Liberty Tax Service, based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is the third largest tax preparation company in North America, with 1,100 offices in the U.S. and Canada.
Spanish-dominant Hispanics who have lived in the U.S. for less than ten years, who are unfamiliar with or still learning about U.S. systems including banking, postal service, insurance, and taxes.
Liberty Tax Service had been targeting Spanish-speaking customers using the same strategy it used for the general market. “Our print campaign to non-Hispanic customers focused on immediate response mechanisms that cater to self-gratification for the customers. We emphasize how fast they can get a tax refund and all the great things they can do with that money. For the Hispanic community, we just translated the message into Spanish,” explains Martha O’Gorman, Vice President of Marketing for Liberty Tax Service.
Blaire Borthayre, Hispanic Marketing Consultant and author of Marketing to the Hispanic Community: A Guide for Tax Preparation Offices, saw that Liberty Tax was missing an important segment of the Hispanic market. “It is not the language barrier that is the key in most of these advertising campaigns,” explains Borthayre. “Not understanding the U.S. systems prevents many foreign born Hispanic consumers from buying a service based consumer product.” Borthayre says banks and tax companies often make the mistake of simply translating their general market message into Spanish.
“What they don’t understand is that foreign born Hispanics don’t understand references to April 15th. Taxes are paid in Latin America, but there is never a refund. There are no payment plans. If you owe money in Latin America, there are serious consequences, including jail sentences.
We have millions of undocumented Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. Many of them have taxes taken out of their checks but do not file for tax returns because they are not aware they can do so. The IRS does not communicate with immigration. They allow immigrants to file using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security Number.”
Liberty Tax hired Blaire Borthayre to help them design a marketing campaign that would specifically target immigrants and Spanish-dominant Hispanics who did not have an ITIN number (Since 2003, filing a tax return is one of the very few ways to get an ITIN).
At the core of Borthayre’s strategy is education at the community level. By partnering with advocacy agencies, churches, mortgage companies, credit unions, and Hispanic businesses, Spanish speaking tax office employees teach immigrants about the tax system in the U.S, as well as the responsibilities and the benefits of filing taxes.
In order to carry out the grassroots component of the campaign, Liberty began with a comprehensive education program called “Hispanic Compliance.” Franchisees who were interested in serving the Hispanic community had to attend and pass a twoday training in Hispanic Marketing and ITINS.
Trainings were conducted by Borthayre in twenty different states at over seven hundred franchises. Topics included cultural behaviors that offend and impress, hiring bilinguals, tax issues that affect the foreign born Hispanic, and effective marketing techniques.
Spanish signs were designed for Liberty office windows. Everything from “We Speak Spanish” to “Free Estimates with No Obligation.” Signs were created with an eye towards issues that were of concern to the foreign born Hispanics.
The national ad campaign which will run through 2006 and includes direct mail, coupons, print and radio, hinges on community education at the local level. The direct mail campaign includes a national drop through Carmen’s Cupones shared mailer (delivered to 3 million Hispanic households in 60 markets) and a solo mail piece distributed by selected Liberty Tax franchisees. The direct mail piece includes a bilingual coupon for $20 off tax preparation services and information on the benefits of filing a W-7 to get an ITIN number. (Look for campaign analysis results in Portada®'s June/ July/August 2006 issue.)
Liberty Tax will also supply the art for print ads which franchisees can place in Spanish- anguage newspapers in their communities. “All of the ads are basically the same. They are strictly targeting Hispanics who are afraid of the tax system and educating them on the benefits of filing a W-7 and getting an ITIN number,” says O’Gorman. Radio spots on local stations reinforce the print and direct mail components of the campaign.
Borthayre also made a Spanish CD which covers frequently asked questions about tax returns. The CD’s are distributed by franchisees at festivals, community events and at informational talks that Spanish-speaking Liberty tax preparers give at community organizations, churches and Hispanic advocacy agencies.