Digital & Social Media

Tapping the Bilingual Voices of Hispanic-American Millennials

Tapping the Bilingual Voices of Hispanic-American Millennials
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According to the Pew Research Center, one out of every four babies born in the United States is of Hispanic descent; one in every five schoolchildren is Latino. “Never before has a minority ethnic group made up so large a share of the youngest Americans,” the center reported. So FleishmanHillard TRUE decided to ask Linda Gonzalez, the chair-elect of AHAA: The Voice of Hispanic Marketing, about the growing importance of the Hispanic millennial, the fastest growing segment of the next great consumer demographic.

TRUE: If you’re a brand, why should you focus on Hispanic millennials?

Linda Gonzalez

Linda Gonzalez

Gonzalez: Take a city like Los Angeles. If you’re targeting the millennial market there, you’d better make sure you are focusing on the Hispanic millennial because their millennial population is more than 50 percent Hispanic. You have similar breakdowns in cities like New York, Miami and Chicago. And it’s the fastest growing consumer market segment. Every 30 seconds, a Latino turns 18, meaning an average of 904,000 Hispanics will turn 18 every year from now until 2028.

The Hispanic population is the largest and youngest minority group in America. So the future for brands is in that population. Brands like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s recognized that a couple of decades ago, but even they have been steadily improving their game when it comes to engaging the community. As the non-Hispanic white population is getting older and older, Hispanics are just entering their greatest consumer spending years, having babies, starting careers, so no brand, particularly a consumer product brand, can deny that they need the Latino dollar these days.

When I first opened my agency 18 years ago, we couldn’t even get near the C-suite to talk about the Hispanic market opportunity. We would get to talk to some low-level brand guys if we were lucky. We were still at the begging and pleading stage when it came to paying attention to the Hispanic community. Even now, you still see brands just translating a marketing message they used for the non-Hispanic population and thinking if it’s in Spanish then that’s good enough. But that’s not going to resonate authentically with most Hispanics: There are subtle cultural cues that relate directly to Hispanics that non-Hispanics would not even notice. For example, how people react and interact with one another in a TV spot. Hispanics tend to speak with one another within several inches while non-Hispanic Anglos keep a distance of three feet or so. Communication is much more than what language is used. But these days, the C-suite is definitely paying attention.

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TRUE: When did you first start feeling this recognition of the importance of the community?

Gonzalez: When the 2010 census came out. That made a huge impact; you need only compare 2000 and 2010, and look at the projections. The U.S. is becoming a nation of people of color, and the fastest growing segment is Hispanic. I think that opened some eyes.

TRUE: How important is social media when trying to reach the Hispanic community? How active is the Hispanic community in general on social, and in particular, how much is that driven by Hispanic millennials?

Gonzalez: Social media is critical when trying to engage this community. Hispanic Americans over-index the general market considerably when it comes to social media use. They are the most engaged audience in this country. Culturally, it makes sense. Hispanics are natural communicators and have larger social communities – so we have a lot of people to communicate with. Our immediate families tend to be larger, and then our extended families include lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. We celebrate everything with all of them – birthdays, baptisms, anniversaries and more. Most of us have family and close friends living in Latin America as well, which makes Facebook and Twitter good ways to stay in touch and up to date.

Of course, Hispanic millennials, like other millennials who grew up with technology, are social media natives. The typical Hispanic social user, in fact, is somewhere between 18 and 34. And this cuts across all the groups within the Hispanic community — Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans, etc.

Hispanic millennials using social probably skew female. They also tend to be bilingual and came to the U.S. at a young age or were born here. They’re seeking a voice, a bilingual voice, and you will find them blogging a lot. For instance, you saw the power of social in the Hispanic community when immigration reform became a trending issue a year or so ago. All the commentary around immigration reform helped unify and engage the community on the subject. Much of that came from young Hispanics who worry about parents being deported or parents of their friends. It is an issue that really resonates in that demographic.

TRUE: You talk about a bilingual voice. On social, are Hispanics usually participating in English or Spanish?

Gonzalez: If you look at Latino blogs, you’ll see a great mix. About 38 percent of Hispanic adults are Spanish-language dominant or Spanish-language preferred, and then there’s another 30-something percent that’s bilingual, and then the rest speak English as their primary language. On Twitter and Facebook, you’ll see people going back and forth, and a comfortable use of Spanglish, too. Hispanic millennials tend to speak English, and some aren’t even fully fluent in Spanish, but they all know the necessary jargon, and you’ll see their postings sprinkled with Spanish words and Spanglish. For them, it’s another way they live their culture.

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TRUE: How do Hispanic millennials differ from other millennials?

Gonzalez: Well, I think it goes back to that bilingual voice they are looking for. While they speak English, they are very tied to their Hispanic culture. They identify as Hispanics. Part of that is because many of them live in Hispanic neighborhoods, still live at home with their parents and often stay until they get married. It’s not just a few; statistically as many as half of unmarried Hispanic millennials are living at home. Hispanic millennials live with their parents because it is culturally acceptable and expected.

I love the Hispanic millennial’s outlook on life because they’re so distinctly positive. They look forward to the future; they’re happy about their lives. They celebrate everything from birthdays, to baptisms, to grades — you name it. And even as they are very much into traditional culture, they’re also very trendy. So they’re very much into the culture of now and the “Hispanic trinity” of food, family and music.

You can throw sports in there, too. But it’s not all about soccer the way many people think. Sure, around the World Cup maybe. But only one-third of Hispanic millennials are into soccer. Many love baseball, too, which of course is very big in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Cuba.

TRUE: You bring up an interesting point. The Hispanic community is not a monolith. It is made up of so many different cultures with one unifying element: They all come from or are descendants of natives of Spanish-speaking cultures. How sensitive are brands to those differences?

Gonzalez: Well, there’s no easy answer there. Companies like Wal-Mart recognize in their marketing that their Hispanic customers are mostly Mexican American. It’s subtle, but there are choices you make in the music you would pick or the holidays or foods you would celebrate. It would be different for a company with mostly an East Coast Hispanic population, where you are apt to have higher percentage of Hispanics from the Caribbean. How broad is this segmentation? At this point, not very, but it’s something that companies that want to establish themselves as part of the Hispanic community need to understand.

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TRUE: Before you mentioned the recent immigration reform effort. How much have, or should, brands try to incorporate that into their marketing?

Gonzalez: I haven’t heard of any brands trying to get involved. Companies tend to lean Republican, and the Republicans have not been very sensitive to the immigration cause. So I am not expecting to see much. Most Hispanics, except Cubans, tend to be Democrats.

For Hispanic millennials, immigration reform is a big issue and close to their hearts. They fear losing parents to deportation; they know people who live in fear every day of being discovered even though they are hard-working contributors to the economy. For Mexican Americans and those from Central and South America, it is a huge issue. But I haven’t heard from companies about it, and I don’t expect to.

TRUE: Are they missing an opportunity?

Gonzalez: Perhaps. But as we’ve seen, it’s a divisive topic.

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About the author

Linda Lane Gonzalez is the chair-elect of AHAA: The Voice of Hispanic Marketing. An expert in U.S. Hispanic marketing and advertising, she is the president and founder of Miami-based viva partnership inc. Gonzalez has worked in the industry for nearly 25 years. Her agency has worked with large consumer brands including Verizon Wireless, The Walt Disney Co., Hallmark Cards, The J.M. Smucker Co., and Mike's Hard Lemonade Co.