Growing the Latino Audience the Old Fashioned Way

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BuzzFeed has had a goal for the past year: Grow its Latino audience. Its mix of content did better among young whites than non-whites, and it was showing up in its traffic. The site decided to take action, and a year later, it’s seen results — results that could have lessons for others hoping to reach an underserved demographic group.

Its main method was a simple one: publishing more content that’s relevant to that audience, editor Ben Smith said today in a memo to BuzzFeed’s staff. In 2014, BuzzFeed published 112 posts under the “Latino” tag, an increase from 15 posts in 2013.

BuzzFeed’s coverage has spanned from news reports on immigration policy and the situation on the U.S.–Mexico border to its traditional turf of lists such as 20 Emojis All Latinos Could Use and 32 Sweet Mexican Treats That You Might Have Forgotten About.

“Our lists and quizzes, many of them focused on what it’s like to live one life or another, had mostly not been about growing up or being Latino,” Smith wrote. “Our news reporting hadn’t had a particularly aggressive focus on one major issue of interest to U.S. Hispanics, immigration, or on the many other great stories about the broad group that now represents about 1 in 5 Americans in their twenties. Our nascent lifestyle coverage similarly had its attention elsewhere.”

The site’s Latino audience is now proportionally larger than its white audience, according to Quantcast data it released along with the memo. Though BuzzFeed didn’t include specific numbers, the site says its Latino audience is now overindexed at 115 (with 100 representing the overall U.S. Internet population) compared to 73 a year earlier.

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Smith added that even the posts meant to speak to a certain identity, like “19 Things Your Mexican Mom Hated Hearing From You,” drew audiences beyond their intended target.

“That’s because most of our readers have diverse groups of friends and followers on the social web,” he wrote. “And more broadly, news stories that used to be considered in some way niche — marriage, immigration, and conflict between police and black communities — are perhaps the three biggest domestic stories of the last three years, whatever the audience.”

Smith credited Adrian Carrasquillo, who was promoted to editor of BuzzFeed’s Latino coverage last May, as leading the push to broaden the sites coverage of Hispanic issues. BuzzFeed’s editorial staff is 9.8 percent Hispanic, according to an internal study released last October.

In an interview last fall at the Nieman Foundation, Shani Hilton, BuzzFeed’s executive editor for news, told my colleague Caroline O’Donovan that BuzzFeed would continue to make diverse hiring practices a priority as a means to ensure its content reflected its audience. “The fun thing has been in practice that means that the more diversity that you get in your office, the easier it is to get more diversity, because you hire people, you trust them,” she said.

Alberto Navas, Daily Commuter of Language and Culture

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20150309 Navas PG10For Alberto Navas, the daily commute between language and culture is literal. He lives in Tijuana, and every day he heads north via the busiest border crossing in the world to his job in San Diego, where he helps lead the content team at Captura Group.

It’s a fitting transition for someone who markets to Hispanics, a demographic that makes linguistic and cultural “commutes” a thousand times a day. Marketing to Hispanics is all about connecting with those experiences.

We sat down with our compañero to talk to him about how his personal and professional background helps shape the type of authentic content we create on behalf of our clients.

You’ve lived in and traveled through many countries. How do you answer the question, “Where are you from?”

It’s a combination of place of birth and countries where I’ve lived. To be technical, I was born in Nicaragua, but I’ve lived and travelled all over: Peru, Jamaica, Canada, Dominican Republic, Argentina, and the U.S. (California, Atlanta, Miami, Washington, DC), to name a few places. Now I live in Mexico and commute daily to our office in San Diego – I import and export myself every day!

What about your professional background, is it as diverse as your travels?

¡Sí! I started out in supply chain and software, during the technology boom of the 1990s. From the start of my working life language and culture have been key assets, as I managed international shipments to Mexico. After approximately seven years, and purely by chance, I walked into the U.S. Hispanic market as a freelance translator and interpreter in Washington, DC. After a few years freelancing and a stop at business school in Vancouver, I came to Captura Group, where I just celebrated my eighth anniversary as a member of the best Hispanic content team! Anecdote: in the span of a year I lived in all three NAFTA countries.

