Marketing to the Hispanic Community

¿Habla usted Español? Sure, it helps, but how well your firm connects with the local Hispanic community is much more critical to your marketing success.

The television ads all share the same message: “¿Se ha herrido en un accidente? Llamenos—somos buenos amigos” or “Nosotros le tratamos como familia.” (“Have you been injured in an accident? Call us—we’re good friends” or “We’ll treat you like family.”) Many law firms seeking to tap into the growing Hispanic market share the misconception that appealing to Hispanics’ devotion to friends and family uniquely positions their firm to capture its share of this audience.

In fact, most Hispanics don’t care if you treat them like friends or family—they already have those, thank you. Sure, they’d like a firm to be friendly and accessible, but their real concerns when seeking representation are more likely to be: Is this firm competent? How long will this process take? In some cases, they’ll wonder: Could I be risking deportation by pursuing this claim?1

Other common problems of marketing efforts directed at Hispanics include

  • Messaging and imagery based on gross oversimplifications and narrowly defined representations that imply that all Hispanics are alike
  • Direct translation of English messages into Spanish that, at best, lacks the cultural and emotional cues needed to connect with the audience or, at worst, is a crime against the Spanish language
  • Condescending pitches that imply all Hispanics are immigrants.

There is no single Hispanic market.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics account for about 15 percent of the population.2 But efforts to engage “the Hispanic market” are often misguided because there is no single Hispanic market.

The U.S. Hispanic population is racially and culturally diverse, made up of subgroups of foreign-born and U.S.-born individuals whose origins can be traced to 22 countries throughout Central and South America and the CaribÂbean, as well as Spain. Outside the United States, Spanish speakers identify themselves by their nation of origin (for example, Puerto Rican, Mexican, or Ecuadorian), but in the United States they are lumped into one general “Hispanic” category.

There is no single Hispanic marketThe most common mistake firms make in marketing services to this population is viewing it as a homogenous group. It is actually a highly segmented multicultural market. Sure, many U.S. Hispanics share a language; however, the subcultures within the Hispanic population are as different from each other as they are from non-Hispanic groups, making successful marketing a challenge.

Much has been written about the factors that influence Latinos to select one law firm over another. However, regardless of socioeconomic position, documentation status, or language preferences, unequivocally Hispanics rely on word of mouth more than the general population. Latino culture traditionally involves others in decision-making because they tend to value the needs of the family or group over those of the individual.3 They most often seek referrals from trusted sources: family, friends, teachers, coworkers, and leaders in their community. This personal contact, sometimes called “relationship marketing,” is essential to spreading word about your practice among the Hispanic population.

Don’t despair if you don’t speak Spanish

Speaking a potential client’s language is not your most important concern. Don’t despair if you don’t speak Spanish. Attorneys with experience serving Hispanics know that these clients, especially monolingual Spanish speakers, are often accompanied by an English-speaking family member, neighbor, or close friend just in case the attorney “doesn’t understand their English.”

In truth, they bring a companion mostly for moral support. What matters most is that the prospective client feels comfortable once he or she is sitting in front of you and sharing his or her story. Yes, it is essential that someone be available who speaks the client’s language for initial inquiry and intake. Firms without bilingual attorneys or staff can compensate by hiring a bilingual receptionist, using a Spanish call intake service, bringing in a translator, or making arrangements with the prospective client’s family for a bilingual family member to act as a translator.

Even if the attorney cannot communicate directly in Spanish, a firm can still attract and retain Hispanic clients if it handles the initial consultation appropriately by making arrangements for translation early in the process. The ever-important nonverbal communication can also make or break the encounter. The firm must convey competence, empathy, and commitment to serving the prospective client in order to secure the business.

Long-term commitment

Spanish-language mass-media advertising may bring some initial results, sometimes an early flood of phone calls. However, television and radio advertising both have a brief shelf life and require a long-term commitment, including continuous outlays of cash for costly production and airtime. Even then, firms often see diminishing returns, particularly once the Spanish media space becomes oversaturated. Note the number of legal spots on your local Spanish channel during prime time to get a sense of this.

