¡Hola! Localizing for America’s Fastest Growing Market Sector

The Hispanic market is growing faster than that of any other ethnic minority in the US. In some regions, this demographic is becoming a majority. If your marketing efforts aren’t taking this disproportionately young and upwardly mobile community into account, you’re leaving dinero on the table. We’ll survey the consumer landscape and consider options to localize your content assets for Spanish speakers.

Localization and the Hispanic Demographic

The term “localization” is sometimes used interchangeably with “translation” but it encompasses much more. Sure, converting one language to another is the main task when changing your marketing focus from one geographic or demographic target to another. But there’s more to localizing than mere words.

When localizing internationally, there’s a need to change currency and measurement units, date, and numerical formats. In these cases, localization would involve, at the software level, the internationalization of code to accommodate these technical cross-border conversions. However, these considerations don’t apply to domestic demographic targets like Hispanic consumers.

Successful localization for the Spanish-speaking demographic in the United States requires less technical tasks and more of a cultural challenge. Anyone localizing for the U.S. Hispanic market needs to account for the ethnic sensitivities of this diverse population.  Currently, there are some 60 million Hispanics in the U.S., more than 18% of the population.

Terms of Localization: “You Say, Latino, I Say Hispanic”

One potential minefield is the distinction between Hispanic and Latino: The U.S. Bureau of the Census uses the terms interchangeably, for “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” “Latino”, on the other hand, is commonly used to refer to someone with origins or ancestry in Central or South America. A Portuguese-speaking Brazilian, for example, may be considered Latino but not Hispanic. Spaniards would be Hispanic but not Latino.

Whatever you call them, the demographic is growing faster than any other major ethnic grouping in the United States. In 2015, the Census Bureau estimated that, by 2060, U.S. Hispanic residents will reach 119 million, 28.6% of the total population. While Hispanic populations are most prevalent in the American southwestern tier – California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas – and the southeastern states of Florida and Georgia, they are well-represented in most US urban centers.

The Hispanic population is hardly monolithic. Many non-Hispanics lump all Latinos as Mexicans (which comprise 62% of the total), failing to appreciate the unique cultures of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Dominicans (each with more than a million residents), or distinctions among the various South American countries. In Florida and New York, there are tendencies to categorize Latinos as Puerto Ricans or Cubans, even though these groups represent 9% and 4% of the Hispanic total respectively.

There’s also racial diversity and sensitivity within the community. 39 million Hispanics define themselves as White alone, but 15.4 million consider themselves “some other race alone” – that is non-white. Almost 3 million consider themselves of two or more races, while 1.3 million classify themselves as black alone.

Overcoming Language Barriers to Localize for Upwardly Mobile Consumers

A language barrier continues to separate Spanish speakers in the United States from the English-speaking dominant culture. A 2018 Census survey reports that 41 million US residents, 13.5% of the population, speak Spanish at home. While 23.1 million say they speak English “very well” and another 6.8 million say “well”. In 2013, 25.5 million people (8.5% of the U.S. population) reported that they spoke English “not very well,” “not well,” or “not at all.” Not all of these are Spanish speakers, but they make up the lion’s share of those with Limited English Proficiency, which has grown 80% since 1990.

LEP is a staggering problem in the US, resulting in poor outcomes in health, education, and economic status. Naturally, too, it poses a challenge for retailers trying to reach a population that does not speak English. But the limited English and difficulties of some, many of the new migrants, do not obscure the success and ambition of others in the US Hispanic community.

In 2019, 81% of US labor force growth was attributed to Hispanics. 60% of Hispanics have salaries exceeding $40,000, the majority of those more than $60,000. There has been a 47.1% increase in Hispanic homeownership from 2008 to 2019, the only ethnic group showing that rise. Auto sales vectors show similar pre-eminence by Hispanics, especially luxury models.

Targeting Hispanic Consumers Locally Without Offending Them

This growing demographic strength, representing some $1.5 trillion in purchasing power in 2019, has not evaded the attention of marketers. Univision, serving Hispanic Americans, is the 5th leading media company in the US, and one of the fastest-growing. A new crop of Hispanic-focused digital media agencies is on the rise, such as Mitú, which targets what it calls “the 200 percent” audience: youth who are 100% American and 100% Latino”.

Studies show they even among those who know English fluently, most prefer to consume their content in Spanish. In a recent survey, US Hispanics who saw static ads for products in Spanish were 40% more likely to want to buy them than those who saw the same ads in an English version.

For companies seeking to reach US Hispanics, there are several paths available. The easiest, but most expensive, is to hire a Latino-focused marketing agency. Such agencies abound in Spanish speaking regions of the country. Look for those with knowledge of specific intra-Hispanic grouping so you can laser-focus your messaging.

Alternatively, you can localize digital content via a translation company. It can adapt to marketing collateral and customer services to support Spanish. Seek them out with a search for “translation agency” combined with “Spanish to English”. Here, too, ensure the company employs mother-tongue Hispanics with the cultural sensitivity to get the job done without offending. There’s the tale of how Chevy marketed its Nova in Mexico without awareness that no VA means “no go” in Spanish. Don’t go there.

While machine translation has improved dramatically in recent years, Google Translate is still no match for human linguists when it comes to cultural nuances. The risk of offense is too high. However, AI-driven targeting in your marketing campaigns and advertising to younger Hispanics can reach your targets cost-effectively through their phones. Facebook display ads allow you to filter ad exposure with high linguistic specificity. Specify age groups and dialects based on user settings to hit your targets.

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