Facing New Multicultural Markets

If you speak with direct marketers, you are bound to hear discussions about CRM, database building, modeling or new technology to lift response rates. If your conversation was recent, topics likely included the economy, privacy and the June 30 postage rate increase.

Rarely will you hear much talk about the changing face of America and the effect of immigration on our population and national economy. This is surprising when one considers that direct marketers are entrepreneurs who are always looking for the next great opportunity and that these new immigrants are the most obvious growth opportunity that we have.

Can we afford to ignore the changes in our neighborhoods, cities and states? Are we willing to lose market share to competitors who recognize the opportunities and aggressively pursue them? What stops so many otherwise savvy marketers from targeting ethnic minorities, particularly the Hispanic community?

According to the most recent census data, 12.5 percent of our population, or more than 35 million Americans, are Hispanic. This number is expanding at a rate more than 5 times that of the general population. The census projects that by 2030, nearly half of the U.S. population will be ethnic, with one-half of that being Hispanic.

The United States is the fifth-largest Spanish-speaking country, and on its way to becoming the second-largest. The U.S. Hispanic population is greater than the total population of Canada. Various sources estimate the purchasing power of Hispanics at more than $444 billion. This represents an enormous and unprecedented opportunity for a broad range of U.S. businesses in durable and non-durable goods as well as services. Again, why aren’t more U.S. companies taking advantage of these opportunities?

I remember in the not-so-distant past when the landscaping crews, the busing staff at restaurants, the migrant farm workers and the construction crew day-laborers were mostly non-English-speaking Hispanic immigrants. Today, the landscaping company owners, the general contractors and many restaurant owners and farmers are English-speaking Americans of Hispanic descent.

Those of Hispanic culture are your new neighbors. They are growing in education, affluence and sheer numbers. More than 2 million small businesses are owned or operated by individuals who identified themselves as Hispanic. Whether these entrepreneurs come from Cuba, Central America or South America is important, but what really counts is that they are bound by one overriding commonality: They speak Spanish.

Those of Hispanic culture increasingly are becoming assimilated into the American culture. Like many other ethnic groups, the family is the strength and core of the U.S. Hispanic home. Traditional values like education and religion are strong influences on these families, which tend to be younger (by about 10 years) and larger (3.3 vs. 2.6) on average than non-Hispanic families. And with better education and command of the English language, the average household income continues to climb and now exceeds that of the average African-American.

Three factors are most important for direct marketers:

· The average U.S. Hispanic household loves to receive direct mail in Spanish. It actually receives one-tenth the direct mail that the average non-Hispanic household gets.

· U.S. Hispanics are more identifiable and reachable than ever. There are more lists and larger ones.

· Credit card use is rising, even though most Hispanics come from cash-based societies and have been slow in migrating to plastic.

What holds so many direct marketers back? The answer is simple: Many marketers have little understanding of multicultural marketing, and the thought of creating a Spanish-language mailing piece is daunting. Marketers ask: Will my creative be usable? Will it require modification or will it function well when going to this new audience? Can I target similar market segments as I do now, and do I have to do this in Spanish?

Let’s try to answer these questions.

Marketing in Spanish. Though some marketers have reached the Hispanic community using English, the most successful marketers use Spanish. U.S. Hispanics speak Spanish first and English second. The Spanish language and strong family orientation are what bind them, maintaining their ethnic identity. Language is but one aspect of the culture and tradition, which Hispanics think is worth preserving.

Just turn on your television. Univision and Telemundo, two media giants, broadcast totally in Spanish. Or turn on your radio to one of the many stations owned and operated by Radio Unica. Look at your newsstand for the newspapers serving their respective Hispanic communities.

One concludes that marketing to U.S. Hispanics is best accomplished using Spanish. Is this a hurdle so daunting that you should let it bar your entry to a profitable new market? Absolutely not! Once you test the waters, you will find that everything you need already exists. Numerous ad agencies, copywriters/translators, list professionals and service bureaus, all with extensive experience in multicultural marketing, are ready to help you achieve your goals.

But you cannot just take your existing piece and translate it. You need to explore and investigate the market you hope to penetrate. You need to learn about the people to whom you are trying to sell. This means understanding the culture and values.

Understanding the nuances. Your products may need to be modified for the market or perhaps they are fine as they are. However, your offer needs to be carefully considered and worded to avoid confusion. Free offers are often taken literally, not as trials as intended.

But any experienced copywriter can get this done for you relatively quickly, easily and inexpensively. Your piece needs to be converted into Spanish using the nuances and idioms of the conversational language, typically requiring 30 percent more space. You can obtain this service through an ad agency that does multicultural work. You also may have to choose photography depicting models who look Hispanic.

Effective testing. There are many approaches to testing the Hispanic waters but you must test Spanish-language lists. You can use ethnic identification overlays on your general market prospect files to identify those who speak Spanish or those who are likely to be Hispanic.

The relentless process of testing, learning from the results and applying these lessons achieves successful direct marketing. This is no different in multicultural markets than it is in general marketing. However, you must reorient your thinking to the opportunities provided in the new marketplace. To meet the needs of the Hispanic community, you must understand the market you are trying to sell into and adapt your products, offers and creative to appeal.

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