By Sylvia Nieto-Vidal
(Special thanks to Suzanne Irizarry de Lopez for sharing this article with me)
For years marketers have been focusing on whether Hispanic consumers are acculturating vs. assimilating. Well we are beginning to see a new phenomenon occurring among Hispanics in the U.S.: Retro-Acculturation. With the rapidly growing number of Hispanics in the U.S., many Spanish speaking consumers are increasingly holding on to their language and customs. In many cities throughout the U.S., Spanish dominant consumers are able to live and work without having to learn English or give up their culture and traditions.
In addition to the less acculturated Hispanics holding on to their culture and traditions, we are seeing a possible trend emerging among some of the more acculturated, bilingual Hispanics as well. As a result of much of the research we conduct, we get to analyze and interpret data from thousands of consumers annually and are starting to see what might be the beginning of a larger trend. Many bilingual or Hispanics that are considered acculturated…those who live their lives in English, watch English-language television and for the most part are very similar to the general market consumers...go through an interesting metamorphosis when they begin to have their own families. When this segment of the Hispanic population has children they begin to exhibit a strong yearning to pass on their Hispanic heritage to their offspring. Their desire to pass on cultural traditions, Spanish-language and music sees a resurgence.
As a result of this “metamorphosis”, this Hispanic consumer begins to speak more Spanish in the home in an effort to pass on their native language to their kids, they view Spanish-language programming with their children (i.e., such as Plaza Sesamo, Dora la Exploradora), as well as show an increased tendency to listen to music from their homeland.
So what does this “metamorphosis” mean to marketers targeting this segment? For one, the traditional criteria for defining and speaking with Spanish-dominant consumers may need to be augmented. As the Hispanic market changes, so must the tools and research techniques to adequately identify the “target” consumer. The standard “speak Spanish at home the majority of the time” and “Spanish-language media usage standard hours” may no longer ensure reaching Spanish dominant consumers. Adding new techniques and out of the box thinking for pinpointing “truly” Spanish dominant consumers should be considered. Some examples of additional screening questions we frequently recommend to our clients include:
In what language do you think or process information? Truly Spanish dominant consumers will think in Spanish as opposed to English.
What language do you speak with friends and relatives in social occasions? Spanish dominant consumers tend to revert to the language they are most comfortable speaking during social occasions (i.e., parties, family gatherings, get-togethers).
Do you purchase and consume products from your country of origin? Consumers with strong ties to their culture are more likely to purchase and consume products from their homeland (i.e. native foods and dishes).
How often are you in contact with relatives from your country of origin? A less acculturated Hispanic consumer will have more contact either via telephone or via yearly trips to their countries of origin.
These questions used in conjunction with other analytical queries will provide a more holistic view of the truly “Spanish dominant,” “less acculturated” Hispanic consumer. The time is approaching when Spanish-language usage and media consumption may no longer guarantee that market researchers are speaking with a lesser acculturated Hispanic consumer. As the market changes, so must we.
About the Author: Sylvia Nieto-Vidal is the Managing Partner of Multicultural Insights, a minority-owned market research company whose focus is specialized market research for multicultural and niche markets.