Trends and tips for marketing to a US Spanish audience

When asked what the most popular language is besides English in the United States, most people will answer right away: Spanish. After all, in many urban (and even rural) places you go, you will find Spanish-language versions of menus, signs, instructions and ingredients right below the English version. Likewise, who of us in the US hasn’t called into any customer service number and heard the option, “For English, Press One. Para Español, Marque Número Dos”?

For all intents and purposes, Spanish has become the United States’ secondary “official” language (even though the US technically doesn’t have a first “official” language), and for good reason. According to the US Census Bureau population projections, the Hispanic population has grown ten times faster than the general population since 1970, making up more than half of the US population growth between 2000 and 2010 alone. According to Pew Research Center, by 2050, the population projection is expected to be around 112 million individuals, with the minority population tipping over into the majority status by 2044.

So what does that all mean for businesses and marketers? Plenty. Currently, there are well over 200 million Spanish-speaking users online worldwide, with over 20 million of them in the United States alone. By the end of 2015, their purchasing power is expected to reach $1.5 trillion dollars. It stands to reason that marketing to this group would be in the best interest for any company, and that is indeed what many businesses are now coming to terms with.

Even now, there is relatively little content online for native Hispanic speakers, considering the sheer number of users. It is estimated that only approximately 4.6% of top websites on the internet are in Spanish (Figure 1). While many Spanish speakers in the United States may also speak English, the fact remains that most internet users would rather engage and purchase from websites that are in their native language over those in English. In fact, it has been found that the majority of people will even pay more for a product with information in their native language. In Common Sense Advisory’s report, “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy – Why Language Matters on Global Websites,” Don DePalma addresses the significance of the findings to global businesses: “Many firms still debate whether it makes business sense for them to globalize their online marketing, online commerce sites, and call centers. There is a longstanding assumption that enough people on the web feel comfortable using English, especially when buying high-tech or expensive products. Nonetheless, research dating back to 1998 indicates a high propensity for people to buy in their own language.”

With this evidence in mind, it should be clear that Hispanics are eager for content that speaks to them in a relevant way and marketers are now beginning to focus on that challenge more than ever. Traditionally, the biggest target consumer market has always been the 18 to 24-year-olds, which now go by the more creative moniker Millennial. This Millennial generation is even more sought after now since it is the largest generation by population size, and with 21% of US Millennials identifying as Hispanic, this group should be a major focus point of any informed marketer.

However, marketing to Hispanics is not just about translating content or text from English into Spanish. There is much more involved if the marketing is going to be successful. Marie Quintana, senior vice president of multicultural sales at PepsiCo, has noted that currently, it’s no longer about marketing to Hispanics or non-Hispanics. It’s about reaching shoppers, and many of them happen to be Hispanic, which requires a certain sort of tailoring. This “tailoring” of content is exactly what makes all the difference.

For instance, every consumer group has its own purchasing patterns, and Hispanics are certainly no exception. When it comes to food, for example, traditional Hispanic consumers tend to make larger food purchases to feed larger households and usually prefer fresh foods over pre-packaged. Also, for traditional Hispanic cuisine, certain foods are purchased with more frequency by Hispanics than would be by the general population. However, with the coming of the Millennial generation, more and more Hispanics are shifting from their more traditional food purchasing proclivities in favor of mainstream American lifestyle-based food choices. According to Nielsen, this includes packaged meals, canned goods and ready-to-eat prepared foods. While this may be the case, the specifics still vary greatly. The Hispanic Millenials may have adopted the purchasing habits of the general population when it comes to more convenient food options, but the specific types of foods and flavor preferences remain strongly tied to their culture.

This is not just the case for food items either. Clothing, television shows, video games, household appliances — any consumer goods purchased can be inherently tied to one’s culture. As we know, culture consists of not just race, but also beliefs, behaviors, objects, trends, societal beliefs, politics and many other characteristics common to the members of a particular group. It is through this culture that people often define themselves and relate to the rest of society.

