin impacts everything from cultural considerations to language. "A Spanish word that means one thing in Mexico can mean something completely different to someone who speaks an El Salvadorian dialect, and something else again to people whose families came from Venezuela or another South American country," says Mr. Nino. "From the clothes they wear to the foods they eat, there is just as much diversity among these communities as there is across the entire United States. That’s why blanket marketing and communications initiatives simply don’t work as well as they could if companies really took the time to understand who they are talking to."

Mr. Nino sees even more value in drilling down beyond the region-by-region level. "If you have the resources to look at these communities on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, you can learn even more about wealth, assimilation, and the other factors that influence buying decisions. From there, you have all you need to craft messages that really hit home."

2. Take the time to forge lasting relationships.
Raymond Arroyo, the Head of Alternative Distribution at Aetna and a Member of the Board of Directors at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, sees patience as a key factor that drives successful Hispanic and Latino outreach. In working to close the health insurance coverage gap among Hispanics and Latinos, he has found that results don’t often materialize overnight. "Hispanic and Latino consumers want to take the time to learn what you’re about before they buy," says Mr. Arroyo. "It’s a slower, more personal process than what is traditionally used to market to other audiences. These communities want to know just as much about you as the products and services you provide. That takes time – and, as a result, too many companies abandon efforts that might be working just because goals aren’t reached as quickly as they might have hoped."

Tony Jimenez, President and CEO of MicroTech, the fastest-growing Hispanic-owned business in the United States, sees business-to-business partnerships as an effective way to build the relationships that Mr. Arroyo strives for. "We’ve seen a lot of state and local governments put an emphasis on working with companies that contract work out to Hispanic and Latino-owned firms," says Mr. Jimenez. "The same is true of the average Hispanic or Latino consumer. When a company markets to us, it feels good to know there’s a clear recognition of the important role we play in American society. But when a company is willing to work with us, there’s an even more powerful message about trust and investment in the Hispanic and Latino communities that goes a long way toward crossing the cultural divides that may exist."

3. Don’t forget digital.
According to recent reports, young Hispanic and Latino Americans have spent $17.6 billion on mobile devices and more than $500 million on mobile applications thus far in 2012. That fact alone tells us that any Hispanic and Latino outreach strategy that deemphasizes the social and digital media landscape (as many mistakenly do) isn’t built for an audience that is as tech savvy as any we’ve seen.

Consider that the geo-targeting needs outlined in point one are perfectly suited for a world in which effective Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Marketing (SEM) can enable organizations to tailor diverse messages to the regions, states, cities, and neighborhoods where they will have the greatest impact. At the same time, consider that social media engagement provides an ideal avenue for building the personal relationships outlined in point two. When companies utilize blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms to talk not just about their products and services, but the ways in which those products and services empower and enrich consumers’ lives, they nurture the trust and familiarity so important to Hispanic and Latino consumers.

Speaking the Language

By understanding the diversity that defines Hispanic and Latino communities, focusing the time and effort that it takes to build lasting brand relationships, and optimizing social and digital media engagement, companies can reach the fastest growing market in the U.S. with the precision and specificity needed to succeed.

In this context, speaking the language is about a lot more than words. It’s about living a culture and focusing on the details that are all-too-often lost in translation.

Follow Richard Levick on Twitter and circle him on Google+, where he comments daily on the issues impacting corporate brands.

Richard Levick, Esq., President and CEO of LEVICK, represents countries and companies in the highest-stakes global communications matters — from the Wall Street crisis and the Gulf oil spill to Guantanamo Bay and the Catholic Church. Mr. Levick was honored for the past three years on NACD Directorship’s list of "The 100 Most Influential People in the Boardroom," and has been named to multiple professional Halls of Fame for lifetime achievement. He is the co-author of three books, including The Communicators: Leadership in the Age of Crisis, and is a regular commentator on television, in print, and on the most widely read business blogs.

[Image: Flickr user cliff1066]

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1 Comments

  • Cedricj

    I am a US citizen living and working in Mexico and consult globally.

    by all means learn the language if possible but be very clear about social protocol and the rhythm of the culture. the informality and assertiveness found in the USA does not always sit well with many Mexicans.

    Also watch the language used in brands. For instance the automobile brand Nova did not resonate with Mexican customers since in Spanish Nova means "does not go"

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