Friday, July 4, 2014

Spanish and English Use by Hispanics: Implications for Marketers

The US Census Bureau collects data from a very large sample every year (about 3 million people) to better understand changes in the US population.  This used to be the long form of the regular census taken every ten years. This is one of the most comprehensive and accessible databases about US residents and it is called the American Community Survey or ACS.

Since the publication of our book “Hispanic Marketing: Connecting with the New Latino Consumer” in 2012 new data from the ACS has been made available.  When writing the book we only had access to the 2009 ACS data. Now there is ACS data available online for 2012.

I wanted to see how the use of English and Spanish among Latinos had changed, if at all, since 2009. To my surprise, changes have been relatively small. Actually, changes have been small since 2005. While the US Hispanic population has grown substantially since then, the use of language has remained relatively constant among Hispanics 5 years of age and older. The questionnaire asks for each member of the household if they speak a language other than English at home.  If they say yes, they indicate which language, and then get asked about how well that person speaks English.  The table below summarizes the ACS data for 2012.

2012 Hispanics 5 years of age and older


Speak only English

Speak Spanish:
Of these 73.96%
Speak English "very well"

Speak English "well"

Speak English "not well"

Speak English "not at all"

Speak other language

It is impressive that almost 26% of the respondents are said to speak only English at home, and even more surprising is that almost 74% continue to speak at least some Spanish at home. Given nativity trends one would have expected that proportion to go down recently because the majority of Latinos in the US are now US born. Perhaps most informative is the distribution of English proficiency among those who speak at least some Spanish at home, as can be seen in the chart below:

An amazing 74% of Latinos are said to Speak English well or very well besides speaking at least some Spanish at home.  Consequently, when you add the 25% who speak only English, to the approximately 55% of the total who are said to speak English very well or well, you have that almost 80% of Hispanics should be able to communicate in and understand English quite readily.

It is no surprise then that Latinos in the US are dividing their media and social media time among a multiplicity of channels regardless of language.  That is because they can generally choose the content they wish to be exposed to.  Media plans need to reflect this freedom of selection.

Is the Spanish language still important for marketers?  I believe it is because Spanish continues to be pervasive with 74% of Latinos being said to speak at least some of it at home. Also, the language of the home is likely to be linked to deep seated emotions. Spanish should continue to be considered a connection point with Latinos.

The issue now is that freedom to select content pervades the majority of the Hispanic population. So instead of asking what language to use, we need to ask what is the content relevant to Latinos?  We now need to better understand lifestyles, motivations, aspirations and values, not just language usage. A key question to ask these days is: How is Latino culture evolving in the US?

Using at least some Spanish will likely continue to help strengthen the connection with this important and growing segment. But now marketers need to understand more.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Digital Media Use in the Multicultural Marketplace

At the end of 2013 at the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University we conducted a survey of 735 Hispanics, 647 non-Hispanic Whites, 744 African Americans, and 732 Asians. The data was collected courtesy of Research Now, under the supervision of Ms. Melanie Courtright and Dr. Kartik Pashupati.

One of the segments of the online survey asked about the number of hours per week that respondents engage in different activities. Many of the items measured digital media usage. The data confirms many of the trends we have observed over the past few years and also provide some interesting surprises. As can be seen in the chart below, Hispanics and Asians watch the largest number of hours of streamed videos per week.
African Americans follow in order of weekly time spent and as found in prior research, non-Hispanic Whites use the least amount of video streaming. This picture should certainly send a message to providers of digital video streaming services. And note that this is the media used in English. The amount of time spent in another language is negligible for African Americans and non-Hispanic Whites, and relatively small for Hispanics (half an hour) and for Asians (slightly over one hour per week). The fact that most streaming is done in English may be related to the nature of the online panel, the availability of content, and the fact that English is becoming more prevalent among culturally diverse groups. Still, the key implication is that the new emerging majority is diverse, and is using English language video streaming. This is important because programmers of streaming media need to understand the cultural programming that is relevant to these consumers. The chart below illustrates the use of social media like Facebook. The findings are even more surprising.
That Hispanics spend the largest amount of time with social media compared to anyone else is revealing. As learned in prior studies we found again that cultural minorities were more likely to use it.  In this study we found that Asians and non-Hispanic Whites are using social media less than their Hispanic and African American counterparts. The notion that these new technologies of liberation appeal the most to those who were previously deprived from such means of self-expression is interesting. Also, these findings show the relative sociability of the different cultural groups. The use of social media in another language for Asians and Hispanics is less than half an hour per week.

