How Big is the Latino Market, Really?
Diferencias Generacionales entre Hispanos

Culture, the Glue that Holds Latinos Together

May 2010
By Juan Tornoe

Remember back in 1992, while in the midst of the presidential race James Carville hung a sign in Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters that read, “It’s the Economy, Stupid”? As succinct a phrase as it was, I believe it dramatically changed history delivering the first term in office for the then Governor of Arkansas, who was facing a tough uphill battle against an apparently unbeatable George H. Bush.

James Carville’s political genius is shown by his understanding of that which mattered the most, that which troubled their hearts and minds, to an electorate base that had just experienced a recession. Yes, there were many other important issues to address, but that was without a doubt, the one that would sway the masses one way or the other.

Extrapolating Mr. Carville’s strategy into your boardroom and applying it to answer the question, “How can we better connect with the growing Hispanic market?” The answer is as simple as this:

IT’S THE CULTURE, SEÑOR! I hope you did not think for even a moment I was about to call you stupid…

Language, as important as it is, it is merely a vehicle to deliver your message. If you are not taking into consideration culture, the best translated outreach campaign won’t connect emotionally with the intended audience. The same goes for country of origin/heritage, generation, socio-economic level, income level, place of residence, etc.

So you need to do your homework (or get some marketing / research guy to do if for you) to better understand those cultural characteristics which are common to all Latinos. The question is, which are those common cultural traits that remain constant, even if at variable intensities, among all 47 million (give or take a couple hundred thousands) Hispanic individuals.

Following please find a small sample, a definitely non-exhaustive list, of some of the cultural traits you need to be aware of if you are consciously making an effort to increase your Latino customer base. Please do keep in mind that the following traits are more obvious the closer you are to the generation which crossed the border, but they will remain among their descendants, even if not as evident.

Degree of Intimacy
Hispanics tend to establish friendlier relationships faster than the average American. Please note it is not friendships that we are talking about, but to the way we casually interact with new acquaintances. It is not only about quickly engaging in conversation; it is more about having a conversation with an old friend from high school: they are laid back, relaxed and might be much quicker to begin joking with you and/or sharing personal stuff with you than what you would normally expect.  

Personal Space
There’s basically none! Expect Latinos to be more prone to invade your personal space. Hugging, touching your back or shoulder, kissing (mostly members of the opposite sex), is quite alright and socially accepted if not expected! Therefore be prepared and do not get all awkward and jumpy when experiencing this reality first hand; just go with the flow!

Respect to Authority and Power
I strongly believe this is one of the main reasons Latin American countries find themselves in their current situation. Hispanics are very, and I mean very, respectful to persons in positions of authority and power. It was not ingrained in our upbringing to second guess, contradict, or express our difference of opinion with people who have earned their way or have been assigned to these positions. Be it medical doctors, college professors, lawyers, or Government officials, it is not in our nature to openly disagree with or contradict them. For a non-Hispanic white it is perfectly OK to go into their doctor’s office and tell them they want that “purple pill” they saw on TV; a Latino would feel very uncomfortable with the whole scenario, most likely questioning their qualifications for making that request vs. the years and years of studies and experience that Mr. MD has.

As I mentioned before, this is just a small sampler of Hispanic cultural traits, but I am sure it gives you enough of an idea of how important being aware of them is for the way you conduct business, service and advertise to Latinos. We’ll continue this conversation in months to come.

Originally published on Abasto Magazine

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