Understanding language preferences key to engaging second-gen Hispanics

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Direct marketing professionals seeking to connect with one of the most influential groups of Hispanic consumers may be surprised to learn that Spanish-language media aren’t necessarily the way to go. A survey conducted by MSN Latino and MRM Worldwide, the global, digital and direct-marketing arm of McCann Worldgroup, revealed that 40% of second-generation Hispanics neither read nor write in Spanish, a factor that shapes their consumer behaviors and preferences.

Maria Lopez-Knowles, senior VP-group account director at MRM Worldwide, said, “The Spanish that [second-generation Hispanics] understand is conversational Spanish. So if they would connect with Spanish-language media, it would be with a broadcast medium that they can hear.” Alternatively, Lopez-Knowles suggested that the use of English-language written media—combined with messaging and creative that speak to the recipient’s cultural heritage—can also be effective.

The survey was conducted on and the Spanish-language site during Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15). It gathered responses from 951 first- and second-generation Hispanics, ages 18 to 55, about issues such as their ethnic/cultural affiliations, media consumption patterns and habits, responses to Hispanic marketing practices, brand loyalty and language preferences. The results were released in a white paper titled “The Online U.S. Hispanic: First- and Second-Generation Insights” in January.

When it came to language preferences, second-generation survey respondents indicated they use Spanish most frequently when speaking with their immigrant parents. In addition, many said they frequently choose Spanish over English when they wish to convey important information or emotion.

In its analysis of the survey results, MRM Worldwide concluded, “for marketers, [the Spanish language] is a tool that—carefully used alongside a clear recognition of cultural nuances, acculturation level and individual relevance—can break through barriers to generate awareness, conversion and consumer loyalty.”

To accomplish this, however, marketers must better understand second-generation Hispanics and how they differ from other segments of the Hispanic market. “They need to speak to them: Understand how they live, understand what their struggles have been and get deeper psychological insights into them,” Lopez-Knowles said.

The MSN Latino and MRM Worldwide survey findings are significant because second-generation Hispanics represent a growing segment of Hispanic consumers. According to the 2000 United States Census, they are the only group of Hispanic consumers that will grow until the year 2020 and slightly thereafter, Lopez-Knowles said.

And second-generation Hispanics are powerful consumers in their own right. They tend to have higher household incomes and are more proficient technology users than their first-generation counterparts, the MRM Worldwide/MSN survey revealed.

But Lopez-Knowles noted that the group’s status as “brand influencers within multigenerational families” is perhaps what makes them most important from a marketing perspective. More than 40% of second-generation survey respondents said family members considered and/or tried what they recommended. And over 15% said family members always bought what they had recommended.

Despite this, second-generation Hispanic consumers have historically been under- or mistargeted by marketing professionals, in part because many companies mistakenly believe they can effectively be reached as part of the general market.

“It’s a hard one for folks to get their head around when you say second-generation Hispanics are English-language dominant,” said Lopez-Knowles. “They say, ‘OK, then I’m reaching them with English-language TV.’ I always say, ‘Of course you are. You’re reaching them, but are you touching them?’ ”

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