Beyond the Buzzwords: Temporarily Ditching the Misplaced Cultural Modifiers.

By Nancy Morkovsky – Brand Planning Director, Richards/Lerma

Arguably, the most critical conclusion a brand or agency can make is an accurate definition of its prospective target audience. Defining the right target leads to clarity and focus, which leads to insightful and relevant creative, which in turn positively affects your client’s business. It sounds so simple, but with so many consumer segmentation models, new cultural buzzwords and the lingering ghosts of archaic language-based models, it can be challenging to pinpoint the “right” Hispanic consumer.

In the general market, segmentation has long depended on psychographics, mindsets and attitudes to develop meaningful and robust target profiles. It often begins with questions like, “How do they feel about our brand?” or “How do they interact in the category?” or “What is their overall disposition?” So you get terms such as “Late Adopter,” “Everyday Enthusiast” and “People Pleasers” to ideate against.

When it comes to Hispanic segmentation, the added variables of language dominance and acculturation level often define instead of enhance characteristics of the target audience. So Hispanic targets are often given titles that are “Cultural (insert common noun),” implying that culture is the main defining characteristic of Hispanic consumers.

Of the different acculturation models out there, they have definitely improved vs. the models from the 80s and 90s. Instead of turning acculturation into a zero-sum game of the “graduation” into the dominant culture, they are now much more flexible and multifaceted frameworks.

Univision’s Consumer Insight Research Group released its proprietary Cultural Connection Index (CCI), a quantitative metric that identifies the relative importance of cultural influences based on the specific dimensions of family, heritage and community. The Yankelovich Multicultural Marketing Service’s attitudinal-based Hispanic acculturation segmentation model makes a clear distinction between language preference and cultural affinity. And increasingly, Hispanic research firms are creating their own models of cultural segmentation to help clients understand the changing landscape.

Culturati Research completed a proprietary study that does a good job of adding more texture to the previously homogenous “bicultural” segment and how it compares with other acculturation segments.

It’s not that these models and thinking are wrong. They aren’t. But there are other important aspects to consider when assessing the opportunity.

And while culture is undoubtedly significant to our consumers’ lives, it is more often an innate sense of self vs. an overt, top-of-mind daily objective. It is who they are, not necessarily what they do. Yes, they maintain ties to culture in their various actions (food, music, TV shows), but they are also consumers who purchase and emote about products, brands, experiences, etc.

The point is not to void Hispanic briefs, creative work of cultural facts or context, or the more interesting ways of looking at acculturation. Rather, it’s to push the thinking beyond language and segmentation – even if it requires stressing to your clients that “Spanish-speaking moms” is not enough of a target definition.

One of the ways Richards/Lerma handles this is to focus first on the mindset of the target and temporarily suspend the mention of language or acculturation. To continue the previous example, “moms” is the mindset on which to focus – and that obviously requires more context. What kind of mom is our target? Busy? They all are!

Push the thinking for greater detail. Is she a placating parent or a household manager? Is she in charge or is she overwhelmed? These modifiers can better pinpoint the target and current beliefs, which then can help your team decide if you want to encourage or change behavior. Then and only then should you start layering what percentage of these consumers are Spanish-dominant, bicultural, foreign-born, etc. This can help identify the true target opportunity instead of force-fitting a language criterion upfront.

While some clients and agencies may be concerned that not starting with Spanish or acculturation makes the Hispanic opportunity vulnerable or conflicts with the Spanish-only media plan, we’d argue that this presents a greater prospect to expand the Hispanic opportunity.

This was the case for our Ram Trucks and MetroPCS clients; our research helped to define our consumer mindsets, and showed opportunity among both Spanish- and English-speaking consumers. And among these mindset segments, the general market campaigns did not reach or connect with our target as effectively as what our clients needed. Both brands realized the broader opportunity and responded with bicultural work and an evolution of the general market work to be more inclusive of the Hispanic customer/audience.

Of course, that is the other critical component: an open-minded client willing to take risks or do things in an unconventional manner. So if you have open-minded clients, push them. Get them to move beyond simple culturally based definitions of their target audiences. Push them to evolve their general market definitions to include Hispanic or multicultural nuances.

Clients want that kind of thinking from their agencies. Many of us know it’s the right approach, but we’ve felt confined to only playing in the Hispanic sandbox. Push the boundaries of that sandbox. Push your clients, and you’ll make yourself a valuable, forward-thinking partner. And that’s not a bunch of buzzwords. That’s the truth.

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