Marketing To Hispanics Is More Than Language

June 15, 2011       Samuel Fanburg      

The March of Dimes (MoD) began a direct response campaign to Hispanic donor prospects in 2006 after recognizing that not only was this a population with formidable purchasing power, but that the organization provided services used by people in the demographic group.

A year later the White Plains, N.Y.-based MoD generated $122,305 by mailing donor acquisition packages to 602,000 Hispanic households and $54,184 by mailing 148,771 renewal packages. After reigning in efforts during the recent recession, Kim Haywood, vice president of direct response fundraising, said the organization has begun discussing implementation of new direct mail packages into the market segment.

Based on 2010 data from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of the growth of the United States population between 2000-2010 was due to an increase in the Hispanic community. The Hispanic population grew 43 percent to 47.7 million people. By 2050, estimates have Hispanics representing 24 percent of the U.S. population and are expected to hit 102.5 million, making roughly one of every four Americans having Hispanic ethnicity.

Purchasing power is expected to triple to $1.5 trillion by 2016, and 33.9 percent of the Hispanic population is younger than age of 18.

MoD began its Hispanic direct mail campaign by first renting lists from popular magazines, such as People en Espanol and Latino Magazine. Starting with a Spanish only website,, meaning “born healthy,” MoD tried to cater to the cultural values of Hispanics, according to MoD’s Director of Latino Outreach, Lilliam Acosta-Sanchez.

“Using our Spanish language website to specifically reach out to Spanish Latinas, the March of Dimes has really been able build a brand. Hispanics are able to use a site that is not only culturally relevant, but linguistically as well. The content and imagery is also different, in order to meet the needs of women and family,” said Acosta-Sanchez.

Differing from the group’s English website,, includes more pictures of Hispanic families. Language is also finely articulated to jive with cultural cues that might differ from English.

Launched in 2004, the site had 7.4 million unique visitors during 2010 and 17 million page views, both up from 2009. Expanding the site in 2007 to integrate social media tools such as, blogs, Twitter and Facebook, MoD has been able to facilitate a relationship with this important demographic group.

“We have been able to have a two-way conversation,” said Acosta-Sanchez. “We answer every single question coming from every platform. By taking time to converse with women and their families, we believe we’ve been able to form a long lasting relationship.”

Remembering some of the harsh lessons she learned during the direct mail campaign, Haywood advised that nonprofits can’t just make an assumption as to how to address this donors in this demographic group. The rules that apply to the general population just do not work here.

Haywood said that addressing this demographic is a full-scale commitment and that just saying you want a program won’t cut it. In addition, you cannot just transfer your English control package for the Hispanic market. MoD saw that the creative treatment of these pieces was vitally important. The pieces sent to Hispanics were often bolder and more colorful than the packages sent to the general population.

Without a full-scale commitment, said Kety Esquivel, vice president of digital influence at Ogilvy Public Relations, nonprofits can risk being seen as stereotyping their audience. “The real issue is here is nonprofits believe there is a ‘silver bullet,’ that can fulfill their goal. My bottom line is that the biggest pitfall is thinking there is one-size fits all approach. You might be alienating a lot of donors or recipients of your services through your marketing materials. Nonprofits really need to become educated and understand these cultural nuances.”

To accommodate these cultural nuances, Destiny Cruz, director of Latino engagement for New York, N.Y., based Planned Parenthood Of America, which has national operations in both New York City and Washington, D.C., has tried to dispel many of the rumors that had plagued the nonprofit.

“For us, the biggest challenge has been helping them (Hispanics) learn about who we are,” said Cruz. “We have to do a lot of research and educate these people. Ninety percent of our services are in preventive care. The ultimate goal is to focus all our little resources into forming a long-term relationship.”

Using a group of ambassadors, or “Promotores,” as they are known at Planned Parenthood, the ambassadors has made contact with 4,000 Hispanics across 16 states regarding health and reproductive programs and have been told about the many Planned Parenthood health centers across the country.

They also launched a pilot texting program. During a recent episode of MTV’s program 16 and Pregnant, a number was displayed during commercial breaks that encouraged viewers to text if they had any questions about pregnancy. Half of the 6,000 people who texted identified themselves as being of Hispanic descent.

The mobile route seems to be the way to go as research indicates Hispanics have a made a huge dent in online participation. A Pew Internet study shows that 18 percent of Hispanics use Twitter or another status updating platform compared to 19 percent of White, non-Hispanics who use similar online tools. Some 87 percent of Hispanics respondents reported to own a cell phone, 83 percent of whom use their phones for sending and receiving text messages.

Cruz said these characteristics are very much kept in mind when developing programs.

“We have tried a little bit of everything,” said Cruz. “Online we have a dedicated website in Spanish that is not a carbon copy of the English version. We have also built a presence on Facebook and Twitter. We know from research that Hispanics are very into interactive elements, so videos and widgets are important for us to have.”

Although Planned Parenthood has not yet instituted a targeted direct mail campaign, it is developing mobile tools to make it easier to communicate with its Hispanic constituency.

Whereas most nonprofits might say that 40 percent of response is from lists, 30 percent from offers, 15 percent from copy and 15 from creative, Gustavo Gruber, president and CEO of the Multicultural Marketing Alliance in Chicago, believes this needs to be reorganized regarding Hispanics.

“It is important to realize that there are many ways to identify someone of Hispanic origin. If you are just looking for surnames, you might just end up with a high percentage of people from the Philippines and people who might seem Hispanic, but aren’t actually, culturally,” he said.

For this reason, Gruber considers it imperative for nonprofits to invest money into list-making services to have a clearer picture of who is Hispanic in the target area. Gruber contends that 80 percent of response will come due to effective list-making and offers.

From an organizational perspective, some nonprofits are struggling with how to go about and implement these systematic changes. Cruz acknowledged that Hispanic outreach at Planned Parenthood has been done incrementally.

“I think for us, the incremental strategy was a smart one. We wanted to take time to try and understanding this community, with being smart and respectful,” he said.

Without a full-scale change though, nonprofits run the risk of not being knowledgeable about the community they are desperately trying to engage.

Vivian Vasollo, vice president of the AARP Foundation in Washington, D.C., said institutional changes assisted the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in developing ties to the Hispanic community.

“Our direction really came from the top down,” said Vasallo. “We tried not just translating our information into Spanish or putting up pictures of Hispanic people, but trying to reflect the face of the people we serve.”

Organizational board composition should reflect “the face of the people” served ” because there is a huge disparity in the amount of ethnically diverse nonprofits members, proportional to the people organizations serve.

According to a report by The Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., of all communities of color in California, Latinos are most underrepresented as nonprofits executive directors, accounting for 6.5 percent. Further, the study found that only 3.5 percent of nonprofit boards include Hispanics.

Esquivel said this proves that while nonprofits are trying to engage this community, it is ever more important for the communities to engage them.

“A problem is not to reflect the community itself,” said Esquivel, “but for nonprofits to realize they need more members of that community. It is not enough to have people in entry-level position. Nonprofits should mirror the community they work in.” NPT