I am not white: Why general marketing strategies fail when marketing to Hispanics

Image of birth certificate - Marketing to Hispanics

“Where’s your accent from?” If I had a penny every time someone asked me this, I could potentially pay off all my credit cards in a week. However, it is not the fact that people recognize I am not 100% American that bothers me, but when I reveal where my accent comes from they look surprised and amazed. I am a tall, light skinned Mexican, and apparently, the media has not done a great job at portraying what the spectrum of Hispanics looks like.

“Oh my! I could have sworn you were from Eastern Europe” Not quite. Just because I am white, does not mean my heritage is tied to a European country. We live in a new world where race and culture do not longer encompass one another. Maybe in past centuries race was a viable way to gage a person’s identity, but with the technological advances and the vast globalization that keeps taking place, race has become an obsolete factor when deciding how to segment people.

The ubiquitous difference between race and ethnicity explains how racial categories (which result from a shared genealogy due to geographical isolation) do not apply in the modern world because isolation has been broken down leaving racial groups mixed. Ethnicity, on the other hand, withstands time by being the ancestral, social, cultural, or national shared experiences of a group of people. Nevertheless, the problem we face as Hispanics in the US is that the connotations that come with these misunderstood concepts affect our psychology, and more importantly the way we succeed and interact in society.

For Latinos living in the US (born in the US or not) being classified as white under our race is confusing. Yet, for marketers, this can be the space for them to offer solutions.

 I am called a “Gringa” whenever I go to Mexico to visit my family, while I am the “Mexican” of my friends’ group here in the US. I am left floating in a new borderline culture, a neoculturation, where I genuinely feel like I am neither from here nor there (this has been and will continue changing the way people relate to one another). The internal issue of not knowing where I identify myself from is not really a negative one, and I am not the only one affected by this.

Rather than just adapting to our new environment, us Hispanics are shifting our mentality and understanding the American reasoning with our Latino outlook. Slowly we have been able to relate to the Hispanic culture with fluency in America. Our ability to undertake another culture into our psyche is something that previous generations have done for years, yet marketers had failed to acknowledge this.

Society has grown to the point that marketers (anyone, really) can no longer rely on generalizations to determine or distinguish Hispanics because it fails to connect with us. Paying attention to the insights and observing, clearly separating the variety of ethnicities in the US is key in accessing this growing demographic.

The two Hispanic segments that marketers need to focus on are Latinos that have acculturated to the US (Foreign-born) and Latinos that have lived in the US all their lives (born). It is essential for Marketers to understand the difference between these two. Just because a group of Hispanics speaks English 80% of the time (Shout out to my Chicanos!) does not mean they do not identify as such.

When looking to create campaigns and content to market to Hispanics, marketers need to segment accordingly. First, there needs to be an understanding of the Hispanic demographic in the US. According to the Hispanic Millennial Project (HMP)*, 65% of all US Hispanics are millennials. Two out of Three Hispanic millennials are born in the US, and out of those born in the US, only 40% speak Spanish. This leaves a marketer with a demographic that is more affected by customs and socialization than language. Translating content to Spanish is no longer enough, there needs to be a cultural interpretation for the majority of the US Hispanics to relate to.

Naturally, as a foreign-born Hispanic millennial myself, I have come to understand that being a transcultural being is a positive factor that will be advantageous when navigating the society we are heading to. Foreign-born Hispanics are entrepreneurial at heart, the HMP showed that Hispanic millennials value independence, and are likely to be risk takers, and respond positively to messages that highlight these qualities. However, when marketing to Hispanics, this kind of significant insight is not being applied into strategies.

It is understandable why strategies and marketing plans fail to dig deeper into the Hispanic demographic, generalizing simplifies. Challenges remain in tying complex identities to category-specific attitudes and behaviors, not every marketer has the team or resources available to succeed at marketing to Hispanics. This is where multicultural agencies come into play. By hiring and working with agencies specializing in these multicultural groups, marketers and businesses alike can reach the full spectrum of Hispanic people living in the US.

So, if a brand is going after the very lucrative Hispanic market, it is clear that they are dealing with a challenge as unique and personalized as their strategies. Checking a box limits when trying to uncover the insights that can lead to a new world of prospects. I am not white because Hispanics are a multiracial community of individuals, checking a box does nothing to understand our unique nuances and needs. Rethinking the approach by collaborating with specialized teams will prove worthy of marketers’ time, and will be in it for the big rewards that come from tapping into this growing demographic.

*Conducted by Sensis and ThinkNow

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