A political strategist, a Chief Marketing Officer and a Hispanic marketing expert walk into a bar. The strategist and the CMO belly up to the bar, then look at each other and say, “We gotta figure out this Hispanic thing.” The Hispanic marketing expert looks over to them both and declares, “I told you so!”
Okay, so I won’t quit my day job for a career at The Improv. But hear me out.
The more I examine “Hispanics,” the more I sigh in exhaustion.
Following last month’s election, some political talking heads are saying, almost regrettably, “America is browning.” Like it or not, those that wish to win the Hispanic vote must develop a Hispanic strategy, they say, with the same enthusiasm adults express when they realize grandma was right; we should eat our vegetables.
Over on Wall Street, we know the Titans of Industry are a smart, opportunistic bunch. The CMO’s understand that the recent election is a proxy for the trends shaping society – or, as they would call it, markets or segments. If there’s a Hispanic dollar to be had, these are the folks who are incentivized to go get it. However, they are also incentivized to get that dollar while investing as few dollars as possible.
Now enters the Hispanic Marketing Industry, chock-full of research screaming to the world that Hispanics represent the largest and fastest growing minority group in the United States. They tell us Hispanics overuse every form of conceivable media when compared to non-Hispanics. If that’s not enough to convince the CMO’s to increase their Hispanic marketing budgets, the Hispanic marketing industry continuously reminds us that Hispanic buying powering dwarfs that of many developing nations (According to the November 12th article in Forbes Magazine titled, “America’s Corporations Can No Longer Ignore Hispanic Marketing Like Mitt Romney Did,” they claim “Hispanics will represent $1.5T in purchasing power by 2015.”). I don’t love the inflammatory title, but I’ll save my political exploitation and divisiveness rant for another blog on another day. The point remains: Hispanics have political and economic clout.
So again, who are these Hispanics that politicians, CMOs and Hispanic marketing experts alike keep referring to?
To get an answer, I recently went to where just about every major political candidate since I can recall goes to when attempting to connect with these so-called Hispanics in South Florida: El Versailles Cuban Restaurant in the heart of Little Havana, in the southwest section of Miami, FL.
I sat there with family members. Some were born in Cuba; some were the children of immigrants while others the grandchildren of immigrants. Some lived in Caribbean culture-dominated Miami, others in multicultural North Jersey while the balance resides in central Florida, many literal and cultural miles removed from the Latino food, sights and sounds we were experiencing at El Versailles.
Now, who among us were the actual Hispanics that politicians, CMOs and Hispanic marketing experts are talking about? Is it the sister-in-law who spoke the best Spanish? Is it the bilingual cousin who lives in the mostly densely populated Hispanic neighborhood? Is it the family member who was actually born in a Spanish-speaking country but immigrated as a child and prefers English? Is it the older patrons at El Versailles who grew up in a Spanish speaking country but has now spent most of their lives in the United States? Or is it yet another group that can be organized in seemingly endless ways?
All this got me wondering – did Obama earn the Hispanic vote because he specifically addressed something of universal interest to Hispanics OR did he simply earn most of the vote based on a platform that appealed to the majority of the country of which a growing number happen to be Hispanic? The market research and exit polling that the politicians, CMOs and Hispanic marketing experts study don’t always distinguish among these differences. To some of them, I’m just a Hispanic, as are all those folks at El Versailles, the Hispanic voter and the Hispanic consumer; we’re all lumped together in this singular category called Hispanics. However, understanding the differences may just hold the key insights in how to win over “Hispanics” both in politics as well as business.