Concepts For Understanding The Hispanic Immigrant Market

06 May 2004|Added Value

In my 11 years or so of helping clients understand and market to the Hispanic market, both in the US and in Mexico, I have encountered some overarching background values that appear to come into tension for immigrants of Hispanic origin. By background values I am referring to those values that drive behavior, but that respondents cannot readily describe in explicit. The contemporary philosopher Charles Taylor calls such values orienting evaluations. Many philosophers, including Heidegger, Nietche, and Kierkegard have revealed how it is possible for these background values to come into conflict as people enter new life stages and as their historical, social contexts shifts. In the case of people of Hispanic origin, the immersion into a culture with a different set of background values leads to an experience of tensions in values that is even more pronounced. I wish to share the larger, overarching tensions in values that guide much of my interpretation of the market.

Relaxed, Spontaneous, Festive Freedom and Fate vs. Routine Life with Better Economic Situation

A relaxed, unstructured life with festive freedom means a life of communal living, spontaneity, and constant celebration. My 11 years of qualitative research with this market have revealed that no matter how old a person is or how long they have been in the US, Hispanic immigrants feel as if they are sacrificing spontaneous living for the sake of a better economic situation in the US. This value was is most revealed by statements regarding what people miss most from their country of origin and in statements regarding the amount of money and resources people spend on celebrations and vacations in comparison to other areas of expenditures. The term used by people to describe the best of Mexico is “libre” or being free. Consumers have a difficult time expressing what “libre” means to them, which reveals that it is important and that it is coming into conflict with something else. Namely, with a life that is structured, with plans, schedules, etc. and that does not allow room for spontaneity, such as taking off from work and visiting a friend. Schedules are pre-set at the beginning of the week and there is little room for alteration. More articulate respondents realize that they are still resisting a routine life where every day is modeled after a Gantt chart. It is important to note, however, that they are proud of being on the way to discipline, and of living a routine life, for they would not talk about it as they do (it is important to recognize that comments that sound like complaints regarding US culture are often emerging values that people are struggling to integrate into their lives).

In conducting work for financial services sector, I have learned that respondents of Hispanic origin have a difficult time expressing what their financial goals are for the long term, or even describing their planning process. However, when asked about concrete savings and spending goals, many respondents describe savings for family festivities and vacations. These include cultural celebrations, yearly trips to their country of origin, and weekend bar-be-que’s/picnics with the extended family.

Furthermore, many marketers miss the importance that the role of fate plays for people of Hispanic origin. When asked about the future, a common response I have encountered is “you never know what the future holds”. This value come into conflict for people as they begin to find that life in the US demands that they commit to a particular future through specialization in a profession. Many of the people I have interviewed have demonstrated a resistance to commit to a vocation in favor of “leaving all of your doors open” since no one knows what the future holds. Furthermore, planning to far in advance is seen as arrogant; only higher powers can really determine what the future holds. Hence, folk resist planning too far in advance so as to respect fate.

Organizing Life Around Family and Friends vs. Organizing Life Around Work, Work, Work

The second common value involves communal living vs. living for the sake of work only. These values are more known among marketers, but they are not often talked about as values in conflict. Instead, marketers often describe Hispanic market as leaning more towards the family side of the horizon without noting the opportunity in the conflict. People in the market learn to appreciate opportunities offered by upward mobility. One place where I have observed such appreciation is when I have asked respondents to describe what the events or activities they are most proud of since they have been in the US. A common response is that of climbing the work ladder, and reaping the rewards of benefits of specialization (through classes or on the job training at work).

Getting Rigorous About Our Use of Language

I mention these value-conflicts above because, time and time again, I have observed that marketers, and marketing research studies, will often use the same language to describe how folks of Hispanic origin are thinking about preparing for the future as they do to describe the experience of the general market in the US. I have observed studies that discuss how people of Hispanic origin with the language “actively taking control” or “actively seeking information for” or “planning to” without noting that the language itself is the wrong language to describe what the people in the market are experiencing. If marketers are going to get serious about targeting this large group of people, it is time that we begin to get rigorous about the language we use to describe what people are experiencing. Two useful open-ended questions that will bring depth to any study:

  • What events in you life are you most proud of since you came to the US?
  • What do you miss most about your homeland?
  • Unfortunately, quantitative studies are often limited for this purpose. Closed-ended questions which ask respondents to rate a value which lives as a part of the US value-system already skew the results so that the market will look very much like others in the US. In depth, ethnographic qualitative studies are the best for generating insights to these areas of conflict.

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