“Comprar, comprar y comprar.”
This tagline from a 1980s TV commercial for a Mexican airline — which encouraged tourists to “shop, shop and shop” in the country — came to my mind recently when I read about Hispanic purchasing power in the United States.
According to the University of Georgia’s 2019 “Multicultural Economy Report,” the $1.5 trillion Hispanic market is the largest ethnic market in the United States, and has risen by 212 percent, or $500 billion, since 2000.
The U.S. Hispanic population is projected at 62.3 million in 2020, making it the second-largest ethnic group in the country. America’s Hispanic population is expected to reach 111 million by the year 2060, according to the United States Census Bureau.
The Hispanic population has enormous potential for marketers, but how can we reach them effectively? First, we must understand that the broad category of “Hispanic” comprises diverse, heterogeneous populations of people from many different cultures and geographical locations. Historic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds have shaped their lifestyles, values and consumption habits.
While people of Mexican and Puerto Rican origins account for nearly 70 percent of U.S. Hispanics, the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. Latino population are from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Honduras, according to Pew Research Center.
Jenny Smith, owner of Acuity PR in Bloomfield, Conn., has worked with Hispanic communities in the United States for more than 30 years, and has witnessed their growth firsthand.
In Connecticut, 60 percent of the Hispanic population is Puerto Rican, she says. The first wave of Puerto Rican immigrants to the state “came in the 1950s and 1960s to work in factories and industries,” and subsequent migrations have included approximately 13,000 people after Hurricane Maria battered the island of Puerto Rico in 2017. The range in ages and experiences of these immigrants poses great challenges and opportunities for communicators, Smith says.
Along with cultural differences based on their national backgrounds, Hispanics from the same countries of origin, who now live in the same U.S. states but in different cities, have shown their own regional tastes and purchasing behaviors.
“Puerto Ricans in Orlando and those in Miami are in two different worlds,” says Alan Taveras, co-founder of Brands of Puerto Rico, an e-commerce platform. “We sell coffee from Puerto Rico in both cities, but different brands and price points in each market.”
The number of U.S. Hispanics who speak English proficiently grew from 59 percent in 2000 to 71 percent in 2018, Pew has found. According to a 2017 survey, only 49 percent of third-generation Latinos speak Spanish to their children. PR professionals should therefore consider communicating to the U.S. Hispanic market in both Spanish and English.
Building relationships and engagement with Hispanic markets requires a human touch, too.
“Working with the Hispanic community in Texas has taught me that you need an emotional connection” in your marketing, something they can believe in, says Vanessa Wade, president of Connect The Dots PR in Houston.
Wade, who has helped raise funds for UNICEF’s World Water Week, says Hispanic people “want to know the story behind it” and what their funds will be used for, especially when helping people in their own countries of origin. “If you are from Honduras, guess what? We are building wells in Honduras,” she says. “I have learned that you really have to bring [the story you’re telling] to life if you want a positive outcome.”
As Hispanics grow into a major force in the United States, the time has come for PR professionals to learn, listen and connect with this diverse demographic. In return, U.S. Hispanics will comprar, comprar y comprar.
Bernardo Fiol-Costa is president and founder of The Big Think Group, a PR and marketing communications firm in San Juan, Puerto Rico.[Hispanic Day Parade photo by Ryan Rahman]