I recently had the honor to be interviewed by the Columbus, Georgia marketing firm Nao Media & Consulting. Nao Media is the brainchild of Chris Craft and works in the fields of music, sports, and information technology. We spoke about inspirations from my journeys to Mexico and Puerto Rico, the development of Latino Branding Power, and future plans with Hispanic marketing. With permission, I have re-posted the Q&A session with Nao Media consultant Yu Miyagawa.
Jonathan Mikulich has worn many hats throughout his professional career. From graphic design to public relations, Mikulich synthesized his experiences into Latino Branding Power, a website focused on the burgeoning Latino market. Jonathan recently sat down with NaoMediaCon to discuss his personal journey that lead him to create LBP, marketing to a diverse Latino audience, and his future plans for the site.
YM: I’m reading on your biography that you took a sabbatical in 2005 to revisit your roots in Mexico. Did you feel like you stuck in a rut or did you feel like there was a higher calling out there?
JM: I would say the most accurate sentiment would be a higher calling. I had two cousins that lived in Mexico for several months during their time in college and I thought that was the coolest thing. They traveled around the county and studied Spanish. For about ten years prior to my own journey, I had the thought that someday I would like to do the same as they did. I finally got enough nerve to do so. I consider it one of the most significant events in my life and it changed my whole outlook on how I see the world and, inevitably, myself. I had the privilege of connecting with distant family for the first time in my life. I met my grandfather’s cousin who was in his mid-nineties at the time. Of course there was a practical reason for going too, which was to improve my fluency in Spanish. But overall, it was a very personal experience.
YM: You’ve lived in Mexico and Puerto Rico for a period of time before settling in Michigan. Can you talk about some things you’ve learned along your way and the epiphanies you’ve had throughout your travels? I’m especially interested in the ideas you had while in Mexico and Puerto Rico.
JM: I lived in Puerto Rico for a few months right after I returned from Mexico. My wife is from there and we spent our time there together. It was really a time of connecting and absorbing all I could about these two cultures. Having spent the time in Mexico and Puerto Rico rather intimately, I learned what it meant to have true pride in the land. Here in the U.S., we have our ideals and values that drive our pride. In countries like Mexico where families have had a connection to the land for thousands of years, people have an unconditional love for their towns, states, and regions that exists beyond patriotism. This is a concept that is hard to comprehend in just a few weeks vacation. I believe you really need to acculturate yourself over time in order to have a true and unparalleled understanding of another culture.
YM: Along with traveling, you’ve also worked for a variety of clients and are currently pursuing a Masters in Business Administration. What have you learned from all those various aspects? Would you say that your experience has been more valuable than the classroom education, or vice versa?
JM: Although I’m glad to be working toward an MBA, I would have to say actual experience trumps classroom time. I feel privileged to have worked with as many people from various professions and backgrounds. Much of my experience has been as a designer. As designers, we need to have an empathetic understanding of our clients in order to deliver value driven work. I once worked on a campaign for a local health care provider. During that time, we met with doctors, nurses, and patients. We became familiar with what drives them to do their work and listened to the people in the community they served. These are insights that can’t be learned in class, no matter how valuable the tools are. That having been said, I can’t express enough about the value of higher education. As we seek to empower our communities, we must not overlook investing in opportunities for education. I know it has been said many times before, but there is a lot of truth to the statement.
YM: Take us through the nuts and bolts process of building Latino Branding Power, from coming up with the idea, brainstorming to developing a website and eventually building an audience?
JM: Latino Branding Power grew out of wanting to combine what I experienced and learned during my travels in Mexico and Puerto Rico and my years of experience in design and marketing. Like many that work in marketing to Latinos, I have kept track of the enormous growth of Hispanic communities and the impact they have and will continue to have on our nation. The recent Census results have lit a fire under many companies and organizations to better connect with Latinos. My goal was to launch the blog in conjunction with the Census results. I had the good fortune to have spent the last holiday season in Puerto Rico where I had both the time and inspiration to conceptualize the details of Latino Branding Power. Come January, I was able to put it all together, iron out the technical details, and finalize a “soft” launch of the website. Prior to Latino Branding Power, I did work as a designer and marketer along side professionals in linguistics and web development. With Latino Branding Power, I was able conceptualize my own ideas, further earn credibility as a marketer, and continue to build a base as a professional. Additionally, it has been an opportunity to further develop skills and knowledge in social media. This has been a significant learning experience for me and has been the catalyst for connecting and building a network of followers.
YM: What has Latino Branding Power taught you, or has it changed any of your perceptions? Have there been any surprises?
JM: I have found it interesting to track what interests people have when viewing your blog posts. For example, one of my more popular blog posts addressed the African influence in Latin America. There was quite a bit of interest about this topic and I hope to address it again in the near future. In maintaining a blog, I have learned about how to write and promote my posts to attract attention. There is a lot of advice out there on how to do this, but digging in and doing it yourself has been the best way to learn. You may be aware of recent studies that indicate a strong interest in issues related to Latinos on social media platforms. From my experience, I have found this to be quite true. Even though there are many well-maintained Latino interest blogs available, I have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly Latino Branding Power has grown and honored that people have found value in it.
YM: What advantages or disadvantages do you have being in West Michigan? For example, in another interview, you talk about how West Michigan doesn’t have a local Hispanic affiliate. Would your ideas be any different had you been living in Los Angeles or New York City?
JM: Here in West Michigan we have several radio, print, and a few online media outlets that serve our Latino communities. Unfortunately, there is not a local Spanish television affiliate. I would not say being in West Michigan is a disadvantage as much as it is a challenge. Many of our Latino communities do not exist in the mainstream as in other places like Los Angeles or New York City. We have to be more creative and resourceful in how we connect with these communities. However, even here in West Michigan, we are seeing signs of Latino influence beyond their communities. There was once a time when it was very hard to find a place to hear music from Latin America or venues that served Latino interests to socialize. Now there are places that are in competition for clients and customers. You see more non-Latinos learning Spanish and participating in activities like salsa dancing. Many of the venues now cater to mixed patrons – not just those of Latino origin.
YM: You’ve accepted a chair position at the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. You say that it’s important to understand that all Latinos don’t fit into a single box. What is your game plan for connecting with different types of Latinos?
JM: I accepted a chair position for a committee that assists with marketing for the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The current membership base of the chamber is roughly split in half between general market businesses and Latino owned businesses. Of the Latino owned businesses, about half represent “recent arrivals” or first generation immigrants. They mainly communicate in Spanish. The other half is Latinos of second, third, and above generations and is more acculturated to the U.S. way of life. Likewise, this group is predominantly bilingual and bicultural. We realize that we will need to develop differentiated messages to these various member groups. We also know that they value different benefits and we will need to take that under consideration in order to continue their memberships. At the same time, we will need to be consistent with the chamber’s overall brand in order to maintain its integrity.
YM: What are current and future goals you have for the Latino Branding Power website?
JM: Currently I’m seeking to take Latino Branding Power to the next level for myself professionally. Ideally, I would like to use it as a hub to connect and eventually work with other professionals and businesses in Hispanic marketing. The original intent was to talk about topics related to Hispanic marketing but use local examples from West Michigan. This has been successful but at the same time it has been great to see interest in Latino Branding Power from other areas across the U.S. and even from other countries. While I am still seeking to grow interest locally in West Michigan, I am also very much interested to expanding beyond. For example, the fact that you and your organization contacted me is inspiration to continue and grow.