Marketing & Medios

July 18, 2005

Language Anxiety? DM May Be the Cure

This past year has seen much debate on the direction that language use will take. The rising number of bilingual, bicultural Hispanics has led many to predict that Spanish will play a lesser role and that bilingual or English-dominant Hispanics are the future.

Let's recap what we really know. Yes, U.S.-born second-generation Hispanics are bilingual, although they spoke Spanish first. This group has overtaken the foreign born as the largest growth segment. However, the lead is not large so both groups remain important.

It is well known that the use of Spanish declines as Hispanics acculturate. A recent study by Cecilia Alvarez of Florida International University shows that third-generation Hispanics spoke very little Spanish. However, cultural values remain very much intact right through this same generation.

So does this really mean that Spanish will play a lesser role in Hispanic communications? The above research, and similar studies, were conducted on Hispanics who were at least 20 years old. That means that they were born in 1985 or earlier. That was a very different time. Being Latino was not cool. Learning English was far more important for day-to-day life, and there was a lot of pressure to leave Spanish behind.

I am not suggesting that the use of English by Hispanics will not continue to grow. However, I think Spanish will remain very important. It will be years before we have a clear trend. So, is there a medium that will allow us to deal with this uncertainty? May I shamelessly suggest direct marketing (DM)? DM allows far more precise targeting than traditional advertising channels. If you want to mail, demographic and language use segments are available. If you're not sure, then go bilingual. In fact, bilingual is frequently preferable as it suits the dynamics of family-style decision-making.

Hispanics are not averse to telemarketing as they have not been inundated with calls. There are currently very few registrants on the Spanish-language "Do Not Call" list. Hispanics like the personal approach of a phone call, and you can instantly change languages depending on the recipient's needs.

The Internet is the ultimate DM tool, and it too can quickly adapt to the language requirements of the surfer. Banner placement, key word selection and site conversion are well suited to dual-language use.

Want more proof? The recent Directo Hispanic research study shows that two-thirds of DM buyers will probably, or definitely, continue to buy. Only 4 percent of Hispanics toss their mail without looking at it. The great success of English-language course Inglés Sin Barreras, for example, shows that even the less acculturated, unbanked segments can be very lucrative. Budgets are as tight as ever, but DM is always accountable, with ROI being easily calculated. So what are you waiting for?

Michael Saray is president and founder of Michael Saray Hispanic Marketing Inc., a direct marketing agency in New York City. He has worked in the Hispanic direct marketing area since 1993.