How do you use your personal and professional experiences at Captura Group?

My personal and professional experiences have been a great education for working with U.S. Hispanics. My background in software helps me understand the digital environment in which we work. The time I’ve spent living and traveling throughout the U.S. and Latin America are the foundation of the work I do every day for our clients. When developing content I rely on those personal and professional experiences to leverage the nuances of language and culture to connect with U.S. Hispanics. This can be in broad strokes when planning a content strategy, or granular, when analyzing what terminology achieves the objectives of a project.

Can you take us through an example?

I am often asked, usually at the start of a project, “what Spanish” we will use in our content. This is a reference to whether we will recommend regional or neutral terminology. It depends on the target audience and objectives of the project or client, there isn’t a catch-all answer. I’m a firm believer in having an approach rather than a solution when developing content for online U.S. Hispanics. I’ve even written about it for this blog, comparing it to the off-side rule in soccer. (Think about it – it applies!)

What’s your advice for marketers or brands looking to reach online U.S. Hispanics through content?

My advice is to think beyond language and resist the urge to translate. Think about culture and go below the surface to create content that connects with U.S. Hispanics – and know that not all Hispanics are the same. This requires nuanced knowledge of language and culture, and a pan-Hispanic team; these two components are the bridge between the right content and the right context for your customers.

Retro Acculturation through the Hispanic Influence in U.S. Culture

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As the Hispanic population in the United States has grown, with a marked increase in native births and a plateau in immigration, the notion of conforming to the prevailing culture has given way to a richer, more resonant and less coercive concept: acculturation.

Acculturation is the process through which individuals or groups adopt cultural features from a different group and weave them into their own cultural fabric — without losing an inherent sense of identity. A vivid example of this is the celebration of distinctly American holidays, such as Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, by families of a different national origin. These families, many of whom share the same values that the holidays have come to represent, have adopted these American customs and have made them their own by adding native foods, music and social rituals to their celebrations.

Additionally, while minority groups can incorporate the traits and customs of a dominant culture, it also is clear that a reverse flow exists. Hispanic culture is having a profound effect on American food, music, sports, beauty products, fashion, politics and much more. This influence is due not only to the sheer size of the Hispanic population of 52 million now in the U.S. — roughly one in six Americans, with projections to nearly one in three by 2050. In many cases, it’s due to the recognition, acceptance and consequent gradual, organic adoption of aspects of the Hispanic culture by non-Hispanics.

The exchange, interpretation and borrowing of cultural characteristics is a great American tradition, but at this intersection a paradox arises: The thrill of the new combines with the tension elicited by the unknown. For every man who swoons at the beauty of Sofia Vergara, there is another who raises his eyebrows at her accent; for every supporter of the Dream Act, there is a detractor who looks with skepticism upon a new and independent voting bloc. Similarly, there are marketers who work to understand and identify crossover opportunities between the general market and specific groups, while others miss opportunities with strict, conventional interpretations of demographic information and analysis.

This study explores this paradox. As Hispanic culture continues to permeate the mainstream, we seek to learn where the effect is concentrated and which groups are most receptive to its influence. We want to know which aspects of American culture are affected and to what degree, and we explore how the majority perceives a minority group that has risen so quickly in influence — after all, Hispanics are this country’s largest and fastest-growing minority group. Moreover, we wanted to understand how Hispanic identity might evolve: Do Hispanics see themselves as agents of change? What are their views on balancing their distinctive heritage with the pull of the mainstream?

Do they feel secure in a society that, despite its advances, still might not fully recognize them as fellow Americans?

The purpose of this study is to help marketers more effectively navigate our dynamic and evolving society.

Talk of the Hispanic market going mainstream is nothing new. Now there is more talk (and more evidence) about the mainstream going Hispanic. When it comes to measuring the degree of Latino influence on American culture, the jury is in: It is present, it is profound, it is pervasive and it is permanent. More important: It is a shared perspective. Three out of four Americans agree that Hispanics have had a significant influence on American culture. And although Hispanic and non-Hispanic populations may disagree about the level of Latino influence in a particular segment of the culture, it is striking how close they are in perspective when it comes to the overall influence across markets.

