The Fannie Mae Foundation has discovered the Web to be a surprisingly effective medium for communicating with recent Asian immigrants in the United States.
Since launching a revamped site aimed at Asians and other immigrants in April, the Washington, DC-based private, non-profit organization estimates that 70 percent of home buying guide requests from Asians have come online compared with 5 percent to 10 percent previously.
The effort is part of a two-year-old campaign, dubbed Opening Doors, aimed at all new immigrants.
“We realized that people did not really want to speak to an English [speaking] customer service representative,” said Rehana Dutta, account supervisor at Admerasia, the New York ad agency Fannie Mae contracted to help with its Asian efforts. “They are not comfortable speaking English, which comes out in the low call volume on the 800 number. They prefer to use the Internet or a coupon. To speak to this market, you have to speak to them in their language.”
In April, Fannie Mae relaunched its site at www.homebuyingguide.org offering printed versions of the guides in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Haitian-Creole and English. To drive traffic to the site, Fannie Mae began prominently displaying the Web address in its print ads and buying banners on popular Asian Web sites such as www.sina.com (Chinese), www.korea-link.com, www.indolink.com (India) and www.indiaworld.com.
The foundation plans to have the full contents of the guides available online in the nine languages by the end of August.
“The Fannie Mae Foundation’s mission is to transform communities through innovative partnerships and initiatives that revitalize neighborhoods and create affordable home ownership and housing opportunities across America,” said Ann Wheelock, president/CEO of the Fannie Mae Foundation. “One of the goals that’s very important to achieve this mission is to identify and properly prepare the next generation of homeowners.”
The foundation estimates that from 1980 to 1995 some 1.3 million new immigrants were first-time home buyers in the U.S., accounting for approximately 18 percent of the nation’s total household growth. It is also estimated that another 1.6 million immigrants will buy homes in the U.S. from 1995 to 2010, accounting for 21 percent of the nation’s household growth during that period.
“In order for us to achieve our mission and goals, we need to focus on new arrivals,” said Wheelock.
Central to the campaign are two free guides: one offering step-by-step instructions on the home-buying process, the other offering information on how to choose a mortgage.
Fannie Mae ran print ads touting the guides in 40 native-language publications in seven markets: Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, Russian, Polish and Portuguese. The ads originally featured a coupon and toll-free number as response devices. The foundation also uses television, print, direct mail and radio to promote the guides.
While there are too many languages in India to efficiently target that group with native-language promotions, it is a group worth going after online.
It is estimated that 90 percent of Indian men in the United States own computers and that Indians are twice as likely to have PCs and be online as Americans, said Dutta.
Though Fannie Mae does not consider its findings to be scientific market research, the Internet is an effective medium on which to reach recent Asian immigrants to the U.S., said Wheelock.
“Anecdotally, we think it’s a great vehicle to reach a population that you may not otherwise be able to reach through traditional avenues of advertising,” she said.