The picture of the amount of time spent listening to satellite radio is also revealing. Non-Hispanic Whites use this medium the most, followed by Hispanics and African Americans. Asians use it the least, as seen in the chart below.  These trends may be due to the costs associated with the medium and also to the availability of content relevant to these consumers.

Listening to streamed audio on the Internet (like Pandora), presents a different pattern as seen below.
Hispanics are the most avid listeners of Internet radio, followed by African Americans, then Asians and finally non-Hispanic Whites.  The amount of exposure to Internet radio in another language is about an hour a week for Hispanics and about a quarter of an hour for Asians. As discussed in our book “Hispanic Marketing: Connecting with the New Latino Consumer” the cultural affinity of Hispanics to radio appears to strongly transfer to online offerings. And that seems to be also the case for African Americans.

For the purposes of a reality check we asked about the number of hours that these different cultural groups spend talking to friends in face-to-face situations. The most socially engaged are African Americans, they are followed by Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites. Asians lag to some extent in English, but in general the levels of interpersonal face-to-face contact is high compared with social media, for example.
Thus the notion that social media is replacing interpersonal contact may not necessarily be correct.  The study of how social media and interpersonal face-to-face contact complement each other appears to be a priority. In this case, however, the use of another language does make a substantive difference as Hispanics spend almost two hours per week talking to friends face-to-face in another language (most likely Spanish, of course), And Asians spend almost an hour and a half per week in interpersonal communication with friends. When another language is included Hispanics are the most socially engaged, and Asians closely match non-Hispanic Whites. The use of one’s native language in personal communications seems to be more relevant than when using social media, and it makes sense. Still the largest amount of interpersonal contact is in English.  Again, we need to caution the reader that the composition of the sample may be responsible for the dominance of the English language, nevertheless the trends seem to be in line with current data and observations of increased English language usage among Hispanics and Asians. Clearly, this trend highlights the importance of understanding how culture and language use intersect and change the identity of culturally diverse individuals. The overall use of the Internet is documented in the chart below:
The overall use of the Internet is very high in general and when added to Hispanic and Asians the approximately one hour they spend in another language, they all seem to use it to very much to the same extent.

This data is robust in that it was collected with quotas for US region, age (18+) in different brackets, and gender. That it may be over-representing those who prefer English is possible.  Nevertheless, the numbers make sense in light that about 30% of US Hispanics prefer to communicate in Spanish, and the rest are a mix of English language preference or no preference.

The trends generally confirm that emerging minorities continue to lead in the use of digital media. While Netflix and Pandora, for example, are doing more in satisfying content preferences of culturally diverse audiences it seems like they could be doing more to the benefit of their own businesses and these audiences are their present and their future.  It is not just having Latin American, Asian, or African American movies and music that can bring increased revenue, but the understanding of non-obvious tastes and preference. A Netflix or Amazon series that reflects the values of Latinos, for example, without necessarily being just for Latinos could be more attractive than a mafia or government affairs theme.

Again, “all marketing is cultural.”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Search Trends in the Multicultural Market

I have many times said that Google is probably the most useful company in the world.  They are making information availability pervasive and usable. They have a service called Google Trends that traces, in relative terms, the prevalence of searches of specific terms and expressions in their search engine. They do not provide actual frequencies but percentages of a total represented by the tallest point in the distribution and that is equal to 100.

I thought it would be interesting to check and see how different searches in the United States reflect the sentiment of those who search for multicultural and related marketing topics. The first search I did was for the term “Multicultural Marketing.” The resulting graph is below:

Surprising and thought provoking, this graph shows that there was a moment in recent history when Multicultural Marketing in the US was very salient. Interestingly as the recession took root searches for multicultural marketing diminished in relative frequency, but then stabilized over time up to the present. It is important to note that Google trends started approximately in 2004, so it is difficult to know what the popularity of terms was before that. What about Hispanic Marketing?

The search incidence for “Hispanic Marketing” had its peak in 2004 and then decreased to relative stability since 2009. The term “Latino Marketing” shows a similar tendency so I am not posting it here. Google reports that there is not enough data to report trends for “African American Marketing” or “Asian Marketing.”

The concept of “Total Market” has become popular in recent times. The problem with this term, however, is that it has more than one meaning and it is difficult to sort the searches for the meaning associated with marketing in general. With that word of caution, the graph shows a surge as “Total Market” has been a novelty in recent years.

Total Market searches reached its highest point at the end of 2008 and has been relatively high until the present day. I thought I should compare all these trends with their relative frequencies against each other.

In this chart the color blue stands for “Total Market,” red for “Hispanic Marketing” and yellow for “Multicultural Marketing.” This graph provides a relative perspective on the prevalence of the three topics. Hispanic and Multicultural marketing seem to have stabilized and run in parallel. “Total Market” however has actually increased in relative interest over time.

