Does Your Business Speak Spanish?

The Hispanic market is big -- and getting bigger, but tapping its potential requires a deft touch, as two experts explain

The California Milk Processor Board (CMPB) launched its first Hispanic advertising campaign nearly a decade ago, taking "Got Milk?" to the Spanish-language audience. Translating its popular advertising campaign wasn't nearly as simple as it seemed, however, and CMPB has learned a lot over the years, made some mistakes, and broken ground for a host of companies struggling to sell to the $500 billion Hispanic market.

Can small business tap this lucrative audience? Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein turned for some insights to Jeff Manning, executive director of the CMPB (which is funded by California milk processors and administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture) and Anita Santiago, creative director and president of Anita Santiago Advertising of Los Angeles.

Q: You two took the wildly successful "Got Milk?" advertising campaign to the Spanish-speaking community. How did it go over?


Actually, it didn't. I pointed out to Jeff during our initial meetings that "Got Milk?" can translate literally to "Are You Lactating?" in Spanish. Along with the wording problem, I knew that Hispanic women would not find the idea of running out of food -- or milk -- funny. So, the "milk deprivation" campaign wouldn't work in this market.

Q: How did you change the approach to suit the audience?


We took a different, far more traditional approach, building on a generational strategy. The original campaign carried the tag line Y Usted, ¿Les dio suficiente leche hoy? ("And you, did you give them enough milk today?") and was built around family recipes that used milk as the main ingredient. We later expanded the strategy to include out-of-the-glass drinking situations, and the tag line changed to Familia Amor y Leche ("Family, Love and Milk"). The campaigns position milk as an essential part of the family, and of the Hispanic culture.

Q: So there was a huge strategy shift involved in reaching this market. Does it always take that big a leap?


While the Hispanic market is a great opportunity, business owners do have to think completely differently to reach it. Before they invest a lot of money in Spanish-language advertising, entrepreneurs should figure out whether they have a product or service that the Hispanic community will need or want, whether they can actually satisfy that need, and whether they can market it in a culturally sensitive way. They also need to remember that if they want those customers, they may have to hire bilingual employees, or set up their business in a different way to serve that market.

Q: How does an entrepreneur set about studying the Hispanic market to determine whether it will be a viable one for his or her company?


Look into obtaining some kind of expertise, or counsel, from those who understand the Hispanic market and its habits. It will help make your marketing efforts worthwhile and it won't be a waste of money. I also recommend that people avail themselves of all the census figures and demographics they can get, especially in regard to the local population. After that, you analyze your budget, decide what kind of return on investment you need, and that will dictate what kind of media you'll be using. Jeff: I think one of the best investments you can make in terms of research is just to get out of your store or office and go visit companies that are successfully marketing to Hispanics. For instance, there are small, independent grocery stores in Southern California that want to bring in more Hispanic shoppers. I tell them to go visit the smaller bodegas and supermarkets that cater to Latino tastes and walk around, observe, and talk to people -- if you know the language. It doesn't cost anything, but you'll see there is a tremendous difference in how the food is displayed, what products are carried, how they set up the meat department, and other things. It's a great education to see how things are done -- and you may realize that you don't want to change your business that much.

Q: What are some of the nuances of the Hispanic population that small companies should keep in mind when targeting their marketing campaigns?


One big thing is that the majority of the Hispanic market in the U.S. is on the young side, so there isn't a huge demand for senior products like we're seeing in the general demographic. So, an entrepreneur can't just assume that the age ranges are the same. Also, Spanish-speaking immigrants are setting up their homes and raising kids. Luxuries...aren't what most of them are thinking about when it comes to spending money.

Jeff: Remember that geography has a lot to do with your strategy. But then, most small businesses in neighborhoods dominated by Hispanic consumers should already be marketing to them. Also, make contact with the local Hispanic media, such as the Spanish-language newspapers and radio stations. There are also good contacts at the Small Business Administration, the Latin Business Assn., and the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

Q: What about online advertising? Are Spanish-language Web sites a viable means of advertising?


Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of online users, so that's an area that's changing very fast. Spanish-speakers mostly use the Internet for chats and entertainment, rather than shopping, but AOL is designating a portion of its bandwidth to Spanish-language sites, and Univision has a large online presence.

Jeff: I think business owners can throw a lot of money into online marketing -- and get very little back, if they're not careful. We've found that Spanish-dominant consumers want to touch, feel, and smell the product -- they want face-to-face contact -- before they make a purchase. They're very conservative buyers, so the Internet advertising may be good for awareness, but not for sales. Another drawback is that the Spanish market is still behind the times on using credit cards, which fuel most online purchases.

Q: How can a mainstream business successfully reach the Hispanic buying public?


The bottom line is that you have to hire someone who is culturally plugged in on the Hispanic side and have someone on the management team who will make a real commitment to the Hispanic clientele. Often, I'm told that a company has opened a new, ethnic-marketing division, and I find out that the person heading it up is an Anglo assistant brand manager who doesn't even speak Spanish. In order to successfully reach this population, you have to hire differently.

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