Key to reaching Hispanics: Word-of-Mouth, Door-to-Door, and Network Marketing

30 Jun 2006|Added Value

By Felipe Korzenny, Ph.D., Principal & Co-Founder of Cheskin
January/February 2003, Minorities in Business Magazine.

Interpersonal networks vary in their importance across cultural groups. More “modern” societies tend to be more individualistic and inner directed. “Traditional” societies rely on interpersonal channels since social integration is one of their key survival mechanisms. They are more “other” oriented.

Western “modern” societies tend to rely on institutions for the protection of people’s rights, welfare, and security. Traditional societies only have the recourse of the family and the extended social network to protect both the individuals and the whole society.

Interpersonal networks constitute important mechanisms in these societies that strongly influence decision making processes. Information flows create the synergy by which brands evolve, succeed, and fail.

Personal Influence
The first source of influence Hispanics mention when asked how they decided to purchase a particular brand is often an interpersonal channel. This is usually a relative or friend, or someone perceived to be an expert, be it a realtor, insurance agent, pharmacist, clerk, etc.

Who is the real gatekeeper in Hispanic households?

The recommendations of others who are trustworthy are greatly valued and accepted. That is why neighbors and friends open their doors and their wallets to others they trust. As a result, there are multiple examples of network marketing that have succeeded in the Hispanic market. Avon, Mary Key, Jafra, Shaklee, and Tupperware are among those who have experienced great success among Hispanics. These companies have experienced exploding growth because they have learned to capitalize on the strong tendency of the market to spread influence and information interpersonally.

Direct Contact
But it is not only in the areas of cosmetics and nutrition that network marketing has succeeded among Hispanics. Furniture and electronics stores have greatly capitalized on this knowledge. In many metropolitan areas where Hispanics are prevalent these types of merchants send Spanish speaking representatives door-to-door to offer credit or to directly offer products. The great success of this approach is evidenced by the extraordinary growth of companies such as La Curacao and La Canasta in Southern California.

Interpersonal channels are particularly effective in reaching Hispanic consumers because:

  • Person to person communication allows for the elaboration of meaning so that questions can be answered as needed. In populations that have many individuals who are functionally illiterate conversations with others facilitate understanding and persuasion.
  • Person to person communication mediates the information so that it reduces its complexity and makes it more accessible to the recipient. Formal and professional communications can be too complicated while informal interpersonal channels interpret complex information.
  • Interpersonal communication is difficult to reject, particularly when it comes from a credible source, because the recipient of the message feels the need to help the sender save face. In “traditional” societies saving face and “giving” face are important values.
  • Personal communications have the capacity of overriding objections. This is something that one way print or broadcast communications cannot do.
  • Live demonstrations of products are more powerful than any other way of showing the attributes of a product. Further the testimonial of the demonstrator ads credibility to the virtues of the product.
  • Group consensus like during a Tupperware party allow for group self-persuasion. Once individuals in a group explain to each other why a product is valuable or important the commitment to the brand and product purchase is greatly enhanced.

New Opportunities
Word of mouth and interpersonal influence are key to reaching the Hispanic market from financial services to high technology. As an example one could think of an unconventional marketing approach for computers. Computer ownership is still underdeveloped in the Hispanic market. No computer maker has adopted a proactive approach to reaching Hispanic consumers and that could be the key to closing the “digital divide.”

Envision a marketing approach with the following components:

  • Field representatives visit homes to demonstrate a computer.
  • They demonstrate the usability of the computer by showing how the family can have virtual access to the country of origin and communicate with relatives.
  • They show how children can have access to information to do their homework.
  • They exhibit how the consumer can find information: everything from jobs to consumer information, in Spanish or in English.
  • They offer to install the computer and connect it to the Internet.

Given this approach it would be unlikely that the family would let the demonstrator leave the home with the computer. The sale would be imminent. The same model could be applied to financial services as well as many other products and services.

Interpersonal channels are excellent tools for marketing and communicating with Hispanics. Selected marketers have understood this and done extremely well with it. Who will be the next marketer that capitalizes on word of mouth marketing to US Hispanics?

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