But culture is more often than not a blurry line rather than a clear, distinct boundary. Not everyone in every culture puts as much weight on certain things as others do. Also, particularly for Hispanics, there is not just one Hispanic culture. Based on geography alone, there are South American Hispanics, Mexican Hispanics, Puerto Rican Hispanics, European Hispanics and many other subdivisions all living in the United States, each with their own culture (See Table 1). As Delia Huffman, president and CEO of Bull Market, an Indianapolis consulting firm states, “The cultural piece of marketing is always what people miss… to capture that market, you’re not just translating. You need to put some effort into learning the culture.”


Targeting the culture

How do marketers know how to target a particular culture, especially if they don’t happen to be a part of it themselves? As a successful marketer, you must be able to engage each individual culture with emotionally-relevant content that embraces their belief systems, especially in today’s social climate within the United States. As Glenn Llopis states in a 2013 Forbes article, “Capturing the Hispanic Market Will Require More Than a Total Market Strategy,” “Embracing cultural sensitivity has become critically important to the design of new business models, leadership development and the relationships that brands earn with their consumers. It is not only ethical and the right thing to do; it’s the ‘must-do’ to be domestically and globally competitive.”

To do this, you need to put in the time, energy and resources to do the research necessary to learn about the characteristics of each individual culture. Since the boundaries of any particular culture are blurry, this can be a tricky thing to do. In addition, any marketing strategy you come up with must be genuine. Most people, and especially Hispanics who may have assimilated from countries with a high rate of corrupt and disingenuous entities, can tell when they are being “sold to.” However, consumers will connect naturally with brands that show a genuine connection to their culture, and will embrace them with long-term loyalty.

There are a few ways for marketers to go about accomplishing this. Since there are no definitive rulebooks for marketing to specific cultures and the concept itself is very difficult to pin down, the following tips are simply to provide a frame of reference for getting started.

Establish which Hispanic culture you want to focus on.

There are various types of Hispanic cultures, each with their own set of values and customs. Narrow your marketing approach to one culture at a time, or at least avoid grouping them all together in a blanket approach.

Localize your content for that particular market.

Once you have decided which culture you are going to market to, translate and localize your website’s content for that particular group of people. For as many different Hispanic cultures, there are just as many variations of Spanish. Use colloquialisms, relevant terms, idioms and any other relevant linguistic devices in order for your text to be natural for that particular culture.

Use localized search engine optimization (SEO).

Just as SEO is important for English-based content, the same is true for localized Hispanic content as well. In order for your potential audience to find you through search engines, you must be sure to find out which localized keywords your audience would use to find your site. This goes beyond simply translating your English keywords into Spanish. Depending on the particular culture, your audience may or may not use the same phrases (whether translated or not) as their natural search terms. This is an area where a little bit of market research can go a long way.

Save time and money by localizing relevant content.

Translation and localization can cost a decent amount of money if it’s done properly. In order to save on expenses, decide which pages and materials would be necessary to localize, which would be beneficial to localize, and which might be suitable for machine translation or even left entirely in English. If some of your pages receive very little traffic already, or if the subject would not attract a large enough Hispanic audience, perhaps it wouldn’t be cost effective to spend the required money to localize that content professionally.

Utilize resources that research emerging business trends.

As the scope of multicultural marketing expands, new marketing companies have begun offering more customized research approaches that target emerging trends in the market based on specific cultures. These businesses can research requests for specific cultural items that are hard to find in traditional mainstream locales, research vendors that carry specific cultural items, as well as perform market research studies on specific cultural aspects at the client’s request. While these services may require a significant investment of money, if your company is willing, the results can certainly be well worth the effort and money.

Learn what is relevant to your target audience.

In order to reach your audience, you must find out not only what is relevant to them, but how to make your product relatable. This is perhaps the hardest part, as pop culture is constantly changing and just when you think you’ve learned a relatable catchphrase or pop reference, it could no longer be in style. This is where social media can play a huge role in helping you stay up to date with current trends. The biggest asset of social media is its immediacy, which allows you to stay up to date in real time. Learn about your audience by following the same channels they do, and you will be sure to keep your finger on the pulse, at least if you’re marketing to Millennials.

While this is far from an exhaustive list, for any business looking to begin marketing to Hispanic cultures on a more effective and personal level, by following the above suggestions you will be sure you are at least headed in the right direction.