Busting myths about Hispanic consumers

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NEW YORK -- U.S. Hispanics pay their bills better than most, though they may pay a little later.

That was a message from Peter Tardif, director of the U.S. Hispanic market for Direct Holdings Americas. He spoke on "The Dynamic Hispanic Market" panel at the Direct Marketing Club of New York luncheon this month at the Yale Club.

"It seems there is some concern in the industry that [Hispanic] customers don't pay bills or they don't pay on time," said Mr. Tardif, whose Fairfax, VA, company is a leading seller of music and video products in direct response television under the Time-Life brand. "We found the complete opposite. These customers pay their bills at a much higher rate than the general market does. They do take a long time to pay their bills, but the performance is much better than in the general market."

Flexibility is needed in payment options for Hispanics, he said, because many lack credit cards.

"We are working on (cash on delivery), but it is very foreign to post offices these days and they don't really know how to do it, and we still accept bill later," he said. "You have to be flexible if you want to reach this market."

Other panelists were Julian Baim, executive vice president and chief research officer of Mediamark Research, New York; Pam Kimmerling-Hoveling, partner at RK Hispanica Direct, New York; and John Nicholson, director of marketing for Doubleday Entertainment, New York.

Chris Ragusa, president of Estee Marketing Group, New Rochelle, NY, moderated. The luncheon was sponsored by Ethnic Technologies, South Hackensack, NJ.

The panel also discussed the best mediums to reach Hispanics.

"We have found success in doing some things that are somewhat unorthodox," said Ms. Kimmerling-Hoveling, whose bicultural agency specializes in direct response advertising. "It's not just direct mail. It's Hispanic TV, Hispanic radio and events such as Latina expos. Events, in particular, are excellent ways to get your product or service in front of the Hispanic segment you are trying to market to. You can really talk to these people and see what they'd like."

She also cited out-of-home ad programs with bodegas that worked well.

Mr. Tardif said that outbound telemarketing had worked for his company, though it is cross-selling to customers, not targeting prospects. The firm uses Spanish-speaking call center reps because customers are responding to Spanish-language ads on television.

Unlike traditional U.S. consumers, he said, Hispanics are engaged on the phone.

"They listen a lot more intently than many of our general-market customers do," he said.

Hispanic-oriented search is in its infancy, Mr. Tardif said, and his company has had little success with it.

Mr. Baim said Mediamark has found that Hispanics are not really using the Web.

"Particularly, usage is quite low for Spanish-dominant Hispanics," he said, though that may change as more Hispanics use the Internet at work.

Though slicing and dicing data to target the right Hispanic group for your product is important, commonalities exist, Mr. Nicholson said.

"There are certain emotional commonalities or hooks, such as a respect for the family and a vision for a better future for your children, that are shared among most Hispanic groups," he said.

As for targeting in English or Spanish, Ms. Kimmelring-Hoveling said it depends upon the product being sold and the group being targeted.

"Younger Hispanics are being marketed to with a combination of English, Spanish and even Spanglish," she said.

Marketing to Hispanic women also has nuances. In many Hispanic households, all mail is directed to men, but women open it.

"I have worked with mailers that are marketing a female-oriented product, so the natural thing to do is select female Hispanic names from a list," she said. "I always suggest starting out that way, but to also try to select Hispanic male head-of-household names, and sometimes that works even better."

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