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Sam Comen

Fast Company

¡Hola Surfers!

When it comes to attracting the lucrative, fast-growing Hispanic demographic online, don't go with what you know--go with what you know works.

Every marketer, pollster, and advertiser knows this much about Hispanics living in the United States: They are deeply family oriented, and their families are big. So when Alicia Morga, founder and CEO of the Hispanic-focused online-marketing firm Consorte Media, first started working with ad agencies on home-financing campaigns, she was told to use cheery images of happy, home-owning families. Problem: "The pictures of the big, brown family turned out to be the lowest-performing creative among Hispanics," Morga says with a laugh. "By far." What worked instead were simple shots of well-kept homes with white fences and lush lawns. "It's aspirational," she explains. Who knew?

Anyone who bothered to think outside the caja would know--and Morga does. In less than two years, she and Consorte Media have changed the thinking on how to find Hispanic Web surfers in the United States and convert them into customers, replacing the stereotypes that often typify minority-targeted marketing with insights gleaned from rigorous data collection and analysis. And she has built a business that's already profitable, scored big-name clients including Best Buy and Monster.com, and completed two rounds of venture funding worth $10 million. Her secret: "Data works. There's too much of the anecdotal in this marketplace."

The Hispanic online market is already huge and getting huger quickly; half of the 44 million Hispanics in the United States are online, and according to the most recent data available from Forrester Media, PC ownership among Hispanics shot up 45% from October 2005 to January 2007.

The language barrier is obstacle enough for many marketers--the most infamous example is a Spanish-language version of the "Got Milk?" campaign, in which the mangled-in-translation tagline ended up meaning something akin to "lactation." But Morga emphasizes that the demo "is not monolithic": One-third of U.S. Hispanics are English-dominant, one-third speak primarily Spanish, and one-third are fully bilingual. And Forrester Media analyst Tamara Barber adds that "it's not just about language. It's about culture." U.S. Hispanics are incredibly diverse, hailing from more than two dozen countries--and that jumble of mores, traditions, and cultural quirks renders generalizations problematic.

"I don't ever pretend that I know what Hispanics are thinking or that I'm the target audience," says Morga, 35, a Mexican-American who grew up in L.A. and, as the eighth of eleven kids, does come from a big, brown family. A venture-capital and corporate-finance veteran who hails from the Carlyle Group by way of Hummer Winblad and Goldman Sachs, she got the entrepreneurial itch in 2005. As she surveyed the online-ad landscape, she saw no lead generators and ad networks for the Hispanic market. "I wanted to apply what I knew to a vertical I cared about," she says.

So Morga converted a closet at home into an office and built a business to satisfy her inner data junkie--every element of every campaign is tested and retested. She uses, among other techniques, the Taguchi method, a type of web analysis originally developed to measure manufacturing efficiency. Her goal: to get the deepest, most comprehensive understanding of what Hispanic surfers do online. That knowledge informs the content sites that Consorte hosts, helps to deliver ads for publishers, and is the basis for custom lead-generation programs targeting Hispanic prospects in every category from loan applicant to job seeker.

Morga's methodology quickly won over clients such as Manuel Treto, CEO of BuenaMusica.com, a Latin music portal with 200,000 unique visitors a day. He'd worked with six ad networks, including Ad Jungle and Google, before finding Consorte--which he now uses exclusively. "Within two months, they were generating 25% of my revenue," he says. "They know my audience so well that they can bring a much different approach."

Big brands are also on board. Last spring, Best Buy approached Morga for help recruiting bilingual tech- and service-savvy employees in markets like Kansas City, which lack the labor pool of cities like L.A. that have larger Hispanic populations. Morga took Best Buy's existing job application and distilled it into a few key questions. Then she built a microsite, linked to Best Buy's main site, that targeted job seekers. "It was up for about 45 days, and she iterated constantly along the way," says Jeff Weness, Best Buy's director of Hispanic initiatives, a process that led to a thousands-long list of prospective employees and a "conversion rate significantly higher than on any other initiative we've done." Impressed, Best Buy selected Consorte as an ad partner for its Spanish-language site, which launched in November.

Now Morga is taking her business mobile and global. She plans to develop an emphasis on luxury advertising aimed at the affluent Hispanic traveler--"an overlooked market within an overlooked market," she says. She's also opening her first satellite office, in her parents' native Mexico. It will be her first foray into Latin America, the kind of market Morga generally prefers--tons of online consumers (60 million, excluding Brazil), plenty of data to crunch, and few competitors. Her only real rivals there are two companies, Directaclick and Click Diario, both recently bought by News Corp.'s Punto Fox unit. "I will absolutely," she says, "be getting Rupert's attention."

Sam Comen

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