Finding success marketing in the Hispanic segment: Google Translate is not enough

Story and photo by JUSTIN TROMBETTI

What if I told you that the majority of marketers are missing out on close to 20 percent of their viable market?

They spend countless hours on strategy, execution, and data analysis, tirelessly working to drive results for their company. In the planning stages, this usually means determining different avenues for reaching their ideal customers. Why, then, is so much still missed when it comes to targeting the market segment with an estimated purchasing power in the trillions?

The short answer is that, even if businesses realize leaving out the Hispanic segment is a big miss, throwing ad copy into Google Translate and calling it a win is about as effective as windshield flyers at a local mall.

Understanding the Hispanic segment means going beyond language barriers. It also means figuring out how Latinx audiences are different from their non-ethnic counterparts (and perhaps more importantly, how they’re not).

Human beings don’t fit into a nicely labeled box, but stereotypes are not the same as purchase behaviors.

Alex Guzman, a former Guatemalan senator and the voice of Latin America’s version of Tony the Tiger, seems to agree. Guzman currently serves as the president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the financial power of the Latinx segment is far from lost on him.

In an interview with the Voices of Utah press pool, he stressed that this power goes beyond population compositions. Hispanics as a cohort spend hard. A product of the cultural happy-go-lucky mentality, savings accounts are an oft fleeting concept when the latest product hits the market.

Guzman went as far as to say that some of the best market tests can be run on this segment, which has no fear of price points when they think the return on investment is there.

The struggle becomes finding the best ways to go about reaching this vibrant segment. Guzman agrees with the data sets; they show that millennials — who make up over half of the Hispanic population — are on social media, but TV is crucial. It accounts for almost half of all marketing spend in the Hispanic segment, and it’s the channel Guzman believes integral to reaching the older demographics.

Perhaps the most important point Guzman mentioned was that Hispanic segments are extremely brand loyal. Earning that loyalty means resonating on a cultural level, not just a lingual one.

But if reaching the Hispanic population is as much about culture as it is language — let’s not conflate a simple translation being insufficient with it being unimportant — how do we marketers tap into that?

Eric Nielsen is a Hispanic Utahn who works at Soundwell, a popular local club that hosts Latin nights on Fridays in downtown Salt Lake City. He gave some insight as both a Hispanic and someone with experience promoting the events.

He was straightforward about the community focus around these events, and how it makes them effective. “You get a lot of older people mixed in with the younger ones, more than you see at other kinds of events,” Nielsen said in a recent phone interview.

He continues that there is consistency with the people there, the DJs, and the atmosphere in general. The diversity comes from the variety of weekly themes for the events. Nielsen believes that when so few major venues have a Latin focus, the community element is crucial to the club’s success; the events tap in to the norms and idiosyncrasies of the average Hispanic family in order to deliver an experience that feels authentic.

It should be unsurprising by now that social media is integral in promoting these events, given the Hispanic millennial demographics mentioned above. Word of mouth, though, is also integral. While most older populations of Hispanics are watching TV, you’ll be hard-pressed to see any clubs promoting on those channels.

In this way, the success of events that focus on the community also rely on it to stay relevant.

Madelynn Conrad, a seasoned marketer with familial connections to Hispanic culture, knows firsthand how challenging overcoming this “marketing gap” can be. In a recent interview, she detailed her experience working with a Hispanic-owned bakery that saw an almost 10 percent increase in sales after two weeks working with her.

00100dPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20190226210611356_COVER-min

Conrad speaks to Voices of Utah from her home office.

From a business to business standpoint, she sees vast room for improvement in the marketing sector.

Conrad had to earn the bakery’s business with old-school persistence; she was the first marketer to reach out, pitch, and successfully close the bakery on a contract for marketing services.

“A lot of people in [the owner’s] family owned their own businesses, or sold things in their own way, and none of them actually used any real form of marketing other than flyers,” Conrad stated.

“[The owner] didn’t actually realize that there were people out there that specifically do just marketing, and she didn’t think that it could be effective,” Conrad continued. “She generally assumed that marketing was a big corporation idea.

“All I really had to do was show her that I could make a difference. She was actually really determined to maintain the idea that marketing wouldn’t work for her business.”

There’s something to be said for the fact that not all service sector professionals are well-rounded marketers or businesspeople, but Conrad believes there were cultural barriers at play with this client.

She told me “there weren’t a lot of resources available to help [the bakery owner] in the first place, like a business association for a meet-up that educated small business owners in her community specifically.”

While resources like the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce seek to provide businesses with these tools, they’re still just one entity in a state where the Latinx population is booming. In closing, Conrad suggests that there are issues of capacity and awareness with these resources that lead businesses like her bakery client to feel like they’re on their own.

Next time you think of phoning in a Google Translate ad for your Facebook campaign, consider what you might be missing out on, and consider whether or not your message will permeate across cultural barriers.