During Hispanic Heritage Month, I hosted a panel featuring influential Hispanic marketing leaders. This motivated me to reflect on how brands can engage in inclusive storytelling.
The U.S. Hispanic population has reached more than 60 million, according to recent U.S. Census data —up from 50 million in 2010. To put that in context, Hispanics comprise nearly one-in-five people in the U.S.
The share of Latinos in the U.S. who speak English proficiently is also increasing. In 2019, more than 70% of Latinos ages 5 and older spoke English proficiently, up from less than 60% in 2000. Driving this growth are U.S.-born Latinos. By any measure, this is a continually evolving consumer and talent market.
Although I am not a member of the Hispanic community, I am—like many Hispanics in the United States—an immigrant. As such, I’m fascinated by all diasporas—the journeys, accomplishments, and relationships we have with our heritage.
I’m equally curious about how brands engage authentically with people, be it customers, employees, or the community. Gone are the days when it was sufficient for a brand to produce a campaign that purports allegiance to the group being celebrated that month. Instead, brands must infuse culture throughout the year and create authentic storytelling that resonates not only with the rapidly evolving market, but also with the rapidly changing world.
Balancing authenticity and action is difficult. One action often outweighs the other, resulting in a disparity that negatively affects people and brand purpose. I offer three imperatives that marketers and other business leaders can implement to authentically and actionably appeal to Hispanic consumers:
1) Know that identity is complicated, intersectional, and fluid. Perhaps the most detrimental presumption is to treat a consumer community as a monolith. Take the Hispanic population. A person from Guatemala has a different culture than a person from, say, Argentina. Furthermore, in Argentina alone, a person from Buenos Aires might have a different culture than someone from Salta. Yet, often, brands conflate identity. This reduction is false, harmful, and—quite frankly—lazy.
2) Appreciate your culture to unlock empathy for others. Everyone offers a unique perspective. Embrace the distinction. Think about how brands have engaged with a portion of your culture. Has a Black-history-filled February been just that—an event-packed celebration that lasted only one month? Or did a company’s rainbow-printed beverage can disappear in July? Use your own experience to influence how you might celebrate or commemorate a culture different from your own.
3) Build for the long term with humility and courage. To assess the future, it is essential to reflect on the past. Interrogate the actions your brand has enacted in the past. Were they successful? Were they too broad? Too narrow? Were they long-lasting? Understand your failings and seek to improve. This work takes courage—courage to acknowledge your missteps and courage to take the correct next steps.
In 2021, articulating and embodying a compelling brand purpose has emerged as a clarion call for company leaders everywhere. Paramount to this purpose are DEIB efforts and inclusive storytelling. Only then can we build and bolster brands that are persevering and prosperous.