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Ivonne Kinser (photo) notes that corporate social responsibility and sustainability are important concepts not only for building a better society, but also to reach Hispanics with a brand with meaning for the community.

There are currently 50.5 million Hispanics living in the US–and it is hardly news that they represent the largest, fastest growing minority group in the nation. But what does that mean for US companies? Where’s the real sustainable opportunity? (And make no mistake about it, the keyword is “sustainable.”)

According to the latest statistics, Latinos will account for 60% of the Nation’s population growth between 2005 and 2050. Obviously, the consumer-based growth potential for US companies speaks for itself loud and clear. And there is no question but that planning today with that future in mind will be crucial to building lasting brands, able to withstand competitors’ advances–and even markets and economic crisis.

Accomplishing sustainability through corporate social responsibility

The debate over defining “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) goes back to 1970 when economist Milton Friedman wrote his now-famous commentary on social responsibility, stating that “the social responsibility of business is to make a profit.”

John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods, responded to Friedman’s position in a subsequent article (that also included comments from Cypress Semiconductor founder and CEO T. J. Rodgers, who supported Friedman’s position), maintaining that corporations that seek long-term shareholder value are more beneficial to society than corporations that focus on charitable endeavors.

For the purpose of this post, let's take the definition Christine Arena proposes in her book The High Purpose Company, which reflects the view commonly-held by most experts in the field today: "The efforts companies make above and beyond regulation to balance the needs of stakeholders with the need to make profit."

Building a Sustainable Brand

CSR-focused efforts may be one of the most effective strategies in building a sustainable brand. And this is especially true among underserved demographic groups–although CSR speaks to any demographic in any language and goes light years beyond cultural stereotypes or language preferences. Think of it as “brands with meaning,” and if you’re not yet sold on the idea, just ask Coca Cola, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Nike, Nestle, Kraft, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Nike, Adidas, Levi’s, GAP, Kimberly-Clark, Disney, and GE–among the many!

The most successful brands of this era inspire, engage, motivate, empower, and drive business and brand value by innovating with sustainability in mind. They embrace the future by acting as a platform for positive change, striving to impact our world as never before. And as a result, their consumers–as well as their employees–feel empowered to truly act upon their values and not just give them lip service. But to accomplish this marketing dream, your company’s business plan needs to be rooted in sustainability, and your brand’s message genuinely aligned with your cause.

A concept inherent to the Latino culture

During the past few years, multicultural marketers has been scratching their heads trying to figure out the magic message formula that will resonate with their ethnic consumers, to truly engage them and ultimately create strong emotional ties. But it may just be that the answer doesn’t lie in a bilingual TV spot nor in the colors of the talent’s wardrobe, but in a deeper understanding of the Hispanic community’s social needs, and in a genuine effort to address and fulfill those needs; an effort to improve the lifestyle of the Hispanic communities. And I can’t think of a more engaging approach than looking closely at the deepest values and beliefs inherent to the Hispanic culture.

Sustainability is a naturally-occurring characteristic of the Latino culture 

Latinos are highly committed to their community, and passionately embrace the causes that support one another within their respective communities. And this community-supportive attitude has existed within most Latino sectors since long before “sustainability & CSR” became hot topics in the US. This is exemplified by the Latino Community Foundation, a group which for nearly 20 years, has embraced the vision of “Latinos helping Latinos.”

There are clear and indisputable connections between CSR and Latinos. The Yankelovich MONITOR Multicultural Study conducted in 2010, discovered that roughly one-third of Hispanic consumers are more likely to choose brands and companies that support the causes they believe in and the communities in which they live. The same 2010 research indicates that 62%of Hispanics agree that there is an extremely small number of brands and companies that truly care about the state of their communities.

Action is not enough. Make sure you communicate it succinctly.

CSR can be a brand’s most effective strategy in gaining a competitive edge. By building social responsible, consumer-facing brands, marketers can provide real distinction. But to compete and ultimately win, brands need to generate sustainable innovation quickly and communicate it effectively, and that communication needs to start from within.

According to a recent article published in Sustainable Brands, “research shows that employees increasingly seek affiliation with organizations that reflect their values and that highly engaged employees outperform their disengaged colleagues by 20 – 28%” (Conference Board, 2006).

However, sometimes the brands with the highest sustainability scores have relatively low perception scores. This suggests that the corporation’s sustainability activity may not be “consumer facing.” 

But why not look at this as an opportunity to improve perception through increased consumer-facing product innovations and improved communications?

