How Important is Spanish for Marketing to Latinos?

By Nataly Kelly, Chief Research Officer, Common Sense Advisory

Would you like your marketing messages to reach Latinos in the United States?  It may not be as simple as translating content into Spanish.  

One Spanish Is Not Necessarily Enough

Hispanics are projected to number 102.6 million by 2050 and will make up about 30% of the U.S. population, but this group is by no means homogenous by any stretch of the imagination. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. Hispanics identify themselves as being of Mexican origin. Nine of the other 10 largest Hispanic groups – Puerto Rican, Cuban, Salvadoran, Dominican, Guatemalan, Colombian, Honduran, Ecuadorian, and Peruvian – make up about 25% of the U.S. Hispanic population.

However, of this enormous group, not everyone speaks Spanish. The United States is home to an estimated 45 million people who speak Spanish as a first or second language and who also self-identify as ethnically Hispanic. However, these estimates are likely low, because there are often problems with how these numbers are calculated. Many Spanish speakers do not feel that they belong in the controversial “Hispanic” box and instead prefer to list themselves as Caucasian or Other. This is often the case for many groups, especially individuals of indigenous or African origin. Even though the estimate of 45 million is conservative, it’s an enormous number of people. By comparison, Spain has 46 million people, and Canada is home to a total of about 34 million people

Among those 45 million Spanish speakers in the United States, terminological differences abound depending on where people are originally from. In fact, terms for everyday things – like food items, clothing, and other household items – often have tremendous variation.  A guagua in Ecuador (baby) is a very different thing from a guagua in Cuba (bus).  Merienda means a snack in some countries, but dinner in others. A ñaño is one’s brother in some places, but a pejorative term for a homosexual male in another.  Just consider the fact that there are at least 40 ways to say “popcorn” in Spanish. For marketers who wish to target Spanish speakers in the United States, it is important to take into account the many distinct Spanishes of these individuals’ home countries.

The U.S. Hispanic Market: The Sixth-Largest Economy in the World

Hispanic purchasing power has also grown by leaps and bounds. According to the University of Georgia’s Selig Center, Hispanic purchasing power was around US$200 billion in 1990, but had grown to $800 billion by 2006, and surpassed US$1 trillion in 2009. This makes the U.S. Hispanic market one of the top 10 economies in the world. By 2015, it is expected to reach $1.5 trillion.

Over the years, market research firm Common Sense Advisory has developed a range of metrics to help companies evaluate the effectiveness of their global websites. A recent report from Benjamin Sargent, senior analyst at Common Sense Advisory, on the Top-Scoring Global Websites looked not only at the total population that has online access, but also the estimated spending power of each group. If we treat the U.S. Spanish-speaking market as if it were a separate country, its share of the world online wallet turns out to be the sixth largest in the world.

Digital strategies are important when targeting the U.S. Hispanic population. A survey conducted by Terra and ComScore  found that 76% of in-store transactions by Hispanics are influenced by online research. The same survey also found that Hispanics spend 10% more time online than the general online population.  So, whether you’re targeting Spanish- or English-speaking Latinos, you need to pay serious attention to digital and online marketing.

What the Most Successful Brands Do Differently When Targeting Latinos

The world’s most successful brands are taking note of these trends among the U.S. Latino population. The best efforts take into account both Spanish and English, allowing customers to easily toggle between languages, or sometimes, mixing the two. These companies tend to lean more heavily on Mexican Spanish, but also are careful to avoid misunderstandings or words that may have a negative connotation in another regional variety of Spanish.  Research Common Sense Advisory conducted for the report, “How to Craft a Multicultural Web Strategy,” also found that the best marketing campaigns for Latinos make ample use of digital and online strategies.

For example, Pepsi saw tremendous success with its Familia de Campeones (family of champions) campaign, which led up to Super Bowl XLV and helped the company obtain 123,000opt-ins in 10 weeks. Pepsi’s campaign was reportedly the first in-language mobile marketing campaign designed for the Hispanic market, and instead of targeting individuals, it targeted families. Consumers were encouraged to go to the mobile site for the campaign by entering http://www.pepsicampeones.com on their mobile browser. The families could then upload a photo and create a free customized family poster.

McDonald’s created a completely customized site to target Latinos, www.meencanta.com. One of the first things the visitor sees is a Latin music portal, an area for online gaming, and videos that depict families and friends having fun. By way of contrast, go to www.mcdonalds.com and you’ll see an emphasis on health and diet-friendly options – gone are the music, online gaming options, and video content. The two sites have a completely different focus, even though the products the company is promoting to both groups are exactly the same. (McDonald’s has targeted the Asian-American market with a custom site called www.myinspirasian.com, again, with extremely different marketing techniques).

In summary, what are the three most important things that a global marketer can do when marketing to Latinos in the United States?  First, remember that not all Latinos speak Spanish, but that those who do make up a linguistically diverse group of people, so regional variations must be taken into account when developing the Spanish-language content. Second, when thinking about purchasing power, remember to focus on online presence and digital strategies. Third, look to some of the world’s leading brands for lessons and best practices in how best to reach this important and growing market segment in the United States.

Nataly Kelly is the Chief Research Officer at Common Sense Advisory, an independent Massachusetts-based research firm focused on global business and language services. Her latest book, “Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World,” features interviews with Nestlé and Hallmark on how these brands are tailoring their products for the U.S. Latino market.


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Marcos Baer @MarcosBaer

Marcos oversees editorial and sales. He is based in Portada's NYC headquarters. Prior to launching Portada in 2003, Marcos worked in both the media and finance sectors. He occupied leading roles at the Spanish edition of The Wall Street Journal, in Spain’s newspaper Cinco Dias and at SwissRe. He is an MBA, and a CFA. Marcos is a print junkie and also loves all things digital media. He also is passionate about everything related to New York City and loves to play tennis.

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