The video above is a montage from a vacation I took to Michoacán, Mexico during the holiday known as El Día De Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). My mother and I made the journey together a few years ago and had a fantastic time. Although a celebration to honor the dead may seem a bit macabre from a Western influenced point of view, for the indigenous populations of Mexico and Central America, it is a very commonplace tradition. What can this fatalist inspired holiday teach us about the attitudes and values held by many Latino communities?
In 2005, during my sabbatical in Mexico, I spent a period of time working in a Querétaro marketing firm as a designer. I decided to lend my expertise in exchange for the opportunity to experience day-to-day life in a Spanish-speaking work environment. One day, I was working on an assignment for a real estate client, developing layouts for a promotional print ad. As I had done many times before, I scoured stock photography websites for good images. I found one particular photo of a smiling young couple enjoying their recently purchased home. The couple in the photo happened to be of African heritage. I later reviewed the new designs with the agency’s director. When we came to the layout with the young couple, he pointed to the image and said, “I’m sorry, but here in Mexico we cannot feature images of dark complected people.”
The recent passing of Apple founder and super-star innovator Steve Jobs has saddened us. Mr. Jobs truly challenged many dialogues with regard to how people access technology and media. One such area Jobs has been credited for reinventing is the digital music industry. Through the invention of the iPod and the iTunes music store, he and Apple placed music and entertainment into the hands and pockets of people the world over. Interestingly enough, a recently released study by Dr. Felipe Korzenny of the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communications at Florida State University (FSU) explored the use digital music by Latinos and other ethnic populations. Considering audiences that marketers in the music industry have traditionally targeted, the study results may be a bit of a surprise.
This time of the year is always exciting for me. Being the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, there are many activities and an increased sense of pride among Latino communities. Here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we celebrate with two major festivals dedicated to Hispanic interests. The first full weekend of September is the Fiesta Hispana, a celebration of the wide variety of Latin American nations. The second festival, Fiesta Mexicana, coincides with Mexican Independence Day and is a celebration acknowledging the largest group of Latinos in West Michigan, the Mexican Americans. Because I was involved for several years in the planning of Fiesta Mexicana, I am occasionally asked, “Why are there two Hispanic festivals in Grand Rapids?” or “When are they going to combine both festivals into one?” Although I am not overly surprised when this question arises, I believe it does indicate a larger misinterpretation among some about how Latino communities exist and perceive themselves.
Last month I participated in a focus group that sought to collect feedback from various local communities and residents. I was invited as part of a group that gave insights about health and wellness in relation to Latino communities in Grand Rapids and West Michigan. What I found interesting were the parallels between most of the participants’ answers when it came to the subject of access to health care for Hispanic families. Many that recognized Latinos in Michigan underutilized health care and it was often a challenge to connect Hispanic individuals with the value of ideas like preventative measures and health education. Listening to the feedback, I was inspired to consider how marketers can use cultural relevance to break down barriers between education and access to health care for Latino communities.
Several years ago, my wife and I went to the college graduation party for a son of one of her close friends. The young man being honored had just finished a degree in criminal justice from Grand Rapids Community College and was the first in his family to pursue higher education. After proud family members and close friends gave him a standing ovation for his efforts, he composed himself and thanked everyone for attending. I recall the how the conversations that day revolved around him being a pioneer in his family. I also wondered if we would begin to see more Latinos like this young man pursuing higher education. A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center would seem to answer my question. Perhaps more Latino families, like the one above, will soon be attending college graduation parities.
My wife and I took a vacation to the beautiful Canadian city of Toronto recently. We found that Toronto boasts having some of the finest collections of Inuit art and sculpture. The Inuit, who represent the indigenous populations of northern Canada, have maintained many of their traditions and customs for generations. Inspired, I couldn’t help think about similarities with the indigenous populations from Latin America. Like the Inuit, these populations have had a significant impact on the culture and customs of Latinos. As marketers, when we seek to connect with Latino populations, we should consider the values and beliefs held by the indigenous and understand their perseverance in Latin American culture.
Spending time with family this past summer, I was made aware of how multilingual Latino individuals can be. My mother-in-law came to visit from Puerto Rico a few weeks ago and we all gathered for a cookout one day. It was interesting to see the various ways everyone would communicate and interact. My mother-in-law practically spoke all in Spanish. My wife, who grew up both in Puerto Rico and the U.S., easily toggled between English and Spanish. The younger generations, who spoke primarily in English, would occasionally try their hand at Spanish with our visiting matriarch. Yet, despite our various levels of bilingualism, we all able to share together as a family. Assuming our family is just as common as many other Latino families, to what extent should language determine how companies and organizations connect to Hispanics in the U.S.?
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.
Powered by the 2010 Census results, there has been some buzz around the Hispanic marketing arena about what the rapid growth among U.S. Hispanic populations will mean for the future of marketing to Latinos. Traditionally, Hispanic advertising has been seen as a niche-marketing specialty. It was primarily driven by a need to customize brand messages to an under-represented Latino population that spoke Spanish. However, recent insights are now challenging this concept as well as the whole idea of demographic based marketing in itself. One popular fact to emerge from the Census found that over half of all children under two are non-whites. This generation will fuel tremendous growth and change in the U.S. population over the next thirty to forty years. Recent reports also indicate that younger Latinos are language neutral – having neither a preference for Spanish or English. They do, however, value bi-culturalism and being both parts U.S. and Latin American. If Latinos are set to become such an integrated part of the U.S. population, regardless of language, should they really be referred to as a niche market?
When seeking to connect with Hispanic communities, it is important to consider the various factors that determine how Latinos view themselves and the world around them. The diversity of Latin-American cultures and nationalities, the use of Spanish language, and levels of acculturation in the U.S. are just a few of these factors. Insights based on these can resonate with Latino audiences and deliver value. This also implies that marketers should develop distinct and relevant brand messages for Hispanics. But what is a brand to do when Latino branded messages appear to be in conflict or too differentiated from the general market brand message?
I recently accepted a chair position for the marketing committee of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (HCCWM). During a recent meeting, we discussed the breakdown of the HCCWM’s membership base. Roughly half of the organization’s members are “general market” businesses seeking to connect with the region’s Latino customer base. The other half consists of Hispanic business owners. Of these, half are bi-lingual and acculturated to the U.S. way of life but still have significant connections to their Latino roots. The other half consists “recent arrivals”, primarily immigrants from Latin American that are Spanish dominant. We had a good discussion about how we will need to differentiate the HCCWM’s marketing strategies to appeal to these various members.
Last month I wrote a blog post about how banks and financial institutions can better connect with Hispanic clients. Despite a general mistrust of banks among Latino populations, I suggested there are many overlooked opportunities. My main example was the money transfer business, a lucrative market because many hard working Hispanics in the U.S. send funds to support families in their home countries. In addition to remittances, what other options exist for financial institutions? Recently, I was pleased to see a study by the University of Virginia that also suggests there is lost opportunities within the Hispanic market for banks and credit unions.