It is difficult to make generalizations based on these data.  It, nevertheless, is interesting to observe how the marketing community has shifted its interest from Hispanic and Multicultural Marketing to Total Market.  This is somewhat unsettling to people like me who believe that culturally based marketing is important for touching the emotional cords of culturally diverse consumers.
As I have stated elsewhere, total market approaches may be appealing as an energy and money saving compromise. However, that is likely to backfire; marketing is precisely about reaching large groups of consumers that share something in common with relevant messages and products. Culture is what makes groups of humans unique, because it identifies what they share, including values, beliefs, and perspectives. It is what we are brought up with and what makes us see the world in special ways. Culture influences perception and perception is reality. It is very difficult to have an overarching approach that touches consumers deeply without taking culture into consideration.

Powerful tools like Google Trends can help us understand how marketers and consumers think and feel. Enjoy experimenting with it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cultural Marketing, Total Market, How and Why?

This has been the year of the debate over the “Total Market” approach.  The idea is to find a common denominator that different cultural groups can all relate to.  That makes some sense at first glance. After all, most people love their children, enjoy being free, enjoy food and other good things of life.

So, finding an insight that would resonate with most people is possible. But let us think again about the nature of marketing and advertising. What brands want is to establish deep connections with consumers, at a level that the consumer feels like the brand understands them uniquely.

So, while the notion of finding a common denominator may be appealing for the good reason of realizing economies of scale and having a great reach, the brand connection may be lost. Why? Because while we all love our children, the meaning is different across cultural groups. It would be trivial to say that because children are generally loved by their parents, life insurance, for example, could be sold across the board for the sake of the love “you have for your children.” This positioning would not be ownable. And even if it were, the specifics of how Hispanic parents think of their children or their future compared with African Americans, Asians and non-Hispanic Whites would be more powerful than a more general approach. To mind comes the example of the insurance company that had a picture of a girl in her “quinceañera” dress as a reminder of the dreams the parents have for her. That is a very culturally specific message that would not cut across cultures, but that would be more powerful than a general message in reaching Latinos.

Cultural marketing is about connecting the consumer at the level of their cultural traditions and archetypes. Culture is more than interesting idiosyncrasies. Culture is the passed on set of tools for living that humans have found to work in different social contexts. Even when these tools cease to be effective, we humans tend to keep them close to our heart as they are the elements which define who we are. So, for example, fatalism. In a better organized and more predictable society fatalism would not be an effective way of coping with life. Nevertheless, it stays with members of a culture for generations regardless of their geographic and social movement over time.

Cultural marketing consists in understanding those tools for living that are mostly implicit in people's heads and that dictate how they view the world. Ethnographic and other qualitative studies can uncover many of these regularities that marketers can use to better communicate their products, brands, and services. Finding a powerful cultural cue can establish a deep relationship with consumers over many generations. Consider “sonrisas Colgate” or the Colgate toothpaste smiles that have transcended from Latin America to the United States following the descendents of Latinos. The popularity of Colgate toothpaste among Hispanics continues to be strong and much of it has been passed on from generation to generation.

A “total market” approach should not be an excuse for not attempting to establish a strong long lasting link with culturally diverse consumers. It can be detrimental. Cultural marketing is the new marketing. It goes beyond ethnicity to encompass the many different lifestyles that consumers hold dear.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Online Courses on Hispanic and Multicultural Marketing Open to All This Spring 2014

Register by December 1, 2013. 

fsu1.gifThe Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University offers the following online courses Spring 2014:

  • Hispanic Marketing Communication (graduate)
  • Hispanic Marketing Communication (undergraduate)
  • Account Planning (undergraduate)
  • Multicultural Marketing Communication (graduate)

These courses can be taken by themselves or as part of the undergraduate or  graduate certificate in Multicultural Marketing Communication. The links provided above lead to the certificate requirements that include descriptions of each one of the courses.

 Hispanic Marketing: Connecting with the New Latino ConsumerThe courses start on January 6th and run until May 2nd, 2014.  Professionals, interested individuals, and students at other universities, who would like to participate in the Certificate programs or just by taking one or two of the courses are encouraged to apply. Online discussion boards allow for the exchange of ideas and  networking opportunities. The courses are asynchronous so students can work when their schedules allow.

For admission requirements CLICK HERE.   For more information about admissions please write or call: 

Anthony McDonald             

The application deadline is December 1, 2013, so act soon.

Watch this video for more information   CLICK HERE.

