The Hispanic Market Isn't Only for Big Business

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My thoughts have been traveling south of the border (I'm bound for Argentina on vacation), and I'm not the only one. With 47 million Hispanics in the United States, many companies are anxious to court that growing market. By 2020, the number of Hispanics will reach 60 million, or 18 percent of the population, according to census estimates. And they've got money to spend.

Research firm HispanTelligence estimates that the group's purchasing power will jump from $700 billion today to more than $1 trillion by 2010.

To capture those dollars, companies from Bank of America to Lexus have been rolling out new services and tailoring ad campaigns to this diverse group. Immigrants themselves are also using inside knowledge to open up businesses that cater to native populations, as I wrote about in February.

But it's not just companies with big budgets or insiders that can figure out how to grab the attention of the Hispanic market. Any small company can win over this group if it just does its homework, says Jayson Fittipaldi, president of Nobox, an agency that has handled Hispanic campaigns for Lexus and Verizon.

While they may not have huge budgets to hire outside help, small-business owners can do a lot of the research on their own. Fittipaldi suggests they start by figuring out the makeup of their customers as well as the area where they do business. Cities like Los Angeles and Miami are well known for their Spanish-speaking populations, but Latino immigrants now are heading to jobs in states like North Carolina and Arkansas. Small-business owners in certain neighborhoods may be able to give their bottom line a hefty boost by courting these new arrivals.

As with any marketing, "it's about understanding the clientele," Fittipaldi says. "You can learn a lot from listening to them."

U.S. Hispanics are a diverse group: Mexicans make up about 67 percent of their numbers, while Central Americans account for 9.2 percent of the population and Puerto Ricans 8.7 percent, according to a Synovate study.

It's also important to differentiate customers' age and income. Fittipaldi suggests heading to websites that offer research, such as the Pew Hispanic Center and Mediamark. Then, business owners should dig further by talking to customers and maybe even asking them to fill out a questionnaire, he says. Groups like Hispanic Marketing Pro offer online seminars on topics such as Internet marketing to Latinos.

Being culturally aware of those nuances can make all the difference between a campaign that alienates potential customers and one that brings them through the door. Synovate estimates that about 10 percent of Hispanics speak English, not Spanish, at home.

Fittipaldi points out that second-generation Latinos prefer to get their information in English. So if a business owner targets a younger audience, translating a website into Spanish won't reach that group. On the other hand, with 56 percent of Hispanics speaking only Spanish at home, many immigrants "feel more connected to that product when the website is translated," he says.

Companies should look for other ways of reaching customers, as well, such as through local Spanish-language newspapers and radio stations. Those ads also need to localize design to connect with customers, says Fittipaldi. In addition to translating the Lexus website into Spanish, Nobox changed the backdrop from an industrial setting to a Miami skyline to boost appeal among Puerto Ricans.

Ads are just the first step toward winning over new customers. Tech companies can make moves like setting up help lines in Spanish to win customers from the competition. Or a pizza shop in a Brazilian neighborhood might want to add toppings that suit local tastes and then advertise the changes–in Portuguese.

small business

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