And print is not a good alternative: Print ads in the Spanish-language daily newspaper and Yellow Pages will not have a huge impact on a firm’s business. For law firms seeking to increase their Hispanic client base, focused community-relations activities are critical to a marketing campaign’s success.

What is Community Relations?

Latino Community RelationsCommunity relations is a public relations discipline that explores methods a business can use to establish and maintain a beneficial relationship with the communities in which it operates. Your firm’s involvement in programs that improve the quality of life in Hispanic communities will demonstrate your interest, create meaningful opportunities for engagement, and provide more staying power than a fleeting television or radio spot alone.

Combining community involvement with standard marketing practices is the best approach. If, for instance, the firm sponsors a Latin music concert and buys airtime to promote the event on Spanish-language radio, that spot generates interest and will be considered more relevant by a larger audience than a 30-second spot promoting the firm’s services. The tacit message isn’t “Smith & Associates are great trial lawyers” (they’ll learn that later).The firm first achieves “share of mind” (positive perceptions of the brand) by showing that Smith & Associates supports Latino arts and culture.4

Smart steps

A Latino consumer’s decision about which firm to retain rests, in large part, on the positive association he or she has with your firm—whether you obtained a great result for a second cousin last year or sponsored the latest community beautification project. Both are examples of effective marketing.

Before you begin a marketing effort, get to know the people you’re trying to reach so you can create a campaign that will showcase your practice.

Understand the composition of the local Hispanic community.

Which subcultures are represented? Are they U.S.-born or foreign-born? If foreign-born, are they composed of recent immigrants, or are they long-established communities of immigrants? This information will provide clues to the population’s levels of assimilation, acculturation, and socioeconomic status. What are their language preferences? Is your geographic area immigrant-friendly?

You can find Hispanic census data on municipal Web sites and through civic organizations. Whether you’re working with an outside marketing firm or managing a campaign with in-house staff, a little research will go a long way. Conduct a formal or informal Hispanic marketing study that will guide your general marketing strategy.

Learn how your target market identifies itself.

The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino,” which are used interchangeably in this article, carry complex cultural and political implications and are difficult to define objectively. Some don’t see the difference or care which term is used, while others take these labels very seriously.5

A segment of the population resents the term “Hispanic” because it is considered a term created by the Anglo political establishment in the 1970s. Others dislike “Hispanic” because it implies a derivation from Spain. They subscribe to the European view that “Latino” is the more inclusive term, referring to individuals that come from any Spanish-speaking country. To some, “Latino” is superior because it is considered a term of ethnic and cultural pride and because it has a feminine form, “Latina.”

For your purposes, follow the lead of the organization or business leaders with whom you are collaborating. If they identify themselves as “Hispanos” or “Hispanic,” that’s how you should refer to them; if they prefer “Latino” or “Latina,” then be sure to use that term.

Study the local Spanish-language media.

Watch and learn about other businesses that advertise in the market you’re seeking to reach and local community groups that the media supports with public service announcements. These advertisers and nonprofit groups will have the strongest ties to the community. Get to know who they are. If you don’t speak Spanish, request a media kit from Spanish and bilingual television, radio, and print publications in English to obtain audience data or readership profiles. If necessary, recruit a bilingual research assistant to help.

Find out who the real influencers are.

Find out who the real influencers are.Note the usual leading political and business figures but also identify the less obvious, unofficial leaders in the community, who often are deeply connected within informal networks. Leadership within Hispanic communities can sometimes be found in unlikely places—local neighborhood centers, churches, or health care clinics, for example—or through volunteers, the news media, or other attorneys. Getting to know these less-obvious leaders and forming good relationships with them can be a powerful way of building “social capital” in the Hispanic community.

Think conceptually, not literally, when translating marketing material.

