An Emerging Hispanic Strategy

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They broke the law, have raised families here, are vital to this economy's health and would be a logistical, humanitarian, legal and political nightmare to ship back. Those are the facts on the ground. But Hispanics without legitimate U.S. papers deserve a second look.

Though the outcome isn't guaranteed, Congress is set to give these illegal immigrants some sort of legal cover. It's time marketers participate in the next boom in direct, database and interactive marketing.

Consider the economic impact of 11 million to 14 million people emerging from the shadows. They will gain valid Social Security numbers, real driver's licenses and fall under the Internal Revenue Service's spell. They will be able to sign up for credit cards, apply for bank loans, buy insurance and close on homes. They will be able to buy cars, fly on airplanes, subscribe to magazines and make purchases over the Internet or via catalogs. All without looking over their shoulder.

However, if and when legalized and during that process, someone has to properly identify this segment of the population, collect the information and then fashion it to serve public and private sector needs. In other words, the task on hand is database creation, mining and marketing.

Marketers and service providers need to develop an emerging Hispanic strategy. It will build on Hispanic targeting plans already under way or require the creation of such strategies and tactics. But the treatment will have to be similar to that of an emerging market. Consider the lessons from the 1990s tech boom and apply the best practices to this new market.

Who stands to benefit from legalizing these immigrants? Right off the bat, credit card issuers, banks, real estate developers and brokers, insurers, HMOs, pharmaceutical companies, airlines, automakers, home furnishings chains, oil companies, hotels and retailers with catalog and e-commerce arms. Add to that list colleges and universities, magazines, direct response television retailers, Internet service providers and nonprofits.

And let's not forget sectors like agriculture, food service, meatpacking and manufacturing. Worries of government stings and poorly paid workers in unsanitary conditions will recede as this cash-driven gray segment transitions to the more transparent credit cards and bank checks.

The industry sectors mentioned soon will require the services of direct, database and interactive marketers - should common sense legislation pass. The ranks of those ready, willing and able should include service providers like mail and e-mail list brokers and managers, database builders, miners and hosts, ad agencies, printers, carriers, catalogers, e-commerce firms, online marketing service firms, circulation experts, software developers and fundraisers.

The halo effect of legalization is a freer-spending Hispanic population, with more disposable income earned from higher wages, better education and a lifestyle in tune with the mainstream. It's no time for direct, database and interactive marketers to sit on the fence. Cross over.

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