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Marketing to Nation’s 44M Hispanic Population Coming of Age

BY RICK BELL

Pundits might argue that ignoring the estimated trillion dollars annually pumped into the U.S. economy by Hispanics would be the kiss of death for any rational thinking business.

Call it poor business judgment on the part of an industry destined to go the way of the buggy whip, yet several of the nation’s largest companies still waver on marketing to the country’s Spanish-speaking population of some 44 million as of 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Financial services like banks and insurance companies haven’t quite caught on,” said San Diego-based Sun Marketing President Mary Beth McCabe, who began her marketing career in 1979 at Spanish-language TV network Univision Communications’ affiliate station in Chicago. “They’ve been slower to adopt Hispanic marketing.”

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Sure, megabanks like Citigroup and Washington Mutual Inc. have other concerns in the face of the subprime mortgage meltdown. And it’s entirely possible that as insurance companies continue posting healthy profits, there may not be a sense of urgency to mine for new business.

Yet McCabe, who also worked in local television for McKinnon Broadcasting’s KUSI-TV when she arrived here, said when she opened her marketing firm in the early 1990s, marketing to Spanish speakers was a completely foreign concept here, despite a booming Hispanic population and an international border just a 15-minute drive from downtown.

“They were so slow to get it; people tended to look at their own habits and think others have the same values,” said McCabe, whose clients include several local auto dealerships and national clients Gerber Foods and Pardee Homes.


Turning Point

Still, there are companies that see value in Hispanic marketing.

Besides population figures and spending habits, there’s plenty more data available quantifying it. Univision now offers marketers research from the Nielsen Homescan Fusion Project on Hispanic consumers’ specific purchases; and a national study released early this month by comScore Inc. for Terra Networks USA revealed the habits of Hispanic Internet users.

So, the methods of gathering data on consumers are highly sophisticated, and the data is virtually irrefutable. Bottom line, the numbers don’t lie.

“Companies closest to the cash register see it,” McCabe said. “Grocery stores and other retailers are working one-on-one with Hispanics. Other companies may be too far removed to notice. But the money is there.”

Telecommunications firms also have realized the value of the submarket. McCabe says Pardee’s Spanish-language Web site has received “millions” of clicks.


Growing Segment

That comes as no surprise to Ceanne Guerra, media and public relations manager for Cox Communications Inc. in San Diego. Guerra said 40 percent of Cox’s Hispanic households had high-speed Internet in 2007, compared to 36 percent in 2006.

“Latinos are the largest-growing group of Internet users,” Guerra said. “The Internet is very important to them. They want their children to be able to use it for educational purposes, but they’re using it more and more to shop online and download music.”

While the marketing techniques aren’t radically different between English-speaking and Spanish-speaking audiences, Guerra said Cox has a focus on certain products that appeal to their Hispanic market. Cox offers no Spanish-language channels in high-definition, but a majority of the 40 percent subscribing to Cox’s Internet service also take the 27-channel Paquete Latino digital cable tier.

Cox also has discovered a growing demand for calling plans to Mexico for a large number of Hispanics who traditionally use calling cards.

Sports and family programming also are big draws, Guerra said.


Person-To-Person

But it’s not all gadgets, she said. Hispanics also appreciate the human touch.

“Latinos also really like the fact that we have retail locations where they can walk in and get personal assistance in English or Spanish,” she said.

McCabe added that Hispanic consumers are extremely loyal, be it to a radio station, a television personality or a product.

“That’s something companies are finally seeing,” McCabe said. “There’s a whole new generation of Hispanics in the 12 to 24 age group that really hasn’t been approached yet, and their loyalties are still developing. They haven’t been over-approached, and savvy companies understand they need to market to this group.”


Rick Bell is a Poway-based freelance writer.

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