Often, firms will use direct English-to-Spanish translations that, while technically correct, do not convey the meaning of the message and are not used in conversation by Spanish speakers. For example, “personal injury” references may be translated into Spanish in a number of ways, each varying in meaning based on the context in which it is used. Lesiones, heridas, lastimas, and daños can all apply to bodily injury. However, these words are not interchangeable—each has a different shade of meaning and should be used in a very specific context. Often the words themselves are translated accurately, but sometimes the meaning is not.

Your marketing material isn’t as effective as it could be if you’re merely translating the materials you’ve already created in English. Instead, create marketing material in the original language of your audience. Use a native speaker of the region you’re trying to attract (for example: Mexican, Caribbean, or South American) to write communications and marketing copy.

Go beyond using Spanish to get “in-culture.”

Growing bilingualism means you can use both English and Spanish to reach the audience. Due to the process of interacculturation, whereby cultures affect and influence one other, well over half the U.S. Hispanic population consumes media in both languages. There is a large segment of the U.S. Hispanic market for whom English is the primary language, yet their Latin cultural identity still strongly shapes their perceptions and behaviors.

English-language and bilingual newspapers, magazines, and newsletters whose readers identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino are growing fast. These publications provide an opportunity to better understand this segment of the market. To move in-culture means to develop a message that looks and feels right based on the local Hispanic community’s lifestyle, perceptions, values, and traditions.

Counter negative stereotypes and avoid clichés.

Counter negative stereotypesLawyer ads featuring crude portrayals of Hispanics—looking downtrodden, tumbling off scaffolding, or even dressed in traditional native costume—fill the space between Spanish telenovelas(soap operas) during prime time every night. The more troubling and most prevalent, though subtle, stereotype that comes across consistently in legal advertising—whether in television, radio, or print—is that all Hispanics are immigrants. This is a serious misrepresentation of the market, considering that approximately half the population is U.S.-born.

In general, Hispanics resent the unflattering stereotypes common in the advertising directed at them, and legal advertisers are among the worst offenders. To be fair, some go to great lengths to ensure their advertisements are “culturally sensitive,” but that “sensitivity” may further perpetuate stereotypes.

For instance, some legal advertisers believe they are showing cultural sensitivity by “dumbing down” the message. But using over-simplistic graphics and less content or ad copy in print ads sends the message that the audience in general has a lower intelligence (simply because its members speak a different language). Certainly, there are lower levels of literacy among new immigrants, but illustrations of stick figures falling off a scaffold will definitely insult the audiences’ intelligence.

By using more positive characterizations and more complex, sophisticated messages, a law firm will extend its audience the respect it deserves. Beware of imagery that condescends to the audience; if you’re unsure about an ad, survey a sample of Latinos to get some feedback.

Making connections

Making connections with the Hispanic CommunityGathering data about the Hispanic community is helpful, but making a connection with its members is the key to becoming a trusted source of information.

Partner with other law firms that seek to serve the local Hispanic population. Be a resource for all their legal needs by developing relationships with immigration, domestic relations, real estate, and criminal defense firms. Join forces on co-marketing opportunities such as outreach events and community programs.

Reach out to community and civic groups with ties to the Latino community, including social services or advocacy organizations. Nonprofit groups are always seeking corporate partners for events and programs that offer adult education and leadership or job-skills training. Begin by learning about the organizations’ programs and services to determine mutual areas of interest, and opportunities to collaborate will present themselves.

If, for example, a personal injury practice establishes a partnership with an immigrant workers’ advocacy group, the firm can offer services such as hospitality, advertising, or technical support in exchange for a monthly column in the group’s newsletter or an opportunity for one of its lawyers to offer a legal “clinic” at the group’s annual event. The firm can donate a portion of its (own) print media buy to the workers’ advocacy group to help it promote its annual event and thank its supporters. (Included among its supporters would be the firm, of course.)

The firm could provide technical support by offering to pay for having its graphic design service produce the event’s printed materials, in exchange for recognition on the materials, brandÂing at the event, or an opportunity to speak on a relevant topic at the event. Some negotiation is required but is well worth the effort.

This is the rifle, as opposed to the shotgun, approach to marketing—direct communication with a small but targeted group.

