Marketers slow to tailor Web efforts

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More than 80% of Fortune 100 companies don't have Spanish-language Web sites, and the remander often fail to offer really useful Spanish-language navigation and content online, according to a recent survey by Forrester Research.

"It's very shocking," said Ron Rogowski, an analyst at Forrester. Even companies that have added Spanish to their Web sites may just do an overview page in Spanish, with links that send readers right back to English.

"That says `We know Spanish-speakers are important, but we're not going to do anything for them,"' Mr. Rogowki said.

Some marketers see an opportunity to change that. Volkswagen of America is readying a soft launch in mid-March of its first Spanish-language Web site for the U.S. Hispanic market. In its initial phase, the site will contain flash animation telling the story of each model and a Hispanic dealer locator, said Daniel Marrero, partner and creative director at Miami-based COD, Volkswagen of America's U.S. Hispanic agency.

`drivers wanted' en espanol

"What's cool is that instead of VW.com/espanol, the site will be called Agarracalle.com," Mr. Marrero said. Agarra calle is the Spanish-language version of Volkswagen's "Drivers wanted" tagline. By the end of the year, entertainment content will be added, he said. "That could be chistes [jokes], places to go, music channels," he said.

To drive consumers to the site, Volkswagen will tag Hispanic commercials with the Web address and do banners on different sites like music site Batanga.com, he said.

"The automotive industry knows how important this segment is," Mr. Rogowski said.

Car marketers are among the best for creating sophisticated Spanish-language Web sites and using auto channels on Hispanic portals. Ford Motor Co. has a Hispanic site on AOL Latino called Mi Negocio ("My Business") with content aimed at minority entrepreneurs. Funded by Ford's supplier-diversity development program, Mi Negocio functions more as community outreach and doesn't promote cars, although there is a link to Ford's site.

Almost 13 million Hispanics are online. About 42% of that online population is Spanish dominant, 26% are English-dominant, and 31% are bilingual, Mr. Rogowski said.

Marketers that do have Spanish-language Web sites need to promote them more actively, he said; they should make links to Spanish-language sites prominent, market to search engines and link Spanish-language promotions to content. For instance, Wachovia makes it easy for users to e-mail friends links to Spanish-language content. And Verizon encourages its Spanish-speaking phone reps to talk about the Spanish-language site's features and help determine what content the site needs. SBC does promotions at Hispanic community events that include giveaways requiring a site visit. Toyota offers free Latin music downloads on matrixmusica.com, created to showcase its Matrix sport wagon to Hispanics. In English and Spanish, the site lets users download popular music in return for a name, e-mail address and time frame for their next car purchase.

It's also important to be able to toggle back and forth between languages. A user may begin in English but want to switch to Spanish as information becomes more complex, such as figuring out which checking account to sign up for, he said.

Finally, Spanish-language ads should link to online content in the same language, Mr. Rogowski said. Banners or other ads that send users to English-language content "betray user trust," he said.

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