One key factor in our study is geography. Its influence is consequential across numerous metrics. In some instances, respondents’ market locations within the U.S. revealed a regional prevalence of certain sentiments. In other cases, a specific belief may be widespread, embraced by study participants throughout the country.

Predictably, the touch point ranked by Hispanics and non-Hispanics as delivering the greatest influence on American culture is food. Almost 90% of non-Hispanics saw it as having the most prominent impact, placing it nearly 25 percentage points ahead of the next greatest influencer, music (63%). Hispanics gave food a slightly more modest share at 82%, and music was only seven points behind at 75%.

While music ranked second in overall impact on American culture as perceived by all Americans, there are important geographic differences. Hispanics in New York, Miami and McAllen, Texas, note a substantial effect of Hispanic culture in music at 86%, 86% and 90%, respectively. These cities also comprise the top three markets for non-Hispanics on the music question, albeit to a lesser degree at 75%, 73%, and 71%, respectively. In Nashville, the center of country music, just 42% of non-Hispanics (the lowest mark of any city) and 67% of Hispanics feel a Latino beat — a stunning 25-percentage point gap between the two, and both lower than their respective national averages.

The Latino influence in sports is felt most acutely among non-Hispanics in New York (72%) and least in Detroit (48%). Baseball, however, demonstrates how deeply integrated Hispanics are in American sports culture. The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY has installed a permanent ¡Viva Baseball! exhibit celebrating Latino contributions to America’s favorite pastime, and the number of Latino players in the league has surged in the last two decades, jumping from 13% in 1990 to 28% on opening day in 2010.1

The Hispanic community gives itself high marks for influencing beauty standards (64%), style and appearance (62%), and clothing (61%). Only about a third (32%) of non-Hispanics believe that Latinas have had a great to moderate impact on standards of beauty, a proportion that remains largely constant across demographics and is essentially the equivalent weight they give to the Hispanic influence on clothing (34%). On matters of style and appearance, non-Hispanics seem more aware of Latino influence (48%) than they are on beauty (32%).

Both non-Hispanic and Hispanic audiences size up the impact of Latino culture in television programming and channel real estate in equal force, as 54% of each segment see moderate to great influence, highlighting a strong presence in the channel lineup combined with the proliferation of Latino actors in general market television and cable programming. Univision now ranks as the nation’s fifth most popular network and two of the highest paid actors on television from May 2011 to May 2012 were women of Hispanic descent: Sofia Vergara of “Modern Family” and Eva Longoria of “Desperate Housewives.”2 Even with the ascension of these actresses into mainstream television, however, negative stereotypes of Hispanics are viewed as a fixture in media, with 73% of Hispanics and 68% of non-Hispanics noting their presence.

Latinos in the United States are frequently grouped into a monolithic group of Americans. In reality, Hispanic subgroups reflect profound DIVERSITY in ethnicity, culture, and origin. Given the distinct differences among the various people we call Hispanic in this country, it is essential to recognize that there is diverseness within this segment. But when it comes to understanding the diversity of Hispanic culture in the U.S., our survey demonstrated that only one-third of Hispanic and non-Hispanic respondents alike believe it is extremely or very well represented. So there is progress yet to be made on this front, and sadly, more work to be done in a less nuanced dimension: 55% of Hispanics (but only 15% of non-Hispanics) said Latinos encounter frequent discrimination, while 67% of Hispanics strongly or somewhat agree that as a group they are discriminated against more than other ethnic minorities.

The Hispanic consumer is both social and vocal, and proactively engages in a dialogue with friends and family about a range of products from high-ticket technology to fashion and style. The “next new thing” resonates with three out of four of these consumers, and more than half consider themselves a go-to source for information and guidance for new products.

These proportions are comparable to those of non-Hispanic consumers, half of whom consider themselves advisors and more than 81% of whom “love trying new things.”

The materialization of a substantial, widespread and thriving minority culture, intersecting and complementing the more pervasive culture, brings with it a new set of challenges, opportunities…and expectations. It is an exciting and rich horizon, and one that we aim, both as experts and participants, to show you.

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