If the firm wants to expand its reach beyond blue-collar workers to reach the more affluent middle- or upper-middle-class Hispanic market, position the firm among those businesses (and nonprofit groups) that serve the white-collar Hispanic market. Political advocacy and arts and cultural organizations (that may sponsor galas or golf tournaments) are good options.

Often, community-based organizations, with permission from their constituents, are willing to share use of their mailing lists in exchange for in-kind services such as printing their material or sponsoring an event. However, make sure you understand and comply with their conditions for mailing-list use, and respect privacy and confidentiality rules. Some organizations prohibit sharing mailing lists altogether.

Take advantage of the Internet.

Hispanics taking advantage of the internet Hispanics’ use of the Internet continues to grow. Many firms have made the mistake of limiting their Web sites in Spanish to nothing more than a brochure, when more substantive content is needed.

To succeed online in Spanish, focus on search-engine-friendly site architecture, create content in Spanish relevant to the target population that you have researched, use culturally relevant graphics and visuals that truly represent the local population, and invest in search engine optimization in Spanish—with less competition for keywords, it’s less expensive than in English. Strong evidence shows that more informative Spanish language content is needed online, and if you build and market a quality Web site, they will come.6

Create a relevant, educational, and informative community-focused newsletter, rather than a promotional piece that simply trumpets verdicts and settlements or law firm activities of interest only to firm staff and stakeholders. Latinos read direct-mail solicitations more than non-Latinos and are more likely to respond to them.7 Recent immigrants are more receptive to direct-mail solicitations than the general market because they seek any information that will help them become better-informed consumers.

A newsletter or a direct-mail piece must address issues relevant to the population that also relate to your firm’s practice areas, particularly products liability, employee rights, workplace injuries, auto accidents, and civil rights. It also should include some community topics of interest and cultural news for entertainment.

Current trends show more and more Latinos immigrating directly to the suburbs rather than to cities, which results in increased isolation and exclusion. A good newsletter is a cost-effective way to communicate that Hispanics are relevant to the firm and can create a sense of inclusion and connection.

Sponsor and participate in events.

Sponsor and take part in latino eventsLatinos in general have a strong attachment to the country where their ancestors were born. Even fully acculturated U.S.-born Latinos experience “retro-acculturation”—when a person reverts to the traditions and customs of his or her ancestors’ nation of origin. This happens in part because they seek to pass on their heritage to their kids. Law firm participation in local events such as parades and cultural festivals provides opportunities to reach this retro-acculturated population.

But achieving return on this investment requires more than just writing a check to have the firm’s logo placed on a parade float or a table at a charity benefit. Successful event marketing takes considerable effort, but the rewards in networking and building goodwill make it worth the time and expense.

First, identify a well-regarded event and its organizing group. Make the commitment to participate in a meaningful way by sending a bilingual or bicultural staff member to represent the firm on the event-coordinating committee, offering your firm’s conference room for event planning meetings, or hosting the event sponsor’s brunch at a local Hispanic business.

If your firm is responsible for printing promotional material for the event, get a referral to a Latino-owned printing shop in a high-density Hispanic neighborhood. This kind of activity will help the firm establish a rapport with other Hispanic businesses participating in the event. Demonstrate that the firm supports Latino-owned small businesses by actually doing business with them.

Events and community programs offer an opportunity to spread your firm’s message in Hispanic communities through their work and social networks; children’s school, sports, social, and cultural programs; and other community activities. Seek opportunities like these:

