Culture: More Than a Language
One of the most prominent topics in direct marketing today is ensuring that messaging to customers and prospects is relevant. As it relates to Hispanic marketing, cultural relevance has been trumpeted as the key to opening the door to this consumer group and keeping it open for effective customer retention.
To get a better handle on what cultural relevance means to direct marketers, Target Marketing spoke with Sonya Suarez-Hammond, director of multicultural marketing insights at Yankelovich Inc., a consumer research firm in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Target Marketing: What information can help marketers ensure their communication with Hispanic audiences is culturally relevant?
Sonya Suarez-Hammond: Culturally appropriate marketing is probably the single most important goal they need to achieve to effectively, if you will, influence the Hispanic consumer behavior change.
There are three dimensions of relevance ... We talk about lifestyle relevance, cultural relevance and individual/personal relevance. You need to figure out all three when you talk to the Hispanic consumer. Lifestyle relevance has more to do with the way a person lives their life and how marketing reflects the attitudes and values of them as an individual. Whereas cultural relevance is more about how someone speaks to a person as a member of a race or ethnic group. So, the complexity in Hispanic marketing is that lifestyle is often driven by culture in ethnic communities, and that’s where we bring in the third piece, which we call individual/personal relevance because that combines lifestyle needs with cultural views.
In further explaining cultural relevance, there is subjective culture versus objective cultural elements. Objective culture is more about the things that are tangible, which is what many marketers are focused on … regional foods, Spanish architecture, Latina music. And objective culture is important to get attention. You put a Latina face in a magazine or television ad, I’m going to see that it’s a Latina face, but am I really going to read the copy or get engaged with the commercial? If it’s not anything more than that, it may not be as relevant to me. The other side of the coin is the subjective culture, which is about the attitudes, values and beliefs that define a culture’s orientation to the world. To really persuade a consumer to engage with your brand and ultimately purchase your brand, you need to use subjective cultural elements.
For example, fatalism is a strong cultural characteristic that has to do with if it’s God’s will, then it’s meant to be. But fatalism is a very passive attribute. So if fatalism is a strong cultural characteristic and also a passive one, how does that work with ambition or control? But fatalism can exist with ambition or control. In terms of cultural relevancy, marketers can combat fatalism with action planning. Offer action plans, helping Hispanics with step-by-step instructions.
TM: How can marketers maintain the connection throughout a continuing dialogue with Hispanic customers?
SS: Fifty-eight percent of Hispanics, versus 37 percent of non-Hispanic whites, say they are overwhelmed by all the sources of information available today. When you add the additional barriers in terms of the Hispanic consumer … language and not enough consumer empowerment tools, one of the things marketers can do as a result of this knowledge is to help simplify the life of Hispanics. Marketers can help reduce this stress by, again, offering guidance and step-by-step instructions. Traditionally, Hispanic consumers tend to look for firm advice as opposed to multiple opinions.
We know that we need to better support Hispanic consumer empowerment, and empowerment tools are not abundantly available in the Hispanic market. Yet we know that ethnic consumers in general take advantage of technology for the empowerment aspect that it provides … From the marketing perspective, of those Hispanics who don’t go online, 40 percent of Hispanics versus 14 percent of non-Hispanic whites say they don’t have anyone to show them how to use the Internet. So here’s obviously something from a promotional standpoint that is a big opportunity.
Another finding is that 76 percent of the Hispanic-dominant, high-cultural affinity group said they would buy more products online if retailers offered more information in Spanish versus, for example, 38 percent of the bicultural group. So language should not be a barrier when it comes to Hispanic marketing. We talk a lot about the language issue, and I think that marketers need to get over [the question of] “Do I do it in English? Do I do it in Spanish?” I think in many cases, it’s both languages that have to be used … and the important thing is that, in either language, you need to be culturally relevant.
The principles of relationship marketing really are at the core of Hispanic consumer messaging. It’s about understanding that the process of reaching out to the Hispanic market has to be continuous. It’s not about coming in on a one-time basis with a direct mail piece or a sampling effort in a grassroots event. It’s inclusive, a process that begins with welcoming Hispanic consumers, responding to them and interacting with them.