Marketers Join Forces to Better Target Hispanics

Peer-to-Peer Network Latinum Offers Research, Data and Idea Exchange

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NEW YORK ( -- A new peer-to-peer business network is bringing together Hispanic marketers to share everything from dealing with the need for better data to hot topics such as the acculturation of Latino consumers.

Latinum was started in late 2009 by David Wellisch, founder and former general manager of AOL Latino, and Michael Klein, a veteran of other business networks.

Vicious cycle
"In the Hispanic market, there are execution challenges, often results are inconsistent, ROI is difficult to measure, and that leads to barriers to ongoing commitment," Mr. Wellisch said.

The group kicked off with a meeting at charter member McDonald's Corp.'s headquarters and continued with an online session on acculturation, identified as a key issue most marketers struggle with. Members can also work with Latinum in smaller groups, or one-on-one.

"It's the ability to network with other companies trying to find out the same answers we are, and collaborate, and work with Latinum to look beyond language," said Cristina Vilella, McDonald's marketing director for U.S. Hispanic. "We don't just target Hispanics in Spanish any more as a company. How do we look at the consumer who lives in both worlds?"

Juan Motta, Nestlé's head of emerging markets-domestic, said of Latinum, "It's an opportunity to share best practices with others, and pool resources so we can get smarter about things like how the U.S. Hispanic consumer is acculturating."

Mr. Motta noted that Nestlé's focus has been more on unacculturated Hispanics, building on immigrants' brand loyalty to Nestlé products such as La Lechera that they grew up with in Latin America. But now that the Hispanic market is growing more through U.S. births than immigration, Nestlé needs to study bicultural consumers more closely.

At the end of 2009, Latinum had 20 members, including H&R Block, Kraft, 7-Eleven and Sara Lee. Members pay an annual fee of $70,000, and range from companies like McDonald's, one of the top five Hispanic advertisers with an ad budget close to $100 million, to relative novices in the Hispanic market. Latinum offers research and data, an exchange of peer solutions and opportunities for collaboration among companies that are pursuing the same segment of the population.

There is no category exclusivity -- Nestlé, Unilever and Kraft were all at the first meeting -- although Mr. Wellisch said everyone asks about that, along with confidentiality.

"When thinking about organizational structure, or the role of social media, or how acculturation is evolving, companies are comfortable discussing that," he said.

Marketers often switch back and forth from treating multicultural as a separate division and integrating that function into brand groups. Sometimes multicultural has its own profit-and-loss statement, while at some companies it has a largely advisory function. So executives are always curious about how other businesses are structured.

Clorox, for instance, last year moved most of the marketing responsibility back to brand teams after having a separate Hispanic center of expertise. At Nestlé, Mr. Motta's team functions both as a division focusing on U.S. Hispanic consumers and the brands they are familiar with from Latin America, and a center of knowledge for other Nestle brands that want to target Hispanics.

At Clorox, multicultural team leader Jennifer Reiner is particularly interested in filling the data voids, and getting the metrics needed to track performance and win resources. A lot of business is done through largely untracked channels like bodegas, and basic knowledge taken for granted in the general market like household penetration is hard to come by, she said. That's important, for instance, as Hispanics impacted by the recession trade down to private label products.

"It's a little bit of a wakeup call to better understand the value equation," she said. "Latinum is an additional resource to look at data, and how we frame that up for our internal constituency. And I personally love the networking aspect."

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