  • Sponsor Spanish-language workplace-safety or communications-training seminars at a local community college, with a neighborhood community center, or through an employer with a Latino workforce.
  • Start an internship program for Hispanic high school students interested in legal careers. Seek out other firms with successful internship programs and model your program on theirs, or identify and support existing programs that serve young people. Latino leadership-skills training, scholarship programs, and mentoring all provide excellent opportunities for exposure, not only to be of service but to form relationships with Hispanic parents, teachers, and community volunteers. Many nonprofit organizations and schools have access to potential participants but lack the resources needed to implement these programs.
  • Offer to underwrite free English classes coordinated by a nonprofit partner. (With the permission of attendees, use the mailing list to build your Latino database.)
  • Coach junior sports in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, sponsor their uniforms, have law firm staff attend important games, promote your firm’s role in supporting the team in your newsletter, and post photos on the “community” section of your Web site.
  • Stay current on upcoming Hispanic cultural events by enlisting staff to research and contact local organizations with whom you share a common interest. Ask to be added to their mailing lists.
  • Express interest in sponsoring free or low-cost community cultural events including plays, concerts, or lectures. Ask the presenting organization to display your firm’s sponsorship on all printed materials and to send a press release to the local Spanish-language radio or television station. The media usually are open to promoting events that are free or low-cost as long as they benefit their audiences.

Print, television, radio, and online advertisers all compete for consumers’ time and attention, including consumers in the Hispanic market. A consistent campaign that establishes a law firm as a member of the Latino community—rather than just another legal advertiser trying to profit from an easily targeted group—will stand out from other marketing efforts.

This approach requires that your firm do more legwork and oversight than buying broadcast media, placing an ad, or building a Web site alone, but it creates a more enduring impression in the minds of your potential clients for significantly less money.

To increase your firm’s Hispanic client base, learn about the population, localize your efforts, and think about ways to establish a long-term partnership with your local communities. Stop thinking Spanish language, start thinking Hispanic-American culture, and watch your practice grow.

Leslie M. Inzunza is president of Inzunza Internacional, Inc., a business-to-consumer Latino marketing firm based in New York City. She can be reached at leslie@inzunzapr.com.

Notes

1. You can reassure clients that, if their case goes before a jury, Social Security numbers are not presented to the jury and are sealed by the court. If the opposing counsel attempts to include this information in the record or to bring the immigration status of the plaintiff before the jury, you could file a motion in limine to preclude opposing counsel from presenting such evidence. A plaintiff’s documentation status is more prejudicial than valuable to the process. Given this, most courts would prohibit the defense from making this information part of the record.

2. U.S. Census Bureau. U.S. Census Bureau News—Minority Population Tops 100 Million (May 17, 2007), www.census.gov/PressRelease/www/releases/archives/population/010048.html.

3. Carl Kravetz, Latino Identity (Sept. 20, 2006), www.ahaa.org/meetings/Miami06/presentation/CK_Latino%20ID_5_website_.pdf.

4. See www.brandchannel.com/education_glossary.asp (“There are many definitions of share of mind. At its most precise, share of mind measures how often consumers think about a particular brand as a percentage of all the times they think about all the brands in its category. More loosely, share of mind can be defined simply as positive perceptions of the brand obtained by market research. Whereas market share measures the width of a company’s market position, share of mind can be said to measure its depth.”).

5. A debate on the history and meaning of each term is beyond the scope of this article. For more information, see Suzanne Oboler, Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives: Identity and the Politics of (Re)Presentation in the United States (U. of Minnesota Press 1995); Christine Granados, “Hispanic” vs. “Latino”: A New Poll Finds That the Term “Hispanic” Is Preferred, Hispanic Mag. (Dec. 2000), www.hispaniconline.com/magazine/2000/dec/Features/latino.html; Al Sosa, Hispanic vs. Latin, A Discussion on the Meaning of the Words Hispanic and Latin (2005), http://alsgenealogy.com/hispanic-vs-latin.htm.

6. See Tom Spooner et al., Pew Internet & American Life Project, Hispanics and the Internet (July 25, 2001), www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Hispanics_Online_Report.pdf; Robyn Greenspan, Media Mixing for the Multicultural Market(Oct. 23, 2002), www.clickz.com/showPage.html?page=1487151; U.S. Hispanics Are Rapidly Embracing the Internet, According to a Cyberstudy, Contacto Mag., www.contactomagazine.com/hispanicsonline0415.htm.

7. Vertis Communs., Spanish Speaking Hispanics Have Higher Direct Mail Response Rates (Apr. 16, 2007), www.hispanicad.com/cgi-bin/news/newsarticle.cgi?article_id=21670.