Latin Beat

Reach Out

Marketing and selling to the U.S. Latino audience is often easier and less expensive than reaching the general market. A variety of strategies can be effective in reaching this audience.

  • Advertising. Latino and Spanish-language media reach their audiences more comprehensively and more intimately than mass media for two reasons. First, there is relatively little media targeting this market. The general market's attention is courted by five national networks and an average of 60 cable TV channels. In print, the general market has more than 500 magazines to choose from. For the Latino market, in contrast, there are just two national broadcast networks, Univision and Telemundo; a few cable channels, such as Gems Television; and only a handful of magazines, including Frontera and Latino Link. Consequently, the Latino media that exist deliver at a much higher penetration rate than non-Latino media.

In addition, Latino media usually have a more intimate connection with the reader, viewer or listener. Isabel Valdes, president of The Market Connections Group of Cultural Axis Worldwide, a research marketing firm in Los Altos, California, that helps clients develop marketing strategies to reach Latinos, notes that for Latino audiences, Spanish-language networks serve as a replacement for the culture of their native countries. As a result, Latino audiences welcome advertising as a good source of product information. Quite simply, the trust level associated with Spanish television can boost your advertising message.

Advertising in Latino media is considerably more economical than general-market advertising. The cost of a national TV ad may be prohibitive, but the price of a local cable or network spot may be cheaper than you think. Print advertising, too, is less expensive on a cost-per-thousand basis than comparable advertising in general-market print media.

Whether your ad should run in English or Spanish depends on the acculturation level of your target market. For example, the number-one radio station in San Antonio, Texas, has a bilingual format called "Tejano." The disc jockeys speak English, or a mixture of Spanish and English called "Spanglish," while the music is entirely in Spanish. An ad in either English or Spanish would likely be effective in this bilingual, acculturated city.

In Latina magazine, clients advertise in either English or Spanish. Because of the magazine's bilingual, acculturated audience, you can run your general-market ad without worrying that the audience won't understand it.

However, in Los Angeles, if you choose to advertise in the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion or on Spanish radio station KLAX, you must advertise in Spanish.

Keep a few caveats in mind before running a Spanish-language ad. First, if you can't serve customers in Spanish--whether over the phone or in person--advertising in Spanish-language media may be ill-advised. Second, it's rare that a literal translation of your English-language advertising message truly "translates." If you can't afford to use a Spanish-language focus group or other method to test your advertising campaign, run your Spanish translation by the publishers or broadcasters you're using. They're usually happy to be your proofreaders (or even your translators) because it isn't in their best interest to have you run an ineffective or insulting ad that garners no business and causes you to stop advertising with them.

  • Direct mail. Direct mail can be one of the least expensive and most successful ways to promote your product or service for a few reasons. First, most Latinos have one of a few thousand common Latino surnames. This means any database can be examined and the Latino surnames culled, creating a new Latino database.

Numerous companies rent lists for as little as $50 per thousand names. The more specialized a list, the higher its cost and the smaller the number of available names. You can also ask your list rental company to sort names by ZIP code to help you hit a specific geographic target.

Latinos tend to be more responsive to direct mail than the general population, perhaps because they receive, on average, less direct mail than other Americans. Direct mail in Spanish can be even more effective. According to Rick Blume, general manager of Database Management, a division of Stevens-Knix and Associates Inc. in New York City, Latinos are more responsive to direct mail because they get one-tenth as much direct mail in Spanish as whites get in English (fewer than 35 pieces a year, compared to 350). "When Hispanics receive direct mail," Blume adds, "they open it to see what it is. And every direct marketer knows that getting someone to open the mail is half the game."

  • Promotions. Most Latino communities hold events throughout the year, such as parades, cultural fairs and concerts, that attract large groups. For example, the New York City Puerto Rican Day Parade held every June typically attracts more than 1 million spectators. This is one of the advantages of the geographic concentration and cultural affinity for family activities that makes reaching the Latino audience easier.

Most cultural fairs and parades have low-cost sponsorship opportunities that allow you to set up a booth or distribute samples. Supporting the Latino community's activities will raise your profile and give you concentrated access to the market. Contact the nearest Hispanic Chamber of Commerce or community center to find out what events take place in your area.

  • Public relations. There are publicists who specialize in the Latino market; they can help your product or service get coverage from the Latino media. The Los Angeles-based Hispanic Public Relations Association is a good place to start your search.

Targeting the Latino market takes time, patience and sensitivity. However, if you make the effort to learn about the Latino audience, examine how your business can serve this market and avoid making assumptions, you may just find that your new Latino customers turn out to be your most valuable.

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This article was originally published in the June 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Latin Beat.

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