Marketing that represents the diversity of America has come a long way in recent years, but the focus on total market and the widest possible reach is pushing marketers toward a false choice between multiculturalism on the one hand and a total market approach on the other. Both approaches have value, but understanding the nuances of your audience is an essential first step before adopting either strategy. This is an incredibly important point to effectively reach Hispanic communities.
At nearly 60 million people, the U.S. Hispanic population is too big to paint with a single brush. In fact, it’s a misnomer to refer to “the Hispanic community,” when the reality is that we’re talking about Hispanic communities. Country of origin and geographic location within the U.S. highlight just two of the significant cultural differences between communities. Messages that connect with Puerto Ricans in New York probably won’t speak the same way to Guatemalans in California, or Mexicans living in Texas.
But even within a given community, there are significant cultural differences, especially when you consider the age of your audience and whether you’re trying to reach first-generation immigrants, or Hispanics who were born in the U.S. My own family story is a case in point.
I’m a first-generation Hispanic. Like many immigrants, my parents didn’t speak English when they came here in the late 1960s, and even now English isn’t their go-to language. In that regard, their experience tracks with the data. According to Pew, while English proficiency is on the rise among Hispanics, 73% of Hispanics speak Spanish within the home. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that marketing to people like my parents needs to only be in Spanish to succeed.
As a kid, I lived two very different lives. Outside of the home, I had a pretty typical American experience. But inside the home, I wasn’t just the son of immigrants, I was their conduit to their adopted country. As children assimilating, we helped our parents get along in America often as a translator and cultural ambassador. This meant living while learning the American experience, often without a lot of first-hand knowledge or support on different things, eg., homework.
At the time, the conventional wisdom in marketing was that women made household purchasing decisions on products ranging from food to detergent, while men made decisions about big-ticket items like cars and insurance products. But in my house, my American experience influenced consumer choices and filtered through me to my parents.
Understanding nuances like that are critical to doing cross-cultural marketing well. And brands and agencies need to understand that when they try to speak to everyone, they may not be speaking to anyone. No brand can be all things to all people, but it’s important for every brand to know its target audience and shape the appropriate strategy from those insights.
A total market approach is an effective strategy when you’re rolling up a constellation of similar audiences, but it will be difficult to effectively reach the Hispanic communities with this strategy alone. We live in a world where we don’t have to just run homogeneous ads showing a diverse America.
While this is a huge step up from the past and drives reach, it’s also important that brands speak authentically to diverse audiences with heterogeneous messages that celebrate their unique experiences. This is critical if you want to reach Hispanics effectively. Brands have an opportunity to reach Hispanic audiences in their American lives while also connecting with them where they embrace their Hispanic heritage.
Thankfully, the proliferation of platforms and media channels today make it possible for marketers to be agnostic about the total market versus multicultural debate. The answer isn’t either or, it’s both, when Hispanics are involved. The more audiences fragment the more specific marketers need to be in defining the people they’re trying to reach. That’s a challenge, to be sure, but it’s also a good thing. Because if you’re going to reach someone, you better know who they are so you can speak their language.