Rethink The Market

In the last few years, we have witnessed growth in Hispanic marketing. This is sometimes a well-developed plan and, at other times, it is something of a short-sighted one. In both cases, however, the definition of the Hispanic customer is often one dimensional.

Even as we've witnessed the growth in interest on the part of marketers, we have also seen the Hispanic market rapidly maturing in multiple dimensions. Examples include a proliferation of ad campaigns targeting Spanish speakers and the continued growth of media sources geared toward consumption by the Hispanic market.

Interestingly, it is at the moment this market seems to have arrived that it is changing in ways that will again challenge businesses. It is precisely at the point where the Hispanic market has become large enough to warrant such interest that it is changing and becoming something altogether new.

The Emerging Biculturalism

Marketers obviously need to be well informed to successfully merchandise a brand to Hispanic consumers, but before they can take that step they must define what it is they mean by "Hispanic." Identity and language are dynamic, and so how we perceive ourselves changes with our community at a given moment, allowing us multiple identities within a day.



The same can be said for a brand as people internalize it. One extremely difficult but fundamentally important piece of information is coming to an understanding that "Hispanic" is a loaded term and changes meaning frequently. Because ethnic identity is fluid, it means people work within a set of roles that are created in social interaction with other people. As people change, so does the meaning of "Hispanic."

A great deal has been written about levels of acculturation and the ongoing shift from Hispanic and/or ethnic dominant cultural patterns to bicultural cultural patterns. Material is continually being written about how this shift will reshape key issues in marketing, the role of language, and the continuation of aspirational advertising.

There are, as might be expected, individuals and companies conducting research to dispel the fact that language use and language preferences are changing. Of course, they have a vested interest in promoting a Spanish-language focus. On the other side, there are those who embrace the notion that English is playing an increasing role in the lives of Hispanics.

Degrees of Language Loyalty

The reality is that increasingly, the norm lies somewhere in between and that there are varying degrees of language loyalty on any given day. Considering this segment is growing at twice the rate of other Hispanic segments, it is a significant issue. They have more disposable income, higher levels of education, and a greater influence on popular culture at large.

What this means for companies reaching out to Hispanics is that the would-be consumer target is in the process of becoming something entirely new. Targeting these evolving consumers will no doubt lead to increased awareness and profits, but understanding them, reaching them and deciding how they fit into a broader business strategy is decidedly complex and requires a subtle approach.

As the market matures and becomes a fixture of the larger American experience, the question is less about whether or not the Hispanic market is viable and a point of growth. Instead, it is about uncovering how we respond in the long term.

Inevitably, as companies increase their presence in the Hispanic market, they invariably change its nature and help create something new. It is the companies who can think creatively and act quickly that will succeed in this newly developing conversation and approach to understanding.

3 comments about "Rethink The Market ".
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  1. Kent Kirschner from MobileBits, August 27, 2009 at 1:02 p.m.

    a colleague of mine had a very insightful comment the other day in exclaiming that now.....everything is multicultural. In a certain sense, I have to agree. The ethnic foods section in supermarkets, once occupying a small space in one aisle now spills over entire aisles and into the produce and meat sections. What this means is that while Hispanic audiences are acculturating and changing in ways that you've described, the general market (excuse the term) is following the reverse path and becoming more and more exposed to and accepting of other cultural expressions.

    At the end of the day the question remains, are we committed to the critical thinking required to truly understand the most appropriate audience for our messages. Will we put in the time, pay for the research and structure our approaches that are based on true insights....or will we continue to drive the status quo until it's too obviously of no use any longer. Test, reboot, test, reboot, refine, reboot.....this is what the entire industry needs to focus on at this point...across all demos and all media...and this lack of clarity is so challenging but will prove itself to be the only way towards efficiency and long term results.

  2. Jackie Bird from Redbean Society, LLC, August 27, 2009 at 3:50 p.m.

    Rethink the market is less the point, but more so, rethinking how we approach the market is the real question. As we undoubtedly mature as an industry and Latino consumers continue to be the fastest growing, highest growth rate and increasingly influential target market in the U.S., of course we must redefine our targeting and measurement criteria. And, marketers must move away from purely demographic analysis for budgeting and marketing in favor of studying behavior, mindstates and what we define as cultural currents at Redbean Society. It is in the study of these cultural currents that we can uncover what values drive consumer choice; where these consumers interact with our brands; and how we are going to interact with them. And yes, it is very much a two-way highway because Latino cultural currents are influencing non-Latinos equally if not more so than mainstream is influencing us.

  3. Lauren Romero from Wave - The Marketing Arm, August 27, 2009 at 10:47 p.m.

    Thank you, Gavin, for a piece much more eloquent than my recent one about this same topic ( There can't be enough drumbeat and education about this, in my view. New technology is indeed making it possible for us to reach Latino consumers in context, in much more relevant ways, with our focus on their category priorities, rather than mere language or ethnic-predilection presumptions.

    I agree with Jackie's comments regarding the shift in approach to the market. I'd like to add that brand leaders might now re-examine and reconsider the way that their marketing budgets are structured and distributed, to better address the realities of "situational" or contextual Latino identification and language usage. There is not single prescription, of course. The solution depends on the business category, brand market position, and goals -- but the future overall brand communications budgets might address Hispanics within the context of brand and product targets first, and not as separate audiences altogether.

    I realize this is a tall order, and something most brands would only consider with evidence from successful experiments. I'd be curious to hear about any brands already exploring new ways to address the varying combinations of cultures within bicultural households that include Hispancs, but in which Latino identity plays a role only in certain situations, with certain categories. Perhaps some out there are already integrating and coordinating the work of so-called "general market" agencies with their multicultural ones. We are pursuing this from the grassroots, but it would be nice to see it addressed from the early-stage strategic (not just communications account planning) planning at the top, because the budget challenges are otherwise more elaborate.

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