Visit the Center's site at 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Beyond Tacos, Guacamole, and Hugs: El Dia de los Muertos

Latino influence in the US keeps growing one cultural example at a time. The Wall Street Journal published on Friday November 1, 2013 an article entitled "No Bones About It, Day of the Dead Is Finding New Life." The article talks about a trend among non-Hispanics, particularly in areas of heavy Latino presence like California and Texas, who now set up altars to their dead relatives in different locations. An interesting example is that of a non-Hispanic woman in Oceanside, California, who created an altar to her father in the trunk of his car.

I am surprised as I thought that this particular ritual would not transfer from the population of Mexican origin to non-Hispanics.  I had the impression that spiritual rituals tend to be more strongly culture bound and related to deeply ingrained beliefs and emotions.  Emotions that are derived from people's upbringing and sense of self.

But there it is! Not only has hugging become popular (see a prior blog post), but now more spiritually oriented beliefs are transcending their origin. The Day of the Dead celebrated on All Saints Day, has its roots in cultural beliefs that talk about the skies opening on that day so the souls of the dead pour back to earth to spend time with loved ones. Then, the loved ones left behind celebrate the life of the departed with lively parties at cemeteries, homes, and other locations.

In one can see that the highest number of searches for both "dia de los muertos" and "day of the dead" happened in 2013 in the United States and that the States where those searches originated most prominently were California, New Mexico, and Texas. Clearly these searches may have been originated mostly by Latinos, nevertheless, why would 2013 be the highest incidence year when immigration from Mexico and Latin America is lower than in many prior years? It is likely that these searches originate from many non-Hispanics who are embracing the celebration.

At the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University, where many of the students are non-Hispanic, Dr. Sindy Chapa erected an altar in the memory of her father as shown below.

Museums around the US have had exhibits of altars for dia de los muertos both to celebrate the culture and to show the folkways of mesoamerica. From Oakland, California, to El Paso, Texas, even to the Idaho Historical Society, museums have in one way or another presented exhibits to mark the celebration.

Skelita Calaveras the Monster High doll created for Dia de Los Muertos has been a great success for Mattel, and the doll has been searched by name extensively in US States with strong Latino presence. As marketers realize the importance of Latinos to their bottom line, almost by accident they also educate the rest of the population about Latino cultural features.

What do all these stories and anecdotes tell us? As Hispanics acculturate they also spread the allure of their customs and beliefs. Acculturation is a two way street in which we learn from each other and find aspects of the culture of others attractive and meaningful. When cultural influence goes beyond the material aspects to the intangible and spiritual, one witnesses a societal transformation that should make marketers think more about culture and the future of marketing.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Focus Groups: In the Search of Cultural Meaning

I have conducted about 5,000 qualitative sessions during my career in market research.  Most of these sessions have been focus groups and a substantive number have been ethnographies. In our 2012 book "Hispanic Marketing: Connecting with the New Latino Consumer" (Routledge) we discuss focus groups with Latinos in much detail and clarify many common concerns marketers have in conducting them. In this opportunity I am reflecting on the focus group as one of the most misunderstood versions of qualitative research. Here I intend to talk about the essence of focus groups and how to make them work for cultural marketing.

A focus group is not a question and answer session.  For that you can simply interview people individually in person, online, or on the phone.  The focus group is a focused discussion to understand how people think and feel about ideas.  It is an opportunity for understanding how meaning is created collectively during human interaction.  

This type of interaction has great value because it reveals cultural meanings that are not obvious and cannot be asked directly. One cannot expect people to tell you why they prefer a product or idea just by asking a direct question because the context of the situation is not a realistic consumer behavior opportunity. But asking the group to discuss brand "X" is likely to reveal inner feelings, attitudes, and values. Thus, focus groups are not for finding out why people use a particular brand on an individual basis but to find out how the group talks about a brand.

But a key aspect of moderating a focus group is that the moderator must be a pretty silent person in the process.  One asks "please talk about brand X" and then one stops talking.  Silence produces discussion. One can also say, "interesting...  I would like to understand better how you feel... please tell me more about brand X," and again remain silent and nodding.  The richness of meaning derived from such an activity cannot be underestimated. 

I understand that many research departments and clients are likely to be anxious about spending money without having a long questionnaire as a discussion guide for the focus groups, but that is because many do not understand what focus groups are for.  They are for generating group discussion. If discussion and symbolic interaction is not the goal, then simply do individual interviews and save some money.

Besides brands there are many other aspects around which a focus group can be centered.  For example, a discussion on the importance of one's health.  As respondents discuss the issue, the observers and moderator infer the meaning of health and capture important insights that can be used to market products and services. Generally these are likely to be culturally laden insights that can be used for brand positioning purposes. 

