Hispanics are now the largest minority and fastest growing population segment in the U.S., with annual spending power of more than $540 billion. As a result, marketers are scrambling harder than ever to address this market, which, in addition to its impressive size, is unified by a common language.
Yet despite its promise, Hispanics as a buying bloc pose a number of challenges, including segmentation by national origin and varying levels of acculturation, according to speakers on a panel at last month's Wharton Marketing Conference.
Mike O'Shea, vice president of business development at Spanish language television network Telemundo, suggested that the 2000 Census, which showed the Hispanic population had grown by 53 percent since 1990, was a wake-up call to corporate America. "CEOS were reading about it and passing notes to marketing directors asking, 'What are we doing to target this consumer?'"
The answer for many companies is to hire strategic marketing directors to produce new business. "What better opportunity is there than the Hispanic market because it is the fastest growing consumer segment," said O'Shea. "It's a market you can really build your brand with." Hispanic influence is especially apparent in mainstream culture, O'Shea added, noting that Latin artists such as Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony are at the top of the Billboard charts, not just the Latin charts. Salsa, he said, outsells ketchup, and a third of all major league baseball players are Hispanic.
Dina Weitzman, vice president of Hispanic markets at Citigroup, predicted the Hispanic market will experience a steady stream of immigration, unlike the European immigration waves in the early 1900s that eventually stopped. "The Hispanic segment continues to immigrate because of economic difficulties," she said. "You will continue to see a wide variety of first, second and third-generation people and those who arrived here last week. There will be the full spectrum, from those who are acculturated to those who have no clue what's going on in the United States."
Video Cameras in Household Kitchens
According to Yolanda Angulo, area director for multicultural marketing in the New York region for Kraft Foods, her company has established geographic-opportunity teams to create marketing programs targeting Hispanic, African-American and Kosher consumers. The company is conducting research into the way consumers in these segments use food products, and has installed video cameras into household kitchens. "We are going into consumers' households and living with them. We're cooking with them." Angulo has learned, for example, that people in her target markets usually have smaller kitchens in the United States than in their home countries, and tend to add a lot of spices to liven up their foods.
Within the Hispanic market there are distinct segments. People of Mexican heritage make up 66.9 percent of the U.S. Hispanic populations followed by Central and South Americans at 14.3 percent, Puerto Ricans at 8.6 percent and Cubans at 3.7 percent, according to the census. Given this breakdown, the panelists agreed that it is difficult to slice up the Hispanic market by national origin. O'Shea, however, noted that his advertisers have the same message for Cubans in Miami and Mexicans in Los Angeles. "I treat the market in a monolithic way which makes a lot of marketers cringe. Still, it's the Spanish language that is the catalyst of the culture."
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