There has been so much buzz about the Hispanic market these days. From demographic trends to voting blocks, there is no denying the power of this growing community. Businesses are told to “get in to the Hispanic market, before it’s too late.” This is good advice — but as someone who has lived and worked in the Hispanic community for my whole life, I would like to further caution would-be Hispanic marketers that grouping the entire Hispanic community into one block may be just as problematic as ignoring it. Latinos in this country represent a great variety of unique cultures from dozens of countries on several continents. As a marketer or a salesperson, it’s important to look at your prospect’s country of origin, the history and political climate of that country and the generation he or she is a part of.

The biggest mistake I see among marketers reaching out to the Hispanic market is bunching them all together. In reality the music, the food, the pace of life, the livelihood of the bulk of the residents, and even the language differs, depending on whether you are a descendant of Brazilians, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Cubans, or from a number of countries in North or South America, Europe or the Caribbean. Assuming that these elements are all the same can alienate potential clients.

Pay close attention to the history and political climate of your prospect’s country of origin. For example, many people from Cuba, or even descendants of Cubans, are more conservative and distrustful of government-run and funded programs, so references to Social Security, for example, may be regarded with suspicion. Business owners from Cuba are concerned with growing government intervention, as some have had their businesses “taken away from them” already by the Cuban government and are now rebuilding. Some Venezuelans are becoming increasingly as conservative as Cubans, due to recent developments in their own country.

Lastly, the generation of your target prospect is important. People who have left their countries and traveled to the United States — the “pioneers,” as I like to call them — are mainly focused on bettering the lives of their families, especially those of their children. They might live paycheck-to-paycheck, and they are primarily concerned with paying for their daily expenses. They also may be saving to pay for college for their children, but their own futures are not quite so secure. They often have done little retirement planning, putting a whole generation well behind the curve. These prospects need to play catch-up.

Second-generation Hispanics, or those who were brought to this country at a very young age, are driven to do things differently than their parents. They are starting to establish wealth, rather than just being in survival mode, and they tend to have an eye to the future. Although they certainly appreciate the hard work and sacrifice that their parents made to set them up for a successful position in life, they are looking to be more independent as they age and retire.

I need to point out that there are certainly ways to approach the broader Hispanic market in a way that can appeal to all cultures, political affiliations and generations. Common themes definitely resonate throughout the entire culture. Two of the most obvious are the strong emphasis on family and belief in education. But understanding where these cultures differ may prevent a costly faux pas that could take years to reverse.

Of course, as the Hispanic population grows and disperses throughout the country, we are seeing many elements of the culture becoming mainstream, such as food and language. In addition, subsequent generations are becoming more acculturated to the culture in the United States. Will my children, when they are grown, even think of themselves as Hispanic? I am looking forward to the time — just as it happened with Irish and Italian immigrants decades ago — when Latinos will cease being Puerto Rican or Mexican, and are instead viewed simply as Americans.  

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