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Hispanics: 10 Things CPG Marketers Need to Know

by Carlos Garcia , 13.12.2011

According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics accounted for more than half (56%) of U.S. population growth in the past 10 years. Their buying power already exceeds $1 Trillion. Here is some enticing data from the Census Bureau (as compiled by the Pew Hispanic Center) that paints a very clear picture of where the U.S. Hispanic population was in 2000 and most recently in 2010:

Year % of Total U.S. Population % Under 18 % Adults
2010 16.3 23.1 14.2
2000 12.5 17.1 11.0

Marketing effectively to this burgeoning audience requires a commitment to understanding its complexity – it's no longer just about Spanish language communications. Here are 10 insights from Knowledge Networks suggesting opportunities for taking your Hispanic marketing and research efforts to the next level.

#1: There are many types of "Hispanic consumer"

They are differentiated by country of origin, acculturation level, socioeconomic group, and more. You can see Hispanic consumers as a population unto themselves, but they can be segmented as well. And gone are the days where the only segmentation that is done of Hispanics is on language use or acculturation – increasingly marketers need to look at Hispanics for how they interact with their category and brand rather than just language.

#2: Integration vs. isolation

Leaving Hispanics in an isolated marketing island is a sure way to frustrate your own efforts. Until Hispanics are embraced as a part of the mainstream and managed in that manner, you will not be able to avoid condescension, language miscues and message confusion that will have you dancing in circles. That doesn't mean you market to them in the exact same way; but when you treat them as part of the new American mainstream, their issues are considered as you develop your overall strategy—thus your concepts, products, creative strategies and messaging to the entire market will be coherent instead of leaving your Hispanic piece to linger as a strange hybrid of compliance and desperation.

#3: Translation is not the issue.

Simply translating general-market efforts from English to Spanish is vastly under-serving your potential Hispanic consumers and shoppers – and may be transparently obvious to Hispanics if the translation is not done well. Culturally attuned messages are key, particularly when these messages are an integral part of your overall corporate and/or brand strategy.

#4: Young Latinos want to be known for WHO they are, not WHAT they are

And this applies not just to Latinos, but youths of all colors. To be relevant to them, you have to focus on what defines them as individuals – skateboarding, cheerleading, hip hop, soccer, video gaming, you name it. And they can identify with many different things, as a U.S.-born Salvadoran break dancing soccer player who loves to play the guitar and snowboard might attest. Assuming that all Latino kids are just like their parents is ridiculous and if you do, eyes will roll. Heads of households, too, because behind this curtain you will find the big story in the Hispanic space – the bilingual/bicultural segment is revealing itself as THE dynamic growth sector. This will be the big challenge in the field going forward.

#5: Mom knows best

Even among the Bicultural and many of the more acculturated households, it is mostly the Mom who buys the food, the OTC drugs, the cleaning and household supplies. She is also the one who is at the store making the final decision; but she doesn't think it is all about her. Hispanic women who are heads of household don't just buy what they want or what would make them happy – they go to extraordinary lengths to keep their families clean, well fed and content. And the content part can include some indulgences, even when it would seem the budgets couldn't possibly stretch any further. It must be magic. And you have to capture that in your marketing – getting the importance of kids, spouses and family and the power they have balanced with the Moms' responsibilities and limitations is a delicate matter but it can be, well, magic.

#6: Consensus and compromise

Even as these two words are becoming extinct in our national discourse, these are the words that rule Hispanic families and their interactions with each other. Wanting to please, having to deal with less, loving each other enough to be okay with not getting what you want all or even most of the time, severely limited budgets, large families – these realities somehow don't get in the way of Hispanic families finding ways to eat in abundance, enjoy each other's company with abandon and be exuberantly happy. This doesn't mean they don't face severe problems such as low wages, discrimination, limited access to health care, high incidences of obesity and diabetes, low graduation rates, etc., it just means that even when confronted with all of this, they endure.

#7: Hispanics don't live in a one-on-one world

Buying products and services that everyone in the household wants is a requirement — but so is buying products that friends, neighbors and extended family would like. Hispanics will discuss their experiences with products, new brands and flavors, best prices and sizes, etc. The result is that word of mouth is an essential source of information for Hispanics on many topics including CPG, health, politics financial services and more. So marketing to Hispanics is more than marketing to them as individuals; it implies marketing to them in a social context, in a family context, in a community context. And what's more, managing your reputation in the Hispanic community is therefore essential to sustained success. How all of this will play out online, in social media, in the blogosphere and on mobile devices is still evolving, but given how important the social context is to Hispanics, it seems inevitable that it will happen.

#8: The buying process for Hispanics is changing

There is increasing evidence that the old assumptions about how Hispanics shop are fading. You used to be able to count on the bulk of them to shop at one place, to not use coupons, to be brand loyal to the premium brand, to be a cash cow. No longer. There have always been segments of the market that were savvy, but these days more and more Hispanics are learning the ways of the American retail world – they read store circulars, go where the sales are, cherry pick the bargains, stock up during price promotions, collecting coupons that come in the mail, in newspapers and even printing coupons online. There's nothing like a nice big fat recession to wake up sweet and innocent shoppers to the ways of the wily old world. This doesn't mean there aren't segments of the market that are brand loyal, who shop at the same store and buy quality products, but the segment tides are shifting, and more and more are becoming savvy shoppers.

#9: Communications

Preparing a communications program for your Hispanic effort used to be so simple. You would just call your agency, they would call the Spanish networks, your ads would run — that was that. But that was then, this is now. Of course, Hispanic agencies are important and Spanish TV remains the 800-pound gorilla in the room; but Hispanic communications is much more than just TV ads now. It's all about establishing a relationship with consumers, about feeding and maintaining that relationship, and this can be done in many ways – event marketing, online advertising, online games, sharing recipes and tips, mobile ads, radio events, in store activities, print, outdoor and, of course, television which is still king. But please note that television focused on Hispanics isn't only in Spanish anymore. Check it out.

#10: Hispanic research is fun, but it isn't easy

Hispanic research is not a commodity — it isn't about just translating a questionnaire; it isn't just about numbers and statistics. This is a living, breathing, evolving population we are talking about, rich and complex, dynamic and fascinating. Researching this community takes respect, knowledge, cultural insight and resources. Experience doesn't hurt, either. Still, while taking on the challenge of seeing Hispanics clearly may seem daunting, a little effort with a dash of goodwill goes a long way.

Carlos can be reached at carlos.e.garcia@gfk.com