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The lesson? "If you simply translate a message, it may not convey the same sentiment," says Ross. "You need a language expert looking at brand names , at all of your communication."
But there is more to selling product than correctly matching words with meanings, notably brand recognition. Though Hispanics often wish to communicate in their adopted language, the pride they associate with their native tongue typically remains with them throughout the acculturation process. Thus, brand names that resonate with their heritage may perform better than those that don't.
"It's big," says Ross. "You do need to think about brand names. There are many American Hispanics who become acculturated, and either speak Spanish or bilingually. You need to be careful with that transition. Are they going to make that [linguistic] connection in the store? If you market a product in Mexico, they may say "col ga tay" for the Colgate brand. When they arrive in the U.S., it's "col gate." Ten years later, when they are comfortable with English you'll want that first name to resonate."
Equally important, say the experts, are the precise cultural and geographic origins of various Hispanic groups. Currently, two-thirds of U.S. Hispanics are from Mexico, where cultures vary from region to region, much as those in the U.S. do. "When you address the Hispanic consumer, find ways to be relevant to his particular background," advises de Mello. "It can be done in the same way [general market] companies find ways to be relevant to consumers on the East Coast, West Coast or Midwest."
"To really understand Latino consumers, you have to understand them psychographically, not just demographically." says Victor Melendez, marketing director, Mexican brands, Labatt USA. Labatt handles Tecate, Dos Equis, Sol, Carta Blanca and Bohemia. "What are their life motivators and drivers? How do Latino groups differ in terms of culture, language, food, values and beliefs, behaviors or aspirations?"
Same yet different
Despite their cultural differences, "there are more similarities than differences," among Hispanics, says Ross. "Marketers must find out where the cross over is."
"Hispanics have a strong sense of community, are highly adaptable, have strong family bonds, are generally impulsive and very passionate," Melendez noted at the Chicago conference.
"Targeting Latinos is much more complex than just translating general market strategies. A marketing plan needs to be developed rather than adapted and has to be culturally relevant and integrated," he continued.
"It's critical to develop campaigns that are based on strong strategies, unique insights and originality, and to ensure they are measurable in ways that track the results back to the advertising," adds Anita Santiago, president of Anita Santiago Advertising in Santa Monica, Calif.
"A lot of companies bring products from Latin America to the U.S. , products that are very successful," says de Mello. "Sometimes you don't need to start from scratch."
Tecate Beer is a good example of a brand that expanded into the U.S. with its original image intact: sports and music, elements that easily cross borders.
Other companies are trying to reach the low-hanging dietary habits of the Hispanic consumer "Cereal companies are exploring fruits," says de Mello. It could be a solid match, since Hispanics rely heavily on fruits in their diets and spend 20 percent more on cereals than the general market.
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