Consider this highly effective approach:

• Identify what (other than your product/service) is most important to your ideal customer–and then focus on it. Direct every activity toward delivering that customer’s priority outcomes. In short, make your costumers’ priorities the pillars of your marketing strategy and of your message’s portfolio.

• Add social benefits to your brand’s promise . . . and deliver!

• Raise awareness from within. (Companies must engage their own employees first–and then reach out to the consumer.) This means not only communicating your “purpose” to them, but explaining what their brand ultimately represents. Employees must be motivated to live and breathe what your/their brand is all about.

• Stay consistent and innovative–and never waver. (Deliver the message everywhere–even in your company’s Christmas dinner napkins!)

• Watch the front line. Make certain that every interaction with a customer–or potential customer–reiterates what your brand is all about.

• Be genuine and project honesty. Today’s consumers are savvy enough to know when a brand is being deceptive or condescending.

Where the Latino’s heart hurts, and how brands can heal and engage it?

The two primary socioeconomic issues that affect US Latino communities are immigration and education. There is not much marketers and brands can do about the first one, but they can certainly affect the latter. (It is not a coincidence that so many companies have already directed their CSR efforts toward the Latino education cause.)

Although Latinos are by far the largest minority group in America’s public education system, they have the lowest high school and college completion rates of any cultural or ethnic group.

And despite recent advances in educational attainment, reports from the US Census Bureau reveal that serious discrepancies persist when Hispanic educational levels are compared to otherethnic groups. And there’s more to consider:

• Only about half of Latino students earn their high school diploma on time.

• Those who do complete high school are only half as likely as their peers to be sufficiently prepared for college.

• Just 13% of Latinos have a bachelor degree.

• Only 4% of Latinos have completed graduate or professional degree programs.

Some of the many brands currently responding to the Hispanic market

• As part of the platform Live Positively®, the Coca Cola Foundation contributes $300,000+ to HSF (Hispanic Scholarship Fund) for scholarship and retention programs.

• MillerCoors is the founding corporate sponsor of the Adelante! education program and now provides $200,000 annually to fund education support, leadership development, and internship opportunities to deserving Hispanic/Latino students.

• Since 2007, the Staples Foundation for Learning continuously collaborates with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation towards the foundation’s Hispanic Heritage Teacher Award, which honors teachers throughout the United States who have had a positive impact on the lives of children in Latino communities.

• In 1985, McDonald’s founded HACER, a fund that provides scholarships to Latino students who otherwise would no be able to further their education. To date, HACER has awarded more than $20 million in scholarships to nearly 14,000 Hispanic students.

• Western Union developed a community relations campaign aimed at bridging the cultural gap. The campaign is called “¡Sí! Western Union Helps Make Dreams Come True.”

• Macy’s supports the Hispanic Scholarship Funds’ goal of increasing the number of Hispanic college graduates.

• Gillette’s Venus razor brand (P&G), is launching a new scholarship program for young Latinas through The Venus Goddess Fund for Education–the brand’s commitment to empowering women through education.

• AT&T, through the HSF/AT&T Foundation Scholarship Program, assists students of Hispanic heritage, dependents of AT&T employees attending two-year or four-year colleges to obtain a degree.

The paradigm-shift

Branding has changed a great deal since companies’ sales were driven by the promise of instant personal gratification and “ego-feeding” messages. The greatest paradigm-shift of this era is driven by the new generation of consumers with “values-aspired” mindsets who embrace brands that deliver the total package: products that work well, cost less, last longer, and compliment their overall lifestyle by creating richer and more balanced social capital.

All of the above suggests that marketers who truly want to engage Latinos through a sustainable effort should shift their focus from Hispanic “ad work” to Hispanic “community work.”

Ivonne Kinser is a marketing consultant for corporations and advertising agencies. Her 18+ years experience encompasses some of the best known advertising agencies such as Lintas, T:M Advertising (McCann Erickson), and The Richards Group in Dallas; and her brand experience includes brands such as American Airlines, The Home Depot, Metro PCS, Unilever and Hyundai, among many others.

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Ivonne Kinser is a marketing consultant for corporations and advertising agencies. Her 18+ years experience encompasses some of the best known advertising agencies such as Lintas, T:M Advertising (McCann Erickson), and The Richards Group in Dallas; and her brand experience includes brands such as American Airlines, The Home Depot, Metro PCS, Unilever and Hyundai, among many others.

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