What Marketers Often Underestimate About US Hispanic Consumers
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What Marketers Often Underestimate About US Hispanic Consumers

On the official list of 21 sovereign nations and dependent territories that speak Spanish as their first language, the US does not appear. But we think it should.

According to the Spanish nonprofit language organization Instituto Cervantes, the United States is home to the highest concentration of Spanish speakers after Mexico, and is expected to outpace Mexico by 2050. The US Hispanic community is a market nearly 60 million strong, representing more than 18% of the US population and $1.5 trillion in buying power. That makes it the single largest and highest-spending minority group in the US.

Any company marketing to US consumers would be ill-advised to ignore it. Of course, to target this market, as you would any other, you need to make sure your brand and offerings deeply resonate with its consumers. But what’s uniquely challenging about the Hispanic market in particular is its linguistic and cultural complexity—because immigrants from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and many other Spanish-speaking countries are included. The dialects, cultures, behaviors, interests and values vary perhaps more than you think.

Of course, you need to do market research to find out what these preferences are within your specific audiences, but first, it may be helpful to think through your Hispanic marketing strategy in broad terms, to get a sense of the overall market and how it differs from its non-Hispanic neighbors.

Here’s an overview, plus a few marketing tricks to start fleshing out your Hispanic marketing strategy.

The complexities of ‘Hispanic’ languages and cultures

As mentioned, there is actually no such thing as a single “Hispanic” or “US Spanish” language or culture. Hispanics are by no means a homogeneous group. US Spanish is a language that doesn’t really exist—rather, it’s a term used to describe a mix of word choices from all Spanish-speaking countries. America speaks 21 “national” varieties of the language. And like many immigrant cultures, Hispanic Americans integrate traditions and core values—thus, buying habits—from their countries of origin.

Compounding the complexity of US Spanish is a strong influence or borrowing (technically referred to as “calque”) of English, to create what we call Spanglish. As you might expect, Spanish becomes more diluted with English the further you get from the southern border.

And compounding the complexity of the culture is that Hispanics, while proud of their heritage, care about its representation in Hispanic marketing to different degrees. Hispanic people want to be recognized for their roots only as far as they are traditionally minded.

If you’re wondering where on earth to begin segmenting this market, never fear. That’s where professional language services can help. But as a starting point, you could look at one of the most divergent factors, as with any other market: consumer age groups.

An introduction to generational preferences

Let’s start with targeting language—again, speaking generally in English versus Spanish as a whole.

Although many Hispanics switch between Spanish and English (often called “code switching,” the subconscious flip-flop that comes naturally to bilingual Hispanics), they are generally Spanish-first at home. There are other general rules as to which language to use when, too: for example, many Hispanics consume Spanish-language entertainment, but prefer English when using technology. You should localize your marketing along these lines accordingly. But once you’ve determined which age group is your target market, there is even more to consider.

For example, according to a study by GlobalWebIndex, consumers aged 16-34 are somewhat less likely to prefer Spanish over English in certain situations. While they might speak Spanish at home, English dominates conversations with peers related to things like tech, shopping and news, and these Millennials and Gen Z-ers are more likely to consume English-language entertainment.

Across all generations, Hispanics do generally favor marketing that reflects their cultures. They want to celebrate their uniqueness. Your efforts to invest in communications, celebrities and imagery that infuse elements of the Spanish-speaking world won’t go unnoticed. Indeed, the older generation prefers marketing that reflects their culture.

At the same time, you don’t want to lean too heavily on cultural references; to the younger crowd, this may come across as inauthentic. Few young Hispanics expect to see references to their culture in commercial and online settings. On the other hand, they do make an effort to express their heritage, when given the opportunity, and identity is important to them. To strike a balance in your marketing, cultural sensitivity is the key. For example, feature Hispanic people in your imagery, but avoid stereotypes or singling any particular group out.

An introduction to the Hispanic path to purchase

Hopefully you can start to see why age group is one of the most important demographics to segment in Hispanic marketing. But how to channel it?

According to CNN, Hispanics are the most active of all ethnic groups on social media sites. Social media has become a key path to purchase and an essential platform for reaching almost every Hispanic audience. With an average of seven social media accounts, 43% of Hispanics say this is where they will most likely discover new brands and products.

That proportion is slightly higher for younger Hispanics. Forty-nine percent of these folks cite social media as a typical source of brand discovery, compared to 41% of non-Hispanic whites their age and just 28% of the general online population. GlobalWebIndex also found that 46% more of the younger generation of Hispanics discover brands through influencer endorsements than the older generation does.

There’s also an interesting tendency for all Hispanic audiences to do less of their own research on their path to purchase, preferring to rely more on the recommendations and experiences of others (influencers, for younger Hispanics especially).

This is all to say that social media plays an important role in the early stages of the Hispanic buyer journey. The top of the funnel is where customer journey mapping will be key to identifying the platforms and influencers that could drive the most conversions for your business.

Other factors to consider

So: translate into Spanish, English or a blend of the two with your audience’s age in mind, distribute brand awareness campaigns via social media and the rest will fall into place⁠—right?

Not quite. Remember, the above is a broad simplification of this rich and nuanced market. To find other ways of marketing to Hispanic consumers and move them further down the funnel, you need an even more in-depth understanding of when your audience does and does not expect attention to their language and culture and how they’re most likely to buy than what we’ve provided here. Only market research, perhaps with the help of an LSP, can tell you that.

Now that you know how complex Spanish localization for the US can be, you might be interested in diving deeper into the linguistic and cultural diversity of the Spanish-speaking world. Whether you’re ready to take on the market or want to learn more about other cultures living in the US, our ebook, How to Choose Dialects for the Spanish-Speaking Market, should be a useful resource. It’s free to download.

When you’re ready to analyze the preferences of your specific buyer personas, we can help!