Marketers should target Hispanics, but how? Um...

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Marketers need to target the Hispanic market, according to the presenters at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's May 5 "Clicko de Mayo" event. The presenters cited a lot of relevant statistics to build their case: the US Hispanic population grew 43% from 2000 to 2010; one in four babies born in the US is Hispanic; Hispanics are almost 10% more likely to research purchases online than the average American. So, yes, marketers need to target the Hispanic market.

Problem is, those presenters - Univision's Charlie Echeverry, Terra's Liz Sarachek Blacker, Telemundo's Luis Ramos and impreMedia's Mary Zerafa-- already market to Hispanics, and none of them really had any concrete tips on how a non-Hispanic company could engage this now all-important audience.

As I see it, the problem in marketing to any specific demographic, but particularly an ethnic culture or race, is authenticity. Consumers can sniff out companies solely dancing for dollars. That skepticism is further fueled when the company is perceived as an outsider, e.g. Nike targeting the surf community with Nike 6.0. Toss ethnicity or race into the mix, and you're potentially asking for arson charges.

The danger is stereotyping. I'm half-Ecuadorean, and I don't object to giving that information to companies that I'm a customer of. To me, it's not personally identifiable information, so have it. But if company not traditionally identified as having a heavy Hispanic customer base has that information and decides to email me a Cinco de Mayo promotion, it could definitely catch me the wrong way.

Here's a peek into my potential head-space: One, I'm not Mexican. Two, whether or not this promotion is going out to all customers or just the ones who have identified as Hispanic, why is this non-Hispanic company trying to exploit a Hispanic-related holiday?

During the session's Q&A portion, I asked how the IAB's Multicultural Council would advise non-Hispanic companies approach the Hispanic market without seeming as though they're patronizing the demographic in order to open up our wallets. Council co-chairs Borja Perez from Telemundo and Mark Lopez from Google balked. Perez said the market needs more Hispanic CMOs who can inform strategies geared toward Hispanics, and Lopez said that companies need to engage and understand the demographic.

That's fine, and I agree. But again, how would a non-Hispanic company concretely go about executing that strategy? Should they send Cinco de Mayo emails? Should they offer soccer-related promotions? Should they hire Hispanic spokespeople for their TV ads? Should they advertise on Spanish-language publications? Should they target Hispanics or Latinos or South Americans or Mexicans (yes, there are significant differences)?

Unfortunately, no one offered any answers at that level of detail, so the problem stands. For anyone reading this who's a marketer at a non-Hispanic company or whose client is a non-Hispanic company or brand, feel free to email me your thoughts on a solution.

For what it's worth, my back-of-the-envelope answer is to wade in:

One, be transparent about it; toss up a post on your company's Facebook page that essentially says, “Hey, we'd like to increase our brand's presence among Hispanics, but we don't really know how and we don't want to offend anyone. Can you please help us?”

Two, advertise where Hispanics are and analyze the responses.

Three, use any consumer interaction with your brand to ask for demographic information but don't use a drop-down that limits responses to “white,” “black,” Asian,” “Hispanic,” etc. Instead you should let the consumers fill in their own identities, be it Hispanic or Latino or South American or Ecuadorean or Californian. This will give you an idea of how consumers want you to perceive them, and with the right opt-ins, could give you peeks into the behavioral differences among Hispanics and Latinos and South Americans and Ecuadoreans and Californians as they relate to your brand.

Four, don't send Cinco de Mayo emails, just as you don't likely send Chinese New Year emails. At least not until you complete steps 1 to 3.

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