David Benitez has led Intelligent Mexican Marketing in connecting leading Mexican brands with American consumers for nine years. He sat down with Portada to reflect on the strategies and decisions behind the company’s success, how the market for Latino products has evolved in the United States, and where he plans to go next.
Founder and CEO of IMM David Benitez has kept a journal documenting his business adventures for years. Sometimes, he says, he re-reads his old entries and finds notes about experiences that he had completely forgotten about. Other times, he realizes that the problems he faced years ago are the same as those he faces today. But one thing is for certain: in IMM’s nine-year history, the company has grown exponentially, and become a leader in connecting American consumers with leading Latino brands.
What is the secret to Benitez and partner Ricardo Villareal’s success? “When you have a purpose as a company, and you know where you want to go and you have the team, it’s quite simple to get there. It’s important to have clarity of what you want to do.”
When he started IMM, consumers were just starting to appreciate and understand the opportunity that they were facing: “The concept of Latino was different from what it is today,” says Benitez. “When you tried to sell something Latino, very few companies were doing that, very few brands.” There were still only a few leading brands in each vertical, but “everyone was trying to address the race to capture the Latino market in the US.” What everyone didn’t necessarily understand was how to do that.
“When you have a purpose as a company, and you know where you want to go and you have the team, it’s quite simple to get there. It’s important to have clarity of what you want to do.”
Educating the Consumer
Benitez’s previous experience in operations and consumer products gave him valuable insight into how to target Latino brands in a way that appealed to American audiences. A huge industry of consumption had emerged in which products, people, and money were sent back and forth between people on each sides of Mexico and the United States. Everyone started fighting for the same piece of the American consumer pie. But “90% of the products coming to the US were in wholesale environments.”
Everyone was using the same channels. Consumers had no advantage in terms of prices and choices. Real brands were not being created – only the middlemen, the wholesalesmen – were capturing the value. And those companies were not seeing results. Benitez has always tried to run IMM differently: “Our purpose…is for everyone to enjoy the best Latino brands.”
Instead of simply delivering Mexican products in a truck, Benitez and his team focus on “
creating experiences for both the customer and the consumer, and telling them about the real potential of Latino products.” He claims that he has found very few companies doing what he has done at IMM because “they don’t create brands.”
“They’re just traders. But if you want to create an experience out of a brand, that’s a whole different approach. That’s why we decided to do it this way, to recreate the brand, and the packaging…we needed control over our own destiny with intelligent marketing, which is the concept behind our company’s name.”
At this point, he has concentrated most of his efforts in Texas, where they have a distribution network of over 7,000 stores. As for the competition? “They think having a delivery truck is all you need,” says Benitez, “but nothing could be so far from the truth.” Unfortunately, he has seen a lot of companies forced to shut down while attempting to reach into the US Hispanic market.
Turning Brands into ‘Heroes’
Benitez is uniquely positioned to connect the Mexican and American markets because he understands what they have in common, and what they don’t. “One of the very interesting things about Mexico is that we don’t have many heroes. The United States creates heroes every day,” says Benitez. We decided to make our brands and products the heroes. We want to give this to the people so that they can feel proud when they see their products selling everywhere.”
Benitez says that he wants to help these brands succeed in the United States with losing their identity. While some minor tweaks are necessary, it’s all about “finding the conversation that the product would like to have with the consumer.” He gives the example of Takis – which is the number one snack in Texas now, beating even leading American brands like Doritos – because he was able to help the brand attract both Hispanic and Americans.
But IMM faces his fair share of challenges. “We have to educate buyers, store managers and suppliers as well, as many of their decisions are based on what their bosses are telling them to do, not what the consumers are willing to buy.” Benitez believes that it is very different to be company-centric as opposed to being customer-centric.
Cutting-Edge Technology to Push Expansion Efforts
He has been diligent about implementing the best in technology at IMM. As 80% of the stores that they service are franchises or independently owned, he has had to develop top-of-the-line technology and analytics for creating promotions, anticipating prices and generally staying on top of their huge network. In 2012, he even visited Apple’s Cupertino office and managed to persuade them to help IMM convert the iPhone into their main distribution and marketing tool. Apple has provided the guidance and team to support the endeavor, and IMM has been operating with this technology for almost four years now.
“Our goal is more brands, more Latino expansion, more coverage. I want to take this globally.” But the more he travels, the more he “feels the weight of the challenge.” First, IMM will focus on expanding within the United States, integrating more products and expanding through bringing more brands from other countries in Latin America.
But Benitez is sure that he already has the right formula, and that now he just needs to execute. And although his company may be bigger and more profitable than your average startup by now, he still guides himself with the same principles that he did as an entrepreneur. “If you share our purpose, you become our partner,” he says.