Marketers: Bicultural Hispanics Need to be Heard, So Give Them a Voice

The Bicultural Challenge and Opportunity Is Creating Concurrent Conversations

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I recently had a brief telephone conversation with my mother, and was reminded just how dissimilar we are from each other. She is foreign-born, Cuban by birth, and came to this country as an adult. I was born in the U.S. Most marketers would paint us both as "Hispanic" and think their job is done.

But it's more complicated than that. Marketers need to understand the dynamics at play with bicultural audiences, and how communications can be interpreted differently in Hispanic vs. U.S. "general market" cultures.

When I have phone conversations with my mother, if there's a three-second pause after she begins a sentence, and I haven't verbally confirmed her speaking, she'll ask me, "Are you there? Did the phone die?" I don't know if this occurs because we aren't in the same room and she can't read my non-verbal, active listening cues, or if it's simply because of her collectivist roots, and her belief that conversations shouldn't be as much sequential as concurrent. Regardless of the cause, the result is the same: I leave the conversation many times feeling like I haven't been heard, or having to do a lot of work to be heard.

In our U.S. culture, it's rude to interrupt someone when they are speaking. But there's something about a collectivist Hispanic culture that makes it OK -- maybe even expected. We're passionate, right?

When I joined the corporate world many years ago, I vividly remember reminding myself not to interrupt the person I was speaking with. It was a conscious act to not interject. I now don't need to remind myself most of the time, but sometimes, I must admit that I still do.

What does this say about emerging bicultural Hispanic audiences and brand relationships? It's a well-known fact that online Hispanics are overwhelmingly second-generation (U.S. born) or 1.5-generation (came to the U.S. at the age of 10 years or less). Both of these groups are bilingual and bicultural, and many are hyper-acculturated. They are born and raised here, or in the case of the 1.5-generation, raised here from an early age.

Once they are online, this group is über-active. They over-index the general market on online activities, and they are characterized as: creators, critics, collectors and joiners (Forrester Research). There are many theories as to why they become so active online. I think it's because the internet gives them a medium to finally have a voice and feel validated in society -- a basic need we all have to be fulfilled as human beings. The internet gives the voiceless a voice. Remember the Arab Spring?

But the more I ponder this phenomenon, I believe it may also be because in their early familial environments, it was hard for them to find their voice and express an opinion, especially if the latter was outside of the collective or group think.

This is a core component of the bicultural Hispanic and it's foundational to our conflicting values. We are raised in a familial environment that expects passionate, concurrent conversations, and valuing family over self, vs. being taught in U.S. schools that educate us about self-reliance and independence. In fact, it took me years to realize that many times when I was acting in a self-reliant way, my parents interpreted it as acting selfishly.

Neither culture is wrong, but they do conflict.

Do brands truly understand this core truth -- the fact that bicultural Hispanics really need to be heard, whatever the root cause? It's become a consumer-centric world, but do marketers really grasp what that means for a bicultural Hispanic? Marketers need to do the following when marketing to bicultural Hispanic audiences:

1. Engage us authentically.

2. Facilitate conversations with the brand.

3. Empower us with tools to share your messaging and our brand conversation with others.

4. Employ us in creating content and driving your brand direction.

5. Let us have a voice in your brand to not only inform new product or service direction, but to have it better reflect our needs and yes, our collectivist roots.

In short, when marketing to Hispanics like me, leverage the aforementioned insights to connect with me -- in real time, and yes, concurrently.