Understanding the Hispanic shopper
The buying experience is social, and they're open to new ideas
November 24, 2015
By the editors of Media Life
This article is part of an ongoing Media Life series entitled “Catching the next big wave: Hispanic media.” You can read previous stories by clicking here.
Over the next four weeks, American shoppers will spend billions on holiday gifts, and advertisers will spend nearly as much trying to convince them to buy their products. It’s important then for media buyers and planners to understand who they’re targeting and choose their media mix accordingly. New research from Geometry Global, an agency focused on shopper marketing, shows how important it is to target different demographic groups in different ways. The most important thing media people should understand is when a minority group, such as Hispanics, behaves the same as the mainstream versus when cultural considerations become the driving force in a purchase. The study finds that Hispanic shoppers consider shopping a social experience. They are more likely to try different brands than other demographics, but they dislike feeling uncertain about their purchases or their shopping choices. At the same time, they consider themselves as much American as they do Latino, and so advertising should reflect that dual identity. Advertisers who focus on inclusiveness will often win their business. John Burn, cross-cultural shopper marketing practice lead at Geometry Global, talks to Media Life about how Hispanic moms differ from other moms when they shop, how to make ads stand out for Hispanic shoppers, and why culture is key to their shopping experience
What was the most interesting or most surprising thing you learned from this report?
No. 1 is if you look at Hispanics in the U.S., it really sheds light in the fluidity of culture and this notion of ambicultural.
It was believed Hispanics in the U.S. are on a linear track toward assimilation, but it’s very fluid in the fusion of both worlds, American and Hispanic culture.
So one key finding is that with questions around the work environment, Hispanics answer in the same way as their American counterparts.
But when it came to questions around family, there was more of a hierarchical structure. It’s interesting how Hispanics move in and out and leverage this “switching” of culture depending on context.
The second thing was about shopping specifically.
This cultural dimension is called uncertainty avoidance, the ability to deal with the unknown. There’s a lot of anxiety in the shopping process, and Hispanics prefer to stick with brands they know.
That was a difference from the general market. And that has huge implications for the sources of information and how they behave in-store.
Lastly, I was surprised because we did African Americans, Hispanics, general market and Asians. While we saw Hispanics assimilating, we saw the Asian community still retaining a lot of their values from their home countries. There are many reasons of course, one being that 70 percent are foreign born.
What’s the most important thing media buyers and planners can learn from it?
The old school thinking of how to reach out to the U.S. Hispanic market through media has to evolve.
The old school thinking was kind of a silo, communicate in either English or Spanish. But I think this element of cultural code switching challenges us to understand the context which our target is in at any given moment.
You don’t need to speak to them 24/7 to attract the U.S. consumer.
Technology now allows us to connect at micro-moments, so how are we leveraging the digital landscape to connect with Hispanic consumers through these micro moments? And what role should that culture play in the design of the message?
We now have our phones 24/7, so it’s about understanding location, context and how you craft your message to get through in a really relevant way.
How often does culture play a part in the path to purchase for Hispanics? Does this vary depending on their age?
I think if you look at the difference of culture within the shopper journey, there are several dimensions that help us develop a lot of contrast.
White non-Hispanics became individualists, while Hispanics are more collectivists. So shopping for Hispanics is very social and it’s reflected in the behaviors we know.
It’s a unique dynamic for Hispanics and different from non-Hispanic Americans. Grocery shopping, for example, is perceived as a task for general-market moms, so speed, quality and convenience are important. It’s an item on the list that needs to be completed.
But for the Hispanic mom it’s less linear in that regard. They’re more open to things that might come that are unplanned. They’re very spontaneous and more open to discovery, while American moms tend to stick to the list.
With African Americans there was an interesting cultural aspect around power distance, about showing people the place you occupy within the hierarchy of your group. Puerto Ricans also score high in power distance, where you want to show others the place you occupy in the hierarchy.
Does advertising generally do a good job of understanding the importance of culture?
It’s hard to really generalize when it comes to advertising, but I think there are very few brands out there that are really doing a great job at cross-cultural marketing in the new makeup of America.
It’s about them portraying themselves as being more inclusive and showing the insight that we got from consumers. They’re actively seeking inclusivity for positive change.
Previously, diversity communication was a thing you had to do, whether it was the right casting to reflect the construct of America, etc. But what they’re missing in the ad industry is the realization that there’s a need from the consumer base to look for brands that portray themselves as more inclusive.
There are a few brands doing it well, and most likely they’re multinational brands that are more sensitive to a world that is becoming more inclusive. They’re very sensitive to these new trends.
But there’s an opportunity to look at cross-cultural marketing as not something you need to do, but something you want to do. We call it the power of inclusivity.
Why is it so important to Hispanics to avoid uncertainty? How should advertisers deal with this when targeting this group?
