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Marketing to Hispanics.

DATA FROM THE 2000 Census have confirmed the rapid growth of our state's Hispanic population. There are now approximately 87,000 Hispanics in Arkansas, which represents a 337 percent increase over the count in 1990.

Even before this most recent Census, the signs of Hispanic population growth have been all around us - such as a different business mix, changing curricula in some schools and the debut of El Latino (a weekly newspaper in Spanish for central Arkansas). As the number and buying power of Hispanics continue to grow in Arkansas, it will become even more important for all Arkansas businessmen and women to understand Hispanics as a consumer market.

What should you know about this market for your business? I recently spoke with Michel Leidermann, the editor of El Latino and a consultant to businessmen-and-women who want to attract Latino workers and business partners.

Leidermann made several points:

* The distinction between the labels of "Hispanic" and "Latino" is a fine one. Hispanic is used to describe a person who primarily speaks Spanish; Latino describes a person from Latin America. The terms aren't completely interchangeable (for example, Brazilians live in Latin America, but the primary language in Brazil is Portuguese), but they're often used that way.

* There are many potential differences among Latinos. "Race, language, climate and many other factors form the character of each nationality," according to Leidermann. As one example, Mexico and Argentina are both Spanish-speaking nations but with distinct accents and cultures. When you toss in the differences in consumption patterns between first- and secondgeneration immigrants to America, categories become even more muddled.

* There are some general characteristics of Hispanics in the United States. Principal among these, according to Leidermann, are a strong work ethic and the desire to progress economically. "Latinos in the U.S. work hard for long hours, will work more than one job if needed and will live in groups to save money. They don't complain and don't demand extra benefits."

* Reaching this group of Arkansans requires some extra effort. "Americans, and especially Arkansans, do not understand Latinos," Leidermann told me. "If you treat them fairly, have Spanish available, and make them feel comfortable and welcome, they will be loyal and honest customers ... Advertise that you cater to Latinos, and they will come." Understand that many Hispanic consumers (especially adults) are more comfortable speaking Spanish among themselves, but they still want to sample mainstream American products and services.

Any attempt to understand Hispanics by means of a few adjectives is dicey, however. Here's an example from California that shows the need for careful research and planning. From its debut in the mid-1990s, the "Got milk?" ad campaign appealed to every major demographic group in California except for one: Hispanics (a group composed primarily of Mexican-Americans).

According to an article by Leon Wynter in The Wall Street Journal, managers with the California Milk Processor Board found that the intended humor of the campaign was lost on Mexican-Americans. In fact, these marketers learned-almost too late -- that "not having milk or rice in Hispanic households is not funny; running out of milk means you failed your family." So, the Board quickly developed a new campaign for Hispanics in California titled "Have you given them enough milk today?" Instead of focusing on deprivation, the ads portrayed milk as "an almost sacred ingredient in cherished recipes handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter in traditional Mexican families."

In order to be successful with Hispanic consumers, begin and end with a fundamental business principle: Know your market. It's easy enough to say, "Hispanics have strong family bonds." But, as the California Milk Processor Board learned, it's tougher to take a general description and turn it into a truly customer-centered marketing process.

Understanding Hispanic consumer segments may involve some extra effort, expertise and cost, but there will be a payoff for proactive businesses. The process may even put your company in a better marketing mindset. Hold on to the assumption that your customers and potential customers are different - from one another and, especially, from you.

Jim Karrh, Ph.D., is assistant professor of marketing and advertising in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's College of Business Administration as well as a consultant to corporations and nonprofit organizations.
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Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 18, 2001
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