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A Growing Market: Spanish Speakers in the US

By: John Watkins (Argos Multilingual) - Argos Multilingual

06 September 2006

There is no question that as the Hispanic population has grown in the US, and so has interest in reaching this Spanish speaking demographic, be it for political or marketing needs. Perhaps the earliest indication of the increasing influence of this demographic is the address made in 1996 by Madeleine Albright to the United Nations after Cuban jet fighters downed two unarmed civilian planes from Miami: “Frankly, this is not cojones, this is cowardice.”

This speech, given to the UN, effectively turned the recorded comments of the Cuban fighter pilots into a memorable expression that resounded within the US, though context and cultural heritage affect how well it was received. In popular US usage, especially among those who do not speak Spanish, “cojones” implies a brave attitude. In Spanish, however, this word is distinctly vulgar. The former US Secretary of State accomplished her goal by using a vulgar term—in the politics of that time, it worked.

Marketing to the US Hispanic demographic generally benefits from more appropriate word choices. Perhaps you heard about the failed billboards from the VW GTI campaign for the domestic Spanish speaking market? With the headline “Turbo Cojones”, these billboards lasted only three days before negative public sentiment in the Hispanic community brought them down.

By understanding US Hispanic demographics, effective messages can be delivered to achieve marketing, human resource management and legal goals.

Over 100 languages are spoken in the US, but Spanish is the most common language amongst non-native English speakers. [1]

Of these 100 languages, there are 11 languages that correspond to populations greater that 500,000 people in the US (ranging from Arabic with ~0.6 Million US residents to Spanish with ~28 Million residents).

Figure 1: Top languages spoken in the USA

Communicating with the US Hispanic market in Spanish is not a courtesy; much of the Spanish speaking population in the US is not fluent in English. In fact, nearly 50% of this populace identifies itself as having limited English skills. This means that nearly 14 Million people may not fully understand a marketed message if it is not also provided in Spanish.

Recent increases in domestic Hispanic employment have fueled this dynamic market’s rapid growth. HispanicBusiness.com reports that “on an annual basis, employment of Hispanics increased by 977,000 jobs, bringing the Hispanic unemployment rate down from 5.9 percent in May 2005 to the current 5.0 percent. Overall, the U.S. economy added 2,405,000 jobs since May 2005. Hispanics filled 40.6 percent of those positions, despite being only 13.6 percent of the total U.S. labor force.”

This results in a remarkable growth rate in purchasing power, with the US Hispanic market achieving an income growth rate of 7.7%, nearly three times the average US household rate. The resulting spending power is best understood by looking at the current size of this market: it is $700 billion and growing, with a projected market size of $1 trillion by 2010.

Comparable growth is seen in small- and mid-sized Hispanic-owned US businesses as well. The US Small Business Administration estimates that there are currently over 2 million small and midsize Hispanic-owned businesses. According to industry estimates, this number is projected to grow to over 8 million by 2010. Hewlett-Packard (HP) conducted research in 2005, which found that the Hispanic IT market is growing three to five times faster than the overall market. As a result, HP launched an integrated program to address this US Hispanic business market. The program includes a staff of 20 bilingual sales representatives, to focus on small and mid-size Hispanic businesses. The HP marketing approach included efforts to determine how to best reach this market, leading to a combined mail and Web-based strategy. In March, HP launched the Hispanic Business Center (www.hp.com/go/hispanic) on its Web site, offering training, product information, and support data in Spanish to the U.S. Hispanic market.

Consumers in this large and growing market, while sharing many cultural similarities, do not comprise a single, homogenous culture. Spanish speakers have immigrated to the US from a wide range of countries. While there is an international body that oversees the Spanish language (La Real Academia Española at www.rae.es), providing language standardization in all Spanish-speaking countries, clear regional differences remain. In the US, these regional differences manifest themselves with Spanish speakers of various origins, most of whom came from Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Within this heterogeneous culture, approximately 60% of this population is of Mexican origin. As a result, much of domestic marketing in Spanish is directed to this population group, with efforts made to use vocabulary that can also be understood by Spanish speakers from other locales.

Current observations of the assimilation process for the Hispanic population in the US illustrate the appropriateness of marketing in Spanish. Historically, sociologists considered that immigrants typically assimilated within three generations. For US Hispanics, this does not appear to be true, though it is too early to know for sure. In general, small population groups assimilate more quickly because there are societal pressures to do so. Larger population groups take longer to assimilate because their culture of origin is more easily retained. Today, approximately 80% of the first and second-generation US Hispanic population speaks Spanish. Most telling, these Spanish speakers retain a preference for Spanish messages.

US business recently began actively marketing to the growing US Hispanic population. In 2005, US businesses spent approximately $3.3 Billion in marketing to this $700 Billion market. Companies such as Hewlett-Packard (discussed above and found at www.hp.com/go/hispanic), Office Depot (espanol.officedepot.com), McDonald’s (www.mcdonalds.com/es/usa/eat.html), and Scotts (espanol.scotts.com) have integrated advertising and marketing campaigns that specifically target the domestic Spanish speaking market.

To effectively market to US Hispanic customers, the actual product has to be localized for this market. The localization process gives the product the look and feel of having been created for that target market. Typical products run the gamut from retail materials (including packaging, instructions, applicable software, and customer support) to retail support, customer surveys, HR materials, and legal information.

The Spanish speaker in the US should easily be able to understand product content, translated into Spanish for the US market, so that it does not seem an “after thought.” The localization process accomplishes this by combining linguistic work (the actual translation) along with engineering and desktop publishing tasks to effectively integrate the translated content for the target market.

This brief article brings recognition to a US market many have not yet considered. As this market is growing quickly, the need to address it directly becomes clear. Companies entering this market space need to localize services for the US Hispanic market. Isn’t it time to consider taking your service or products directly to the US Hispanic market?

John Watkins has an extensive background in product engineering and localization, having worked in international business for over 18 years. During his career, John has been heavily involved in software product development, human resource policies and procedures, and business process engineering. He spent 10 years in Europe, working at an international government agency, managing product development. As President and Chief Operating Officer of ENLASO, John guides ENLASO employees to ensure customers receive consistent, high-quality localization services. John holds a M.Sc. from the University of Cincinnati.

[1]The statistics provided in this article come from the following sources:
• US Census Bureau (www.census.gov)
• HispanicBusiness.com (www.hispanicbusiness.com)