You only need to ask yourself two questions to understand how important the Latino market will be in influencing the future of the American economy. First, can you remember when the Internet was a mystery understood by only a few? Second, can you imagine how you would conduct business without it today?

The growth of the Latino community in the United States is creating a similarly revolutionary opportunity for savvy businesses to grow. The challenge for insurance professionals is how to unlock the potential of multilingual marketing, and how it can impact agency growth positively. I would like to point out four basic principles that illustrate how and why agencies should consider marketing to the Latino community.

1. The Demographic Jackpot

Just a glance at the U.S. Census Bureau’s data for population growth among Hispanics proves that this ethnic group represents a huge opportunity. While the population of the United States as a whole grew 13.2% from 1990 to 2000, the Latino population grew 57.9% over the same decade. Anecdotal evidence underscores this phenomenon. A recent Las Vegas Sun column by UNLV history professor Hal Rothman shows that the Latino population in Clark County, Nev., jumped from 85,000 in 1990 to 375,000 in 2004. Hispanics now make up more than 20% of the local populace and over 35% of the children in schools. Rothman concludes, “Las Vegas will [soon] become the third American city to overwhelmingly speak Spanish, after Miami and Los Angeles.”

This remarkable pace of growth represents an enormous market opportunity for insurance agents. The addition of a Hispanic component to an agency’s marketing and customer service area allows an agent to migrate into a demographic that can accelerate growth exponentially. More data suggests the reason why. Hispanics as a group are younger and have larger families than the average American consumer, qualities that point toward greater potential incremental growth and higher lifetime value. Combine this with the fact that Hispanic automobile and home ownership is growing faster than that of the population at large, and you only can reach one conclusion: To grow your business, you must grow market share, and to grow market share quickly, you must target the fastest-growing demographic.

2. The agency needs to “Habla el Idioma” (loose translation: “Talk the talk”)

One of the keys to marketing to Hispanics successfully is achieving legitimacy in the eyes of the consumer. The Latino demographic is a particularly family-oriented and traditional group. These characteristics mean they can, at times, be slow to warm to outsiders and also that they have high standards for welcoming new members into their community. In order even to begin to pass this test, agents need to be able to speak to Latino customers in their beloved native tongue, Espa?ol.

If your agency is not already Spanish-language capable, hire a licensed producer who speaks Spanish. By including Spanish-speaking staff members, you are saying to Latinos, “I value your business and want to be a part of your community.” Because language is so intertwined into Latino culture, speaking the language is the equivalent of being a part of the neighborhood, so to speak, and greatly increases the comfort level of the prospective customer.

This is not to say that most Latinos do not speak English. They certainly do. Rather, it is commonplace in their personal and business lives for Hispanics to speak Spanish at times and English at others. If you offer Latinos this option, you are well on the way to becoming a part of their world and effectively working with them on their insurance needs.

3. Offer Your Customers a Chance to Say “Yes”

The entire world talks about being “customer-centric.” What is the goal of this effort? It is to listen to your customers’ needs and then to fulfill those needs. I like to think of being customer-centric as offering your customers more chances to say “yes” to what you are offering.

Multilingualism is certainly one way to achieve this goal. If you limit your interaction with customers (for example, on your website) to one language, you are reducing your chance to “listen” to the customer at all. On the other hand, by offering customers the chance to interact in the language of their choice, you are providing another opportunity for them to say “yes.” Every “no” that is removed from the sales process increases the likelihood of a sale. Therefore, more languages give the consumer more choices, which equal more sales for your business.

4. Hispanics are the future

Do you remember that by the year 2000 if a company did not have a website, it appeared antiquated and old-fashioned? That type of perception change is going to occur in the near future for insurance professionals who do not aggressively market to the Latino demographic. Just as not having an Internet presence now designates a company as very “last century,” not reaching out aggressively to the Hispanic demographic will very soon make a company appear as if it is hopelessly behind the times and out of touch.

In business, increasingly, perception is reality, and any company perceived as being out of date or “uncool” is in danger of being left behind. So, lesson four is, “Hispanics are the future. If you ignore them, your company will be left in the past.”

In conclusion, if you offer Hispanic customers language options that others do not and assure them that they are valued in your business, you are creating the right environment for growth in this important demographic. For your agency, the Latino marketplace can become a referral stream that you never imagined possible.