Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How to Attract U.S. English Dominant Latinos...Don't Do Anything!

The quick answer is: don't do anything (different).
U.S. Companies (particularly media companies) are tripping over themselves coming up with strategies to attract Latinos in an effort to grow their business. The problem is there is no "one size fits all" approach and what's being presented so far - is a double edged sword for that community.
The best way to target Spanish dominant Latinos in the U.S. is to speak their language and recognize their individuality (Mexicans see themselves as Mexicans, Colombians see themselves as Colombians and so on. No one lumps themselves into one category: Latino).
The best way to target English dominant Latinos is to continue to do what you do best...and better. They are often fully acculturated and identify more with the general population than as a separate community.
The biggest challenge are bilinguals, whose choices are determined by their comfort zone (in regards to language) and preferences (influenced by country of origin).
While the U.S. census places the 50 million+ Latinos in one simple bucket...the truth is that community is very diverse, split in 3 categories (arguably 4 or more).
-Spanish dominant (primarily foreign born)
-English dominant (primarily U.S. born)
-Bilingual (born in the U.S. or abroad)
-Latinos don't call themselves "Latino or Hispanic"....they identify themselves by their country of origin or that of their parents (ex. I identify myself as a Peruvian-American).
Back to English dominant, U.S. Latinos (the focus of this article) think that force feeding them specialty content/services because of ethnicity is ignorant, short sighted and border line discriminatory.
I am a first generation, U.S. born, Peruvian-American who is fully bilingual, but has a preference for consuming media in English (at least 85-90% of the time). 
I'm also 42 years old, married for 11 years (to a Colombian national) parent to two grade school children (boy and girl), is a journalist, live in the northeast, home owner, both parents are living, have 3 sisters, plays golf, etc., etc.
I give you those few examples to demonstrate that while I certainly have many things in common with Peruvian-Americans, Latinos in general...I most certainly have more things in common with people who share my experiences.
I am not a Latino man.
I am a man who is Latino.
Understanding those differences is key for any company looking to target me (the consumer). I'm certainly aware of marketing initiatives focused on Latinos and I'm appreciative of the effort (recognition), but I don't choose to watch a program or buy a product based on that.
Like all well informed consumers I purchase based on relevancy (to my lifestyle, quality and personal budget.
To create ethnic specific platforms in an effort to get my business is patronizing. It assumes that my likes/dislikes are solely based on my race.
I find it humorous when people I meet or colleagues at work think that I automatically am an expert on soccer, J-Lo (Shakira, Ricky Martin, etc.) and Mexican food.
I can't tell you how many times I have received compliments for my English. "Wow, you speak so accent." I should hope so after 16+ years of schooling in the U.S. (and that I was born in New Jersey...and no, no Joiseey accent). There's nothing wrong with having a Spanish accent (but that's a conversation for a different time).
The same thing can be applied in the workplace.
I think it's great that media companies like FOX and ABC (among the many) are creating networks specific to Latinos and that those ventures will create jobs.
What concerns me is who will lead those ventures? Many companies are turning to executives in Spanish only media who are not U.S. born and don't have a clear understanding of the English dominant Latino market.
They're approaching a new business model from a very different perspective...simply put what is successful in Spanish only platforms doesn't mean they will be successful in English.
And who will be hired? Surely many will be first/second generation Latinos (the target audience), but is that a good thing?

It's one thing to be hired by a well established company and have the experience to do the job (first) and the sensibility in understanding the Latino community (second) in order to grow your business (Latinos are the majority or the emerging majority in many markets). It's another to be pigeon holed, segregated to a specific part of a business (when you can contribute to the whole).

Now I'm not burning the brown flag at all. My record speaks for itself (in championing opportunities for Latinos (in the Spanish and English markets).

I'm just opposed to segregation. Instead of creating networks focused on producing content for English speaking Latinos, try being inclusive in your existing network (in front of and behind the camera).

Producing content specific to Latinos in English assumes that community is not interested in anything that doesn't involve them...nothing could be farther from the truth.

It's not as if a spaceship landed on the U.S. in 2010 and delivered the English dominant Latinos...we've been around for several generations.
I'm a first generation Latino, most of my peers are not fully bilingual. They may understand Spanish, but do not speak, read or write it fluently enough to consume media. And that is a realistic conclusion based on their upbringing.
Like so many other immigrant communities before, Latinos were discriminated because of their lack of understanding the English language, accent, education and just being different. In an attempt to protect their children against the racism they endured - parents pushed their children to integrate fully.
Obviously, things are different now. Largely driven by the entertainment industry (in the last 20 years), it's cool to be Latino. After the 2000 U.S. Census showed the direction of the population growth (Latinos leading the way), corporate America (in their strategy to grow profits) took notice and helped push the social revolution that we are in right now.
Whether it's to setup cable, make plane reservations, open a credit card or pay your bills (to name a few) - there's always a number to punch in order to accommodate Spanish speaking Latinos.  
The result of all of that attention is that Latinos who were (for the most part) conditioned to assimilate to the U.S. way of life are "coming out" (to borrow a phrase often used by Gay and Lesbians). This interest or re-acculturation with their roots is what's confusing all of these companies to create specialty content platforms and content in order to target English dominant Latinos.
For example I gravitate to English only networks when watching news and information, entertainment and sporting events with few exceptions. One of them is futbol (soccer). I rather watch games and get information about the different leagues (domestic and foreign) in Spanish. This is largely driven by how I grew up watching games with my family, but if truth be told -- the way the Spanish language announcers call the game is much more exciting than their English only counterparts.
Before joining ESPN, I watched the network, not because I thought they were paying attention to me (as a Latino). I became a viewer because they're the best at producing specialty content (sports). I know what I'm going to get when I turn on SportsCenter.
Now, if ESPN wanted me to watch more than twice a week for 20 minutes at a time (instead of Univision, Telemundo or FOX), then they should consider improving their coverage of soccer (the most popular sport on the planet and an emerging sport in the U.S.).
So, before you (Dear Mr. Media Company) start writing out checks that in 3-5 years time (when the unrealistic projected return on your investment and poorly thought out research and execution) will result in shutting down shops and laying off employees...please consider this:
-50 million+ Latinos in the U.S. do not fit neatly into one bucket.
-The best way to reach Spanish dominant Latinos is through language and sensibility to their country of origin
-Good luck with the bilinguals (getting them to cross over from one language platform to the other is difficult.
-The best way to reach English dominant Latinos is to be more inclusive by reflection (in front of the camera and behind the scenes), improve your product (you should be doing that anyway) and social commitment (invest in my community (not necessarily Latino community) and I will invest in you.
As always, your feedback is welcomed.

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