It’s interesting to see why Americans don’t have the same level. We tend to trust the system, we trust the products, etc., but that is not the case with Hispanics. With Hispanics we have this saying “better to stick with the devil you know than the good guy you don’t.”
I prefer to stick with brands I trust and know rather than switch to the promise of a better brand. So brands need to provide consumers with tangible evidence of product superiority and engage al their senses in the process. Whether it’s sampling or anything that engages the senses and allows them to reduce that feeling of uncertainty and anxiety.
Talking about advertising and media, I think the use of authoritative figures in creative allows Hispanics to build trust of brands or a new category. They trust familiar faces, celebrities, etc. Those are also practical ways to reduce those levels of uncertainty.
What other characteristics are unique to Hispanics in the shopper journey? Why?
There’s another interesting finding linked to uncertainty avoidance—why does a Hispanic mom stop on average at three to five retail formats in order to complete her mission, when a typical American mom goes to just one store?
Hispanic moms, for example, go to a butcher a shop to buy their meat because they know they know the right cut, etc., but then go to a different outlet for produce, and another to complete the rest of their list. She prefers to spend a little more gas, time and energy to make sure she brings home the best of what she needs.
Another thing is “living in the now” versus more long-term oriented. For example, Asians came out as very long-term oriented, while Hispanics were more living in the now.
I think one driver is that Hispanics are mostly Catholics, and many believe there’s a higher power that has our destiny mapped out. So they’re more worried about now. They think that God has already taken care of their destiny so they’re focused on the now and living in the moment, and that can mean being more spontaneous shoppers, whether it’s a price offer or a coupon that has to be redeemed immediately. If you’re in the beauty category, product results should be very fast—it’s all about instant gratification.
Another finding came out of the collective cultural value of Hispanics versus individualistic cultures. We all talk about Hispanics over-indexing in digital. But when we look at digital and how Hispanics consume it, it’s in different ways.
If we look at mobile, when Hispanics consume digital seeking sources of information to buy a new product or brand, Hispanics tend to go to their social networks. They’re seeking to exchange opinions and build a perception of the brand.
In fact, Hispanics over-index in the mentioning of brands in those interactions. They consume digital but do it in different ways. And I think that’s an interesting media component in the role of social.
You note Hispanics are “highly multisensorial shoppers.” What does that mean? Why?
It all links to this dimension of uncertainty, which is how people can cope with unclear situations.
One of those is product selection and, particularly, the difficulty of changing your preferred brand of choice. There was a big correlation of engagement of the senses, the use of smell, the fact that they’re very visual shoppers, the use of color, vibrant packaging.
If you’re in the baby care segment, making sure your baby smells great, the more fragrant the product the better, which is a contrast from the general market.
There this subliminal notion of “smells clean,” but it’s about how we’re hypersensitive about the use of our senses and the role it plays on the shopper journey.
We like to touch things in the store—those are all examples of the multisensorial shopper.
Why are Hispanics “ambiculturals?” How does that influence targeting them in ad campaigns?
There was this old-school belief that Latinos are 40 percent Latinos and 60 percent Americans. The reality we’re finding is they in fact think of themselves as being 100 percent Latinos and 100 percent American. This talks to the fact that we’re truly ambiculturals, we hold on tight to both cultures.
And we go in and out so fluidly that sometimes we don’t even notice. It becomes second nature. Also, the fact that the old school thinking thought they wanted to assimilate, they wanted to let go of the Latino culture. But it’s really the opposite, they’re retaking their cultural identity, because that’s the distinction they can bring to a group.
For Heineken, one of their brands is Tecate, a very Mexican beer brand. We’re noticing a resurgence of Tecate from Hispanics–bicultural Hispanics are taking home that iconic brand and bringing it to their Millennial group of friends to drink during a game with pride. You might be watching a football game with your Millennial friends and you’re bringing a six-pack of Tecate—that’s a fusion of cultures in one drinking moment.
Why are company brands (that own a number of sub-brands) often the most successful brands for Hispanics?
It relates to this uncertainty avoidance. It’s no coincidence that in Latin American cultures and Spain that some of the most successful brands are company brands.
This talks about the importance of enterprise branding for Hispanics in particular.
Take for example Nestle. That’s a brand that we as Latinos were born into, whether it’s due to Carnation evaporated milk, etc.—it’s a brand we trust blindly. The fact that Nestle has others in their portfolio—for example, DiGiorno Pizza—what we try to do in the shopper marketing space is try to leverage the value of the mother brand name in the variance of its portfolio. When we do Nestle, we try to leverage the power of enterprise branding as a way to communicate trust: This comes from a brand you trust, a company you know.
It’s interesting because many American brands out there even try to hide their company name on the back label. But when they’re targeting Hispanics it might be in the forefront to maximize the equity of their enterprise branding. Brand lineage matters.
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