I recently spent ten days in California working with one of my clients to develop marketing strategies that would reach the increasingly important Mexican (and overall Hispanic) market of this important state. Current demographics show that Hispanics constitute the largest ethnic/minority group of the state, accounting for over 30 percent of the population. In certain cities, the percentage goes up to as high as 50 percent. Furthermore, demographic trends point to this percentage becoming even larger in the near future; the Hispanic population has truly taken hold in the United States.
It is not just population numbers that are forcing companies to take this market seriously. Income levels for all Hispanics have been growing steadily over the past 20 years, and the income gap between Hispanics and the rest of the population has declined. As a result, the stereotype that Mexicans are too poor to bother targeting is, now more than ever, wrong. It is estimated that at least half of Mexican households can manage a middle-class standard of living. Of course, even Mexicans of a lower economic level consume, which, as an aggregate figure, is certainly significant.
When there is that much money involved, companies are more than happy to meet their target markets half-way. If Spanish is the language of choice (which it is for most Mexican-born residents of California), then companies will advertise in the many Spanish-language media outlets now available and hire sales representatives who speak Spanish. U.S. companies are now offering products that satisfy Mexicans’ particular tastes, and will basically do whatever it takes to satisfy this market.
The challenge for these companies is to figure out what exactly needs to be done to effectively reach that market. Language accommodation is one obvious step in the right direction, but the challenge is not as simple as saying, “Let’s do things the same way they do it in Mexico.” The reason being that many Mexicans have crossed the border precisely to get away from some things they were used to in Mexico and did not like. As is the case with other immigrant groups in both the U.S. and worldwide, Mexicans wish to retain certain aspects of their culture, and leave behind others. Companies have to figure out which aspects to promote in order to market successfully. For example, Mexicans tend to show a great deal of cultural loyalty to food, festivities and music. So much so that now, their taste for food and music has begun to be seen as part of U.S. mainstream tastes. Latin rock is popular among many non-Latinos, spicy food is now “as American as apple pie,” and salsa now outsells ketchup in the United States.
Mexicans also tend to show a strong family-orientation, and often their strongest objection to life in the U.S. is the weakening of the family structure. But they try to maintain the sense of closeness and family group-orientation typical in Mexico. Thus, important purchasing decisions involve the family, not just individuals. When a new car is going to be bought, often the entire family comes to take a look at it. This has prompted many stores and offices to become more family friendly, providing a space for children to run around, and games for their distraction.
The ever-growing globalization of the economy, which tends to increase large migration movements throughout the world, will force companies to look at any market they are tapping into as a multi-cultural reality, presenting both challenges and great opportunities. This is indeed an important challenge for managers in the 21st century.