"What's learned in a targeted Hispanic market is going to become much more relevant to thinking about the mainstream as [Hispanic] influences move to a wider audience," Mr. Thomas says.
Colgate-Palmolive Co. is seeing results from just such a strategy, says Ruth Gaviria, a former director of Hispanic and Asian marketing for Colgate. Ms. Gaviria is now VP-marketing and sales for IDM Corp.'s Internet portal Fusion Networks.
Ms. Gaviria was responsible for managing the 1996 introduction of Colgate's Mexican-produced Suavitel fabric softener and Fabuloso hard-surface cleaner to the U.S. Hispanic market. At the time, Colgate had little or no presence in each category in the consumer niche.
By the time she left last year, both products were a hit in Hispanic markets with residents of both Mexican and Caribbean origin, Ms. Gaviria says.
Suavitel, for instance, attained a 15% market share among U.S. Hispanic consumers, overtaking Unilever's Snuggle as No. 2 brand in the segment. Procter & Gamble Co.'s top-selling Downy fabric softener ranks No. 1 in the Hispanic segment.
An important key to the success of both brands was their strong fragrance, Ms. Gaviria says.
As Colgate looked for ways to parlay the products' success into the general market, the company seized on the fragrance rather than the products.
Suavitel and Fabuloso became the inspiration for Palmolive Spring Sensations, a new botanical-scented line of dish soaps launched last fall that propelled Colgate's market share in the category to an all-time-high 40% in December.
Ms. Gaviria was part of the team that developed Spring Sensations because of her experience with Suavitel and Fabuloso.
"They used us as research," Ms. Gaviria says. "And [Spring Sensations] is doing very well in both the Hispanic and general markets."