Culturally relevant marketing

Does culturally relevant messaging impact performance?

hyper-relevant marketing includes culture

I’ve been wondering in the past few months whether “Hispanic marketing”—having lived in a few Spanish speaking countries, this is a topic close to my heart—has become irrelevant. I’m not alone.

Marketers in the digital era are focusing on targeting based on behaviors, more so than outmoded notions of demographics. That idea makes me happy, because I tend to gag when work conversations turn to speculations about “soccer moms” or “millennials” or any other group NOT based on real-life behaviors or preferences. I’ve never been a big fan of stereotyping.

The more we fine-tune our audience, the better I like it. I’m all for one-to-one. Our agency is working hard to make our messages “hyper-relevant.” It’s about meeting our target audience with the right message in the right place at the right moment. It’s about understanding the what and the who in order to drive relevancy and position the brand as a catalyst in the consumer’s buy flow.

We use a lot of data to find that target group. And I have to wonder, is ethnicity a valid differentiator?

I waver on this question.

I love to travel. I can’t get enough of other cultures. In my exploration of the world and meeting a huge variety of people, I have seen up close that people are far more alike than they are different. In the grand scheme of things, human psychology is consistent across borders. We’re all looking for a great bargain, for the perfect new product, for something that makes us feel good at the end of the day when we evaluate our purchase, for a brand that is not only credible but likeable. How does culturally relevant content play a role in humanizing the brand and encouraging the consumer to act while feeling good about his/her decision? This is the golden question we’re all looking to test into and uncover.

My appreciation for cultural variety has shown me that certain images, sounds, aromas, flavors and colors can pull up much stronger emotions from one ethnic group than from another. Jamaicans are likely to paint their houses a blinding shade of blue. Canadians are more likely to paint their houses beige.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, “Hispanic marketing” meant translating your message into Spanish. Today, even that basic assumption is called into question. Despite continuous testing efforts, I still see mixed results when it comes to which creative approach and messaging work best within the Hispanic audience; bicultural, bilingual, Spanish or English are always battling for the trophy.

Fortunately, we have data. We need to use it.

We know that U.S. Hispanics are more immersed in digital media than the rest of us. They are more likely to have smartphones than average. We can figure out from usage whether English or Spanish is more appropriate to use. Better yet, we can ask about preferences. 

“The online space is a language-fluid platform for the vast majority of Digital Hispanics. When compared to the language they use most frequently at home or even prefer to speak, Digital Hispanics are much more likely to function as Bilinguals online.”

Google, “Digital Hispanics: The Role of Culture and Language Online,” July 2015

Digital can also be radically more visual than verbal–full of icons and emojis, as well as photographs, illustrations, videos and more. If you can be culturally relevant visually, your message will resonate emotionally with your target. Think: local food, national holidays, cultural traditions, family. All of these are cultural touchpoints for Hispanics. And they can be communicated without words.

Music is another emotional communicator that transcends language. You can narrow down musical tastes quite finely and create a cultural context for your message that touches the heart.  

As the Hispanic population continues to evolve, we’ll see language evolve along with it. We marketers must continue to be interested in this evolution as this segment is large, eager to listen and seeking the next opportunity to fall in love with a brand that actually gets who they are, where they come from and what they need. Hispanic marketing, like all marketing, isn’t dying or even maturing. It’s evolving—fast. I’m excited about the opportunity to craft messages to appeal to individuals from as many cultures as we can differentiate.