Joe Kutchera: Building a Branded Social Network for U.S. Hispanics

Following is an excerpt from Joe Kutchera’s forthcoming book Latino Link: Building brands online with Hispanic communities and content (Paramount, Sept 2010)

When José Luis Nazar immigrated to the United States from Chile, he saw firsthand the difficulties involved in learning English and recognized the need for a product that would help Hispanics learn at home in an unpressured, convenient manner. In 1974, he founded Lexicon Marketing to provide the right tools for Hispanics to learn English by creating an audiovisual course, "Inglés sin Barreras," or literally, “English without Borders.” Today, Lexicon is a leading provider of self-study language packages using DVDs, CDs, and workbooks to stimulate all the senses that a learner employs in learning a language.

Lexicon’s target customer is a Spanish-dominant immigrant who has been in the U.S. for over three years with limited English skills, 25–35 years old, married with children and less than a high school level education. Fifteen to twenty five percent of the company’s customers use the Internet every day, and another ten to twenty percent use it weekly.

During its research phase, Lexicon learned that Spanish-dominant Hispanics under-indexed in computer ownership and Internet usage when compared with Anglos and Asians. However, Hispanics adopt at a higher rate and social networking is a key component of their online experience.

Lexicon launched (World without Borders) in May 2009 to bridge the digital divide for Hispanics, providing an educational web portal and branded social network to help them improve their lives through free English language lessons, free access to a board-certified immigration attorney, health and technology channels, and a platform for users to speak up on important socioeconomic issues. The “Dinero” (money) and “USA para ti” (USA for you) channels provide readers with an understanding of the American financial system and available government resources. Overall, the Mundo sin Barreras initiative fits with its aspirational brand and leverages the core competencies of its company along with its vast content base.

Lexicon developed this social networking site for Spanish speakers with the intention of targeting U.S. Hispanics and found that many Mexicans and other Latin Americans joined the social networking community to make or connect with friends and share their stories about the challenges and successes of learning English. “Our consumers want to have their friends and family join them in the Mundo world, so they tell them about the site,” says Karissa Price, Lexicon’s former vice president of growth initiatives.

During its first year, the site averaged almost 40,000 unique visitors a month. Of those, 70 percent came from the United States, 15 percent from Mexico, and the rest from Latin America and Spain. While Lexicon does not currently localize, or target its content to specific IP addresses, it plans on localizing the site in the future to better meet the needs of sponsors who do business only in certain states or countries.

The response has been excellent. “The feedback we've gotten has been tremendously positive regarding the social networking side of our site,” says Price. The site has more than 7,000 registered and active users, most of whom visit it at least twice a week. Because company officials focus on the Spanish-dominant, immigrant population in the United States, they find that consumers need a tremendous amount of information and have a desire to share experiences among themselves. For example, Hispanics need better information and share experiences about how to navigate the immigration and U.S. financial systems, technology, and health.

While Lexicon does not sell software on the, it does sell it on its Ingles Sin Barreras brand site. In its retail business, it accepts both U.S. and Mexican credit cards and has the ability to do transactions on both sides of the border.

In the years ahead, Lexicon plans to offer more in-depth content in the areas of health, technology, and immigration as well develop cross-marketing partnerships with select brands and retail partners as it did with Coca-Cola. In addition, it will expand its advertising to television to promote the site, so Lexicon can let a broader audience know about the free tools and content available to them. It also plans on partnering with like-minded educational organizations to further the success of the Hispanic community.