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Getting Smart about the Latino Market: Our in-house Hispanic Think Tank

Here’s a question for you: If roughly 16% of the U.S. population today self-identifies as Hispanic or Latino, what percentage of your client services organization should be dedicated to understanding this rapidly growing market?  One percent? Two percent? Five percent?

At Communispace it is 11%.  We published ¿Me Entiendes?, a cross-community study of acculturation, identity, and engaging Latinos in online communities at the beginning of this year; but even at the time, we knew our work had just begun.  Since that report was launched, the internal momentum at Communispace to understand and connect with U.S. Hispanics has accelerated.  We have formalized our efforts by creating a Hispanic IdeaSpace and an in house Hispanic Think Tank of over 30 employees—people who are Hispanic themselves, who are fluent in Spanish, who have traveled in Latin America, or people like myself (a gringa) who have enthusiasm and research expertise to contribute.

Foremost among our think tank’s objectives is to continue exploring how to go beyond traditional notions of acculturation.  In particular, we question the conceptualization of acculturation as a linear, one-way process (with people being “more” or “less” Hispanic) and the idea that assimilation into the mainstream is a desirable end goal for Hispanics.  Our research shows, for example, that Hispanic identity is expressed in various life contexts—through cooking, family time, socializing—and that these are more consistently descriptive of how people see themselves than are the labels “Latino,” “Hispanic,” or how more or less “American” one considers themselves to be.  In the ¿Me Entiendes? study, even English-dominant Hispanics frequently chose to express their ethnic identity in these contextual ways.

Marketers and market researchers have a long history of assuming that being Hispanic can largely be defined by amount of time in the United States and reliance on Spanish language.  But our research and experience suggest that it is entirely possible to be an English-speaking, American Latino and still have a very strong Hispanic identity.  The implications of this are that it is now risky to default to Spanish-language only formats, and that “general” marketers can no longer afford to ignore Hispanics; big brands are getting on board with this trend, as recent articles about State Farm and Procter & Gamble demonstrate.  These are the kinds of questions that fuel our research agenda and inform our client work.

So it is an exciting but challenging time to try and understand the U.S. Hispanic market; and I feel lucky, as a researcher, to be in the company of so many dedicated and smart people.  With 30+ heads around the table, our work on the think tank benefits from a diversity of perspectives and we are constantly learning, improving our offering, generating new ideas for future research … and eating a lot of flan (¡claro que sí!).

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