People en Espanol Thrives With Direct Mail in Spanish

People en Espanol proves that U.S. Hispanics respond to direct marketing and to media in the Spanish language.

The Time Inc. magazine boasts a monthly circulation of 400,000 only a few years after successive covers and a tribute issue on slain Latin singer Selena by the regular People weekly sold out.

“Direct mail was a big part of that launch,” said Sarah Jack, director of new business at the People Group in Time Consumer Marketing Inc., New York. “Direct mail is a very big source of new subscribers for us. We also view our renewal notices and bills as a big opportunity.”

Jack was addressing attendees this month at the 10th Annual Directo Days Conference in New York by the Direct Marketing Association.

Though she was mum on precise numbers, Jack claimed People en Espanol registered the highest direct mail response rate at the Time Inc. headquarters in New York.

“The other mailers in Time Inc. are very jealous of us,” she said.

To garner such a response, it is critical first to determine the audience. The targeted readership may not be as homogenous as appears, and dialects may differ even within the same language.

In the case of lists for publications, marketers should look for magazine buyers, then drill down to direct response buyers. If the readership is largely women, marketers should test female selects first and then recency, Jack said.

Surname files should be combed by ZIP code, she added, and in-house model testing done as well.

If possible, check for improved back-end performance on lists. A little digging for continuity plans will disclose the dollar range that people will spend.

And Jack is clear on one issue: “If you're mailing to the Hispanic people, you need to mail in Spanish. It's the language of the heart. Translations [from the English] don't work well. It doesn't have the same ring.”

To wit: Ninety percent of People en Espanol is original content for the Hispanic market, not just a translation from People's English version.

If marketers cannot afford new creative, they should at least hire a Spanish-language copywriter. Avoid slang. Write copy in high-level Spanish, or an almost neutral dialect spoken by Colombians that is most widely understood, she said.

Still, marketers have to take care of urban clusters within the Hispanic community.

“If you're promoting in Texas,” Jack said, “speak to people using common words that people in Mexico use. Most people in Texas are of Mexican descent.”

That said, publishers face certain cultural issues. Unlike in the United States, subscription is not a common means of distribution in many Latin American countries. Newly migrated Hispanics may be unused to the concept of copies by mail. So the process has to be made simple.

Take business reply cards, for example. Only English instructions are allowed as per U.S. Postal Service printing regulations. So how to reach Spanish speakers that they do not need to add postage to the reply card? People en Espanol used a rubber stamp with Spanish instructions on the material that says postage is paid.

“Simple things, but we take them for granted,” Jack said.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, newsstand does not account for a large chunk of People en Espanol's sales. This means the magazine's DM tactics face attitudinal, social and language barriers.

Jack also reiterated that translations lack the desired effect. They “weren't blockbusters” for People en Espanol renewal notices and bills. At first it was a stopgap measure until dedicated Spanish material was developed.

“People in that market take their credit rating very seriously,” she said, so any miscommunication in this area might scare people out of subscribing.

Of course, there are other nuances marketers need to know. While looking for selects for magazine acquisition programs, it is OK to target unidentified Hispanic males, even if the publication, material or product is skewed toward women.

“A lot of mail ends up going to the household in the name of the male,” Jack said.

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