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Why Marketers Fail to Reach Bilingual Hispanics, Como Yo

Posted by Maria Lopez-Knowles on June 11th, 2014 at 8:25 am

Last week I wrote a blog about why marketers fail to reach bicultural Hispanics, and I thought it would make sense to follow up with a blog that focused on bilingual Hispanics. More often than not, biculturalism goes hand in hand with bilingualism.

I was raised in a home where Spanish was spoken to my parents and English was spoken (flawlessly) among all five siblings. Rarely would we speak Spanish to each other, unless of course we purposefully didn’t want someone to understand what we were saying.

I learned Spanish through exchanges with my parents and older, first-generation immigrant family and friends. And I learned English through my older siblings, television and schooling.  To this day, I am not completely biliterate, I can read Spanish, but am uncomfortable writing it (the accent marks alone have always been a challenge).

Most of us educated U.S. born (2.0-generation) Hispanics are also pretty compulsive about using English correctly when we speak and write the language. I think it may be because our parents didn’t dominate the language. And, in some way, by our commanding the language we compensated for their lack of mastery and, more importantly, felt a deeper sense of belonging to this country – wholeheartedly, and without reservation.

I, along with most of my 2.0 generation Hispanic brethren, speak English primarily, BUT pepper my English with Spanish words or phrases when speaking to another bilingual Hispanic. Some call this Spanglish. It comes very organically and advertisers should take note.

Why?

I am extremely important to marketers, because I was a Sherpa at an early age: interpreting the American ethos for my Spanish-language dominant family; and, translating the language for them as well.  I’ve informed brand decisions and purchase evaluations from a very early age, and continue to do so today.

The ROI marketers seek is multiplied when they communicate to me in a manner that affectively connects with me. Not just culturally, but linguistically as well.  I am more likely to co-brand the information for my sphere of influence and to share said information about a brand or service offering that is relevant to my network of friends and family.

And recent research indicates that my network is more likely to respond to my message and take action on my recommendation. So brands that want to drive a greater ROI, need to engage me emotionally because I will drive word of mouth or advocacy.

How does a brand do that?

Take the liberty of communicating with me in the same manner that I speak to other bilingual/bicultural Hispanics; primarily in English but ‘wink’ at me in Spanish. Acknowledge that I am not the mainstream (yet), and invite me to engage with your brand.

Have culturally relevant messaging, but if that’s not possible, at a minimum speak to me in English while acknowledging that I am bilingual. My home life while growing up was fully bilingual, as an adult, I still engage with older relatives in Spanish, and I’ve accepted my duality; brands need to do so as well. Reflect it in your advertising. At the end of the day, you are validating me. Saying that I matter and you are inviting me to be part of your brand and your brand’s family in an authentic fashion.

Still not sure how that works?

In my previous post I shared a tagline:

‘Help me help myself’, which wasn’t bicultural.

To reach me in a culturally relevant way, I recommend that it be changed to:

‘Help me help my family and myself.’

And to reach me linguistically as well, it should be changed to:

‘Help me help mi familia and myself.’

There is an art to this. Words that have emotional resonance should be used. Action words should be used. And more importantly, don’t use too much Spanish because remember: I’m not completely biliterate.

Adelante!

2 Responses to “Why Marketers Fail to Reach Bilingual Hispanics, Como Yo”

  1. RLB Hartmann says:

    This is the most sensible essay I've read anywhere in a long time. ¡Mil gracias!

  2. Luis Gaitan says:

    The 4th Paragraph about being "compulsive about using English correctly when we speak and write the language" to establish a deeper connection to American society & compensate for our parents, really hit the point home. I've been doing this for decades without realizing it.

    Additionally, one of my biggest advertising pet peeves is seeing companies, like Coors Light, use Spanglish incorrectly. Indeed there is an art to it. Great points throughout!

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