September 6, 2020
6 minute read
The Hispanic population in the United States is growing in size and spending power, and those who target that market will have a major advantage over their English-only competitors.
That said, a good Hispanic marketing strategy is a lot more than just translating your English content into Spanish and hoping for the best. Cultural marketing goes beyond language, and while it can be incredibly effective if done right, it can also be a PR nightmare if you do it wrong and come across as insensitive.
We’ve been doing Hispanic and bilingual marketing for years, and our multi-cultural team hails from various countries. With diversity built into our very foundations, we have a few tips for you if you want to widen your approach and target Hispanic consumers and their buying power.
Yes it is!
The U.S. Census projects that the Hispanic population in the United States will double by 2050, reaching an estimated 106 million people and about 29% of the population. A market this big is definitely an interesting one for most products and services.
Reaching the lucrative Hispanic market takes some research, preparation and strategy. Before you run off to translate your website into Spanish, read about the three biggest mistakes most companies make when they attempt Hispanic marketing without doing their due diligence.
Let’s consider the simple word “pants”. Most Americans will understand it to mean the piece of clothing that covers your legs; however, British English speakers say “pants” when they want to refer to underwear - the corresponding piece of clothing is referred to as “trousers”, not pants.
We’re sure you will agree that Americans are culturally very different from English, Canadians, Australians and Nigerians… even though English is the official language in all of those countries.
The exact same consideration applies to Hispanics: Mexicans have a very different dialect, culture and temperament than Argentineans or Costa Ricans. They descend from different originary peoples, have gone through different colonization and immigration processes, and live in very different climates, leading to many cuisines, dialects, traditions and cultural customs. The same word may mean different things in different countries, and then there are the new words that have appeared as Hispanics have assimilated to United States culture over the last few decades, blending both languages in a creative way.
How do you know which country and tradition to target with your marketing?
If you’re selling and advertising nationwide, consider these statistics:
Besides these two large groups, there are over a million each of people who are originally from these countries:
Due to chain migration processes, some populations have concentrated in certain areas - for example, the Southwest of the United States has a very high density of Mexican descendants, while New York has more Puerto Ricans and Dominicans.
If you want to advertise more locally, study your community for hints of where the local Hispanic population comes from. Two very good sources are local Spanish language television and local shops and restaurants that Hispanics frequent. The shows and the names of restaurants and corner stores should give you hints as to where the owners and patrons are from - think of the difference between a neighborhood with bars and restaurants named after Havana versus one with Mexican geography inspired names such as Jalisco and La Michoacana.
Before you invest any money on marketing and translation efforts, make sure you do some research on your target audience. Whenever possible, try to validate your research with feedback from someone from that specific country or culture.
Imagine you advertised so successfully in Spanish, calls start pouring in with prospective customers. What language do you think they will expect to be served in?
That’s right. Spanish.
It’s not enough to market in Spanish, you must be ready to sell in Spanish as well. Depending on the product or service you sell, this may require fully bilingual staff or just a few staff members with a good enough grasp of the language.
If you’re selling cars or real estate, the sales process is lengthy and involved - this calls for fully bilingual staff that can provide top level service in Spanish to persuade these customers to do business with you.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a business like fast food or manicures does not need more than enough business Spanish to complete transactions successfully. All businesses are somewhere in between these two extremes - you should decide where you fall on this continuum and take staffing or training measures.
A common mistake we see is that business owners rely too heavily on one bilingual employee, who is expected to carry out all translation, interpreting, sales and customer service in Spanish. This is not smart - this employee is human and could easily burn out, get sick, go on holiday or miss work for whatever reason, leaving you with customers you cannot serve. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and make sure you have at least enough bilingual employees to cover up for holidays and sick days.
Additionally it is never a bad idea to give all of your staff some basic Spanish lessons - this will make them more culturally sensitive, get them onboard with your new marketing and sales efforts, and create a better customer service experience.
An old Spanish joke tells of a tourist who knocked on a door and was greeted with a strange sentence: “Between and drink a chair”. This silly sentence is a word-by-word translation of “Come in and take a seat”, and it hopefully illustrates our next point: mechanical translation is not enough.
The best marketing and advertising is heartfelt and connects with your emotions. In many cases, this authenticity is achieved by resorting to tradition and culture - think of ads that remind you of grandma’s cooking, Thanksgiving or school traditions, and how memorable they are because of the cultural meaning attached to them.
Communication science teaches about the three C’s:
You must have a firm grasp of the culture to be able to spin it creatively and craft a message that will arouse curiosity in your potential clients.
Let’s walk you through this with an example. Let’s consider a bank who wants to attract a target audience of Hispanic, Spanish speaking entrepreneurs.
So you’re looking at a $140,000 investment and a return of $1,250,000 during the first year alone. Even meeting half of your goal, the ROI is still good!
Do your research, or hire an expert to do it for you, and decide whether it is worth your time and effort. In most cases, opening up an entire new market will be worth your while.
Like we mentioned earlier, the whole point of advertising in Spanish is to attract Spanish speakers. Make sure you can serve them in their language, by hiring and training your existing staff and making sure you have enough people to manage these Hispanic accounts or sales.
Don’t forget to train your entire team and keep them updated on the goals and results of your marketing efforts - one insensitive or ignorant comment by an employee can create a PR nightmare that would give the opposite results from what you intend.
Persona based marketing is effective because of the authenticity and focus it provides to your messaging. Back to the Hispanic business owners we used as an example earlier, it is very possible that the younger generation prefers to do business in English, but will still be very responsive to your culturally-appropriate Hispanic marketing strategy.
It is also possible that the Hispanic market is not at all interested in what you’re trying to sell them. In college, I took a course in advanced marketing techniques, and my professor (also a marketing consultant) shared a story that he was called to the east coast. An assisted living center wanted him to weigh in on what was wrong with their marketing: they had translated all of their brochures, spent tens of thousands on Spanish language TV and radio, and had 0 results. I laughed out loud, and the professor asked me to explain to the class what they missed. The answer was completely cultural: Hispanic families do not send their elderly to assisted living - grandparents live with their grown children for the rest of their lives, as an active and valuable part of the family.
Sometimes the best marketing advice you could get from a multicultural agency such as ours is “don’t do it”.
We keep saying translation is not enough, but we don’t just mean you run the risk of silly misunderstandings because of an inaccurate translation. A powerful message must be crafted in the intended language, keeping the culture and tradition in mind, for it to really resonate emotionally with your target audience.
For example, it doesn’t matter how well you write or translate your Thanksgiving offers and marketing - this is a strictly American holiday that is not celebrated in Latin America. If you’re looking for an emotional connection to sell food or ingredients, Christmas or Easter would be a better choice, since those holidays are heavily related to food in Hispanic culture.
Context is everything, and without it your messaging will be hollow.
Bridges has done Hispanic and multicultural marketing since our very beginnings. Our diverse and multi-lingual team includes 5 languages and 7 nationalities, proof that we are in an excellent position to craft the perfect message and help you sell to the Hispanic market.
Jake Fisher, a co-founder of Bridges, is a multilingual B2B entrepreneur. In 2012, Jake co-founded Bridges with Ashley Quintana, a former coworker at Tyler Media. Within two years, the partners scaled Bridges to more than one million dollars in gross revenue from a $10,000 initial investment. Combining business knowledge and insight with the comedy from his radio days, Jake regularly speaks at events sanctioned by organizations such as the American Marketing Association, Public Relations Society of America, and HubSpot.