Understanding Complex Hispanic Audiences With the Right Marketing Research Approach

By Emily Trentacosta, Vice President of Strategy and Insights, AMC Global

According to the U.S. Census Bureau the Hispanic population of the United States was 62.6 million as of July 2021, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest racial or ethnic minority at 18.9% of the total population. Product marketers and advertisers can’t afford to ignore this growing population. But how to create communications and content that resonates and drives behavior? Researching your target audience is always your best bet for a successful outcome, and understanding just how to reach Hispanic audiences for actionable insights is more complex than you might think.

Challenges Reaching Hispanic Audiences

The cultures within the “Hispanic” umbrella is broad, encompassing “Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin.” Likewise, Hispanic Americans are represented across the U.S. with higher concentrations of specific cultures in certain areas, e.g., Cuban in Miami. While we know a lot of facts about cultures and communities within the Hispanic market, these consumers are notoriously hard to reach with market research efforts. Why? Because many times researchers are going about reaching Hispanic audiences the wrong way! Hopefully this goes without saying, but just translating your gen pop survey to Spanish will not get you the consumer data you need.

The first step when conducting research among Hispanic consumers is to identify your target audience. For example, if you know your target market is Florida, you’ll know your target audience will lean more heavily toward Cuban culture of origin.

Acculturated versus Unacculturated

Yes, you can get self-identified “Hispanic” respondents to participate in your studies when conducted in the “usual places,” but those respondents will most likely be acculturated in the United States — essentially giving you more gen pop feedback and insights. According to Televisa Univision, “acculturation is the process of adopting cultural traits and social patterns of another group” applying to anyone who leaves one cultural environment and goes to another one. You can include acculturation scales in your studies by asking questions like if a study participant spent their childhood in the U.S., what language is spoken in the home, cultural identification questions, media habits and more. If you’re relying on Hispanic-targeted channels to promote and sell your product, you need insights among Hispanic consumers who utilize those channels. More often than not, these are unacculturated Hispanic consumers.

Getting it Right with the Hispanic Respondent

So how can market researchers reach unacculturated Hispanic consumers in order for brands to get insights that can help them innovate and develop specifically for these important and growing populations? You need to design your research such that you’re communicating at the correct level, with the right content and in the proper context.

Given the diversity within the Hispanic umbrella, it follows that there are many Spanish dialects, not to mention huge differences between the various cultures. When thinking about how to talk to your target audience, such as Hispanics in Florida, you’ll need to ensure your survey is conducted in the appropriate dialect of Spanish, e.g., Cuban-style Spanish. Going beyond survey translations, think also about the cultural dynamics of your target audience to ensure question phrasing and answer options are easily understood.

Throughout your study, it is of utmost importance to have a truly multicultural researcher appropriate for the Hispanic target audience you’re trying to understand, every step of the way. You need more than just a researcher who speaks Spanish, you need someone native to the culture. Trying to reach first-generation and second-generation Cuban families in Florida, or respondents of Mexican origin in the Southwest, or, perhaps, Colombian groups in New York, all require very different approaches. AMC partners with bilingual/bicultural research partners when designing research with Hispanic consumers. You can take our “word” for it, the correct lingo and voice with a hefty dose of cultural overlay will help ensure you’re communicating at the correct frequency  with your target Hispanic audience.

The Collection Plan for Hispanic Audiences

We’ve covered off on the why, who and the what, but the where and how is also critically important researching Hispanic consumers. You aren’t going to reach unacculturated Hispanic groups through high-tech online sampling techniques. That isn’t to say you have to use vintage data collection approaches like paper and pencil either. In our experience, you can still use online methodologies, but your recruit is best achieved using in-person intercepts in heavily populated Hispanic areas. This is another advantage of relying on experienced multicultural research partners as they often have an ‘in’ with local community centers which can serve as a central hub for in-person recruitment. Recruiting via product purchasers is another strategy for finding unacculturated Hispanic consumers for research.

And with respect to the ‘how’ of conducting research with Hispanic consumers, check your biases at the door—you can absolutely do online research via smartphone and on other tech devices. However, beware of relying on traditional phone surveys as most Hispanic households these days are smartphone-only.

Carrying it Through to Data Interpretation

Finally, you need to factor in context at the data interpretation or storytelling phase of your research with Hispanic consumers. Once again, having a truly multicultural research partner is as vital in executing the research as it is in understanding the insights. Academic research has shown that Hispanic respondents respond to surveys differently vs. acculturated/gen pop respondents, e.g., acquiescence bias, socially desirable responding, and skewing toward the higher end of the scale. Using the same data interpretation heuristics you’d use with a gen pop sample could lead to misunderstandings when looking at data among Hispanic audiences. Again, turning to your multicultural research partner can help, not just in designing the right questions to capture key insights, but being able to look between the lines, and truly understand the pain points coming out of the learnings.

Activating the Insights

Once you’ve successfully completed your research, accounting for your target audience and interpreting your findings accordingly, the next step is implementation. Marketing and advertising to Hispanic consumers requires the same level of empathetic perspective-taking as good research design. Specifically, ensure you are meeting an actual need or solving a real problem that exists for your target Hispanic audience, and then communicate in your messaging in a way that is familiar and approachable within their unique cultural context. Here is yet another area where a bilingual/bicultural partner is a true asset to ensure you are optimizing your campaign.

While advertisers may primarily be concerned with what the research data points tell them about their messaging strategy, these carefully collected insights can be applied to things like product naming, packaging design and retail strategies. The data can help brands avoid dual meanings, misinterpretations and unintentional communications.

Recognizing the diversity of U.S. consumers is a first step in leveraging the opportunities available in expanding beyond “gen pop.” Hispanic Americans represent a real and growing population of consumers and developing marketing, advertising and messaging that speaks to  their unique needs can improve your overall customer portfolio, and if done well, your bottom line.

About the Author

Emily Trentacosta is the senior research director of strategy and insights at AMC Global, an international custom market research firm specializing in launch strategies and brand tracking. www.amcglobal.com