For nearly a decade, even those most savvy about marketing to U.S. Latinos have applauded the "acculturation" approach to Latino consumer segmentation. Latino marketers have adopted it for its general relevance, especially in certain categories; for its indisputable link to Spanish language usage; and most of all, for the miraculous awareness and consensus it has garnered among marketing and media leaders as a construct they find useful in furthering business decisions.
The "acculturation" approach caught on because it makes sense, recognizing the complexity of Latino identity in the U.S.
But every bi-cultural (not necessarily bilingual) Latino in this country knows that the "acculturation" approach to Latino consumer segmentation is flawed, presenting the same challenges suffered by similar models used by marketers in the last 50 years. Designed to accommodate limitations set by the best information then available about consumers -- demographic data -- demographic segmentations have long been the inescapable final output of all consumer segmentations -- attitudinal, psychographic, behavioral, etc.
Demographics were, and unfortunately are still, the basis for most mass media buying. The result: segmentations that forced each consumer into a single "type" or "lifestyle."
One consumer, one box.
Naturally, individuals tend to rebel against such boxy generalizations about themselves. For example, just living in a certain ZIP code or driving a certain car doesn't mean we're anything like the "Tobacco-chewin' Joe Six-Packs" or "Cat-Loving Silver Scrimpers" who seem to be our neighbors.
We drink beer and prefer dogs, don't live fancy, and could use more money. But unlike our profiles, we have advanced degrees, and take ski trips to Vail. We're even Puerto Rican.
And our spending behaviors vary depending on which of our diverse friends and relatives happens to be with us.
Today's technology offers an ever-increasing abundance of information about consumer behavior and its motivating occasions. We can use these resources to ride the next wave in understanding situational contexts for Latinos' spending behavior.
Diana Rios and Federico Subervi have coined a term for this new idea: "Situational Latinidad." The term is still up for a namestorm - "Occasional Hispanicity," "Sometimes Feelin' Latino," etc. The idea is simple: Each Latino in the U.S. experiences the Latino identity in different ways, in different situations. Acculturation labels sum up general types and levels of such individual identification based on language use and media consumption, but they miss what matters to most marketers -- behavior related to their category.
Most importantly, segmenting by acculturation alone misses the influence of the complex multi-generational and cross-cultural social networks in which most Latinos spend their days.
Certain products tend to connect Latinos with their heritage. In food, for example, the Goya brand has exploited this tendency, growing its large, Latino-loyal brand in the U.S. since 1936.
Other products that Latinos use to express their "Latinidad" include makeup, jewelry, clothing, cologne, shoes, cars, personal technologies, art, home décor, landscaping, and music, to name a few.
But these same Latinos live their days cross-culturally. Individuals buying Goya also might love pizza, Mediterranean food, and so on. The Latino identification and orientation to products will depend on moods and social situations, and on the cultures of their friends and relatives (usually a cultural salad in itself!), and not just on their own.
So, I recommend that you start your Latino consumer segmentation and targeting process not with pre-defined birthplace, national heritage, or language-based groups, but instead by crossing behavior and values information with situational and social context. Then, you're more likely to ensure relevance and brand loyalty with the Latinos who matter most to your brand.
By Lauren Romero
Lauren Romero leads strategic planning for Wave, cross-cultural experts at The Marketing Arm. Her U.S. Hispanic market expertise is complemented by 16+ years' experience marketing consumer products from supply through distribution on behalf of employers Coca-Cola Company, Mars, Inc., Whole Foods Market, and agency Publicis (Nestle). A native bilingual fluent in English and Spanish (formally educated in both) Lauren received her MBA from The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.
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