On a particularly gorgeous Saturday afternoon, I found myself working indoors, sucking down ice water to keep at bay the stifling heat from the broken A.C. and the powerful set lights. And as I waited for answers from a set producer of the Spanish-language TV show being taped in the middle of the mall, I entertained myself by checking out the passersby and the mix of retail shops. Despite continued retail doldrums, the small center bustled with sounds, accents and movement as moms hurried by pulling kids by the hand completely unaffected by the heat, focused only on getting to their store of choice. Then I noticed the store bags they carried were in Spanish. In fact, everything was in Spanish -- the language spoken, storefront signage, hand-written wall posters; even the food at the food court was strictly Hispanic-centric…and making me really hungry.
So as part of the same ethnic pool, the cultural ‘nuances’ that lead the majority of Hispanics to choose such niche shopping options or specific brands to others are instinctive to me, but I also can understand why the concept can be confusing to the general market and the reasons it continues to be dissected at length by marketers, products and communicators trying to capture the attention and dollars of Hispanic consumers. If this is something you’ve ever thought about then listen up! The overall mystery can be simplified by understanding a few core concepts and ideas:
1) The elusive Hispanic market.
There is no such thing as one homogenous U.S. Hispanic market. There are many. Yes, it is true that native Spanish-speakers circle the same little bubble when identifying their ethnicity, but Hispanics are a richly diverse group(s) comprised of 17 Latin American countries, the U.S. commonweath of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. All with cultural traits, traditions and experiences that vary widely, and each with a unique set of values that influence their behavior.
A bit of research to identify your audience is perhaps the most important step any organization wishing to reach Hispanic consumers can make.
2) Spanish + Spanish does NOT = Spanish
A Spanish-speaker can usually converse with another from a different region without much difficulty. But inconsistencies in vocabulary (across nationalities) can sometimes lead to unintentional misunderstandings or insults that can do your business more harm than good with poorly executed Spanish-language communications.
An experience that comes to mind is one of the first exchanges I had with my stepfather immediately after my Mother and I moved into his home. I was 10. It was trash day, and my stepdad stood at the foot of the stairs hollering at me to bring down the second-story bathroom waste basket to him. He asked me for “la caneca” and had to repeat himself several times as I was pretty confused. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why he’d want me to bring him a hip flask at 10 a.m. on a weekend, and why he’d store it in my bathroom. I didn’t know how to react so just stood staring down, wide-eyed and unblinking until he walked up and retrieved the trash himself, obviously thinking there was something wrong with me for not complying. It was later explained that my stepdad was not in need of a 12-step program and that “caneca” was simply another word for trash can. We had many such lessons throughout the years, but that first one still makes me/us giggle.
3) Family dynamics and Loyalty
The term family is not one Hispanics throw around lightly. Traditionally, the Hispanic ‘familia’ tends to be close-knit, large, extends well past the nuclear family, and it is the most important social unit in one’s life. Family members are tasked with the moral responsibility to look after and care for other members in trouble – think West Side Story without the choreography and switchblades. Earlier this year, a research study by French global market-research firm Ispos reported that more than four in five (84%) of U.S. Hispanics said that family comes before friends.
Also, family ties and influence are very strong, as is the respect for your elders; and these go hand in hand. It is not at all uncommon for family members to push their “advice” on each other as a way of “helping.” This makes Hispanics natural word of mouth marketers or walking bill boards for brands and services they love and accept. And these dynamics within families reinforce loyalty to brands that show they understand the needs of this audience.
Case in point: my 80-year old grandmother. Her floors are only cleaned with Fabuloso; her dishes washed in only Palmolive; Colgate is her toothpaste of choice; and Clorox is the only bleach allowed in her home (i.e. good enough for her family). So watch out if you use a product that she believes is subpar, as was the case three years back when my sister and I were helping get our mother’s house ready for Thanksgiving Dinner. Believe me; we’re still smarting from the tongue lashing we received for buying a store brand floor cleaner.
So why, then, do Hispanics choose one particular brand over another, and how can companies harness this buying power? The answer: put in the effort to communicate with these groups, understand their needs, and imbue the values essential to them. Hispanic consumers, in turn, see the effort, time and money spent in catering to their specific needs as an invitation to the [insert brand here] family. And as we’ve all heard, “the family that ________s together….,” well, you know the rest.