Actually, on many occasions focusing on an aspect related to the brand as opposed to the brand itself can  be richer in delivering cultural insights. Thus discussing health can be richer than discussing "HMO plan X." This is because properties of the brand are more relevant to consumers and they can more readily engage in a meaningful discussion. The aim of the focus group is to uncover the meaning of health, in this instance.

There are those who hold stereotypes about focus groups because of their personal experiences. A poorly trained moderator can readily damage a focus group by not knowing how to establish a warm and comfortable personal relationship with respondents. A lot of the chemistry of focus groups has to do with the warm-up and the bonding phase.

Another myth is that focus groups do not tell the truth because one individual biases the others.  Clearly, this has to do with respondent selection, the establishment of focus group procedures, and group process management.  But most importantly, when one expects a focus group to answer a barrage of questions, one is bound to have more social influence of one respondent over the others because the focus group is being rushed and not carefully prompted to engage in concentrating on an issue. 

Further, social influence is part of social life and a discussion will reveal patterns of interaction that can be very valuable in suggesting marketing approaches. One way of getting group participants to focus before coming in contact with each other is to give them the assignment to do something about the issue they will focus on. That preempts much of the concern about social influence as people have been focusing on the issue.

I will write more about focus groups and other research approaches.  Here my main aim is to clarify that focus groups are for discussion focused on an issue or set of issues, they are not question and answer sessions. A moderator needs to be a social scientist by training, a group facilitator, understand cultural trends, and enjoy people profoundly.  

Focus groups are for uncovering cultural meaning in the course of symbolic interaction.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Salsa, Tortillas, Dulce de Leche, and now Hugs

I read in the Wall Street Journal (September 14 - 15, 2013*) that hugs are an issue now in the United States as many more people hug than ever before.  My first reaction was that as tortillas overtake white bread and salsa overtakes ketchup, hugs overtake social distance.  Is this the Latino influence? Now the WSJ article talks about how to defend yourself from huggers. That is a serious departure from the nature of hugging in Latin America and other "hugging" regions of the world where the hugging is seen as a welcome sharing of human warmth and reassures people of their relationship.

When I was young, in high-school and then in college in Mexico, every day, I had to hug and kiss many women, which I thought was nice, and hugged many men as well, which I felt were my dear friends. It was routine, the business of social life.  You hug those you care for and those you want to keep as part of your circle of friends.  Also, it felt good. It was reassuring. I felt I belonged.

Hugging feels good.  It releases chemicals in our body that make us feel good. A most interesting substance is oxytocin which contributes to our social happiness and well being. It is known to be released when people touch and hug and helps people bond together.  Hispanics are good at this. I believe this is an important contribution that Latinos and other "hugging" people are making to US society.

Chipotle, mango, salsa, papaya, tortillas, cilantro, yuca, and many other flavors are clearly now part of the mainstream. Also, Latin music and architecture have become part of the American mainstream.  But that is only the part of the culture that is clearly observable.  What about the less observable parts of the culture?  What about the subjective culture composed of values, ideas, attitudes, and ways of thinking? Hugging is part of the subjective culture that is now influencing the United States. Subjective because it emanates from primitive impulses, beliefs, and values that take us back to our origins.

Marketers ought to consider that the most powerful insights come from those attitudes, beliefs, values, and perceptions that are transmitted via our cultural groups but that are hidden from view. Hugging is visible, but not its motives and consequences. Touching produces a different social structure. Marketers can capitalize on those motivations and the effects of touching and hugging (haptics) by establishing connections associated with their brands.

Human contact feels good and makes people happy.  Clearly, it has to be appropriate, but Latin Americans don't worry about that. They know when the toucher is a creep.  In low contact cultures any contact can be misinterpreted.  But in high contact cultures contact means care and affection. As we move into a more touch oriented society in the US, our ways of behaving, thinking, and feeling change as well.

Now that Latinos have influenced the US culture beyond imagination, it is not only with the material things of life where Hispanics are making a statement but also with emotions. While marketers have long thought that differences in culture are apparent in the numerous manifestations we observe, now we need to take notice of the more hidden aspects.

Marketers do not only capitalize on high contact cultures when understanding their motivations and bonding feelings, but they may now have a "total market" approach in their hands. Hugging will likely transcend cultural groups.

The author of the WSJ article was trying to help others with larger personal space needs to defend themselves from the rising tide of huggers. Well, another take on the trend is that it is good for you and potentially excellent for marketers who understand cultural patterns.  

In Hispanic Heritage month let's celebrate hugging and all that comes along with it.

*"The Delicate Protocol of Hugging: For fans of personal space, these are difficult times: America has become a nation of huggers" by Peggy Drexler