Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Latino Marketing: Deconstructing the Myths of the Latino Customer

The “Hispanic” or “Latino” market is all the rage these days. But even as retailers attempt to unpack what it means to successfully market to Latino customers, I continue to see misinformation and gross generalizations being spread. Let's take a peek at some of the more interesting lessons from those who have learned the hard way...

Torta versus sandwich
I just finished reading a retail trade magazine. In it, a “Hispanic” market specialist says that sandwich retailers overlook the Hispanic market because they think that Latinos don’t eat sandwiches. He said that this was a mistake. In fact, Latinos DO eat sandwiches...“they just call them tortas.” Well, as a Puerto Rican raised in New York, I took some umbrage to that. I have NEVER called a sandwich a "torta". In Puerto Rico, you go to the local baker and ask for a “sanwich de jamon, huevo y queso” or a ham, egg and cheese sandwich. Yes, Puerto Rico sandwiches are "sanwiches”. The suggestion to call sandwiches "tortas" might work in Phoenix, but not in Puerto Rican or Dominican sections of New York City. With 47% of the Hispanic population living in California or Texas (and most of those are Mexican or Central American), I can see how it’s easy to over generalize. But in markets like Chicago and New York where there are significant Caribbean communities, retailers stand to lose a lot by failing to make the distinction.
Salsa versus Bachata
In one recent community where I did some work the Business Improvement District wanted to target the local Latino immigrant population by offering open air salsa dancing in a downtown plaza. Attendance was quite low among their target audience and they didn't understand why. As a result, the event was never repeated. The assumption that the BID made was that the Latino consumer didn't attend events like these, so why bother? After our team conducted a number of merchant interviews, including one with the owners of a local Salvadoran restaurant, it became clear what the problem was. The owner mentioned something that should have been quite obvious at the outset. Most of the local immigrants were Central American, and Central Americans aren't typically into salsa. Woops. 

First generation versus second generation
-          There is a big difference between foreign born and U.S. born Hispanics. According to the National Council of La Raza, 62.7% of all Latinos are native-born Americans, and 74% are American citizens. Marketing to these U.S born Hispanics requires a different set of tactics…ones that go beyond (and maybe even don’t include) bilingual packaging. As the children of immigrant Latinos grow up speaking English as their primary language, other kinds of marketing tools will be required. Recently, our firm conducted survey work in a small city with a large Latino population. The City was sensitive to the political climate and insisted that we make a survey available in Spanish. We noted that the survey was an online survey - as a result most survey respondents would likely be second generation and therefore likely to take the survey in English anyway. In the end, they survey was created, distributed and translated at significant cost to the client – and we only got four Spanish language responses. This is not to suggest it wasn't a good political move...I think it was...but it wasn't the best use of limited resources for this particular community. 

Baseball versus soccer
Growing up Puerto Rican, I was never exposed to soccer, but baseball, that was a different story. My family grew up following the Yankee’s every pitch (and they still do!).  But in my current neighborhood in Jackson Heights, Queens, alternatively known as Little Colombia, the sport of choice is soccer, despite the fact that Mets stadium is literally within walking distance. In one community our firm recently worked in, a local sporting goods store wanted to attract the growing immigrant clientele and started selling soccer jerseys – but did so without checking which regional teams were the most popular. Woops again.

The point here is that you can’t over generalize the “Latino” market. If you have a strong immigrant market, you must first ask yourself, where are they from? Central America? South America? The Caribbean? And then you have to ask whether most of them first or second generation. By answering those two questions, you will find yourself ahead of the game and in a better position to meet the needs of your district's customers. 


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