Target Marketing TipLine
10 Best Practices for Bilingual Hispanic Mail
February 6, 2008
To grow their customer bases, most industries have tapped into the Hispanic market. “I think most companies realize, or will soon realize, that without marketing to Hispanics, your market is shrinking,” says Michael Saray, president of New York-based Michael Saray Hispanic Marketing. Saray is referring to census data recording the general market’s death rate as being higher than its birthrate, and projecting the Hispanic population will grow to one quarter of the total U.S. population by 2050.
A bilingual direct mail campaign may provide the best odds of connecting with Hispanic prospects. According to the 2006 American Community Survey, 78 percent of Hispanics speak a language other than English in the home, and 39 percent of Hispanics report speaking English “less than very well.” Below, Saray details the reasons behind using a bilingual mail piece and best practices for creating a winner.
1. Establish whether a bilingual approach is appropriate.
“You have to consider the nature of the product or service, and in some cases bilingual is not suitable,” Saray says. If you are selling a book that’s written in Spanish, then a bilingual direct mail piece would be unwise, as the product is only viable for strong Spanish speakers, he points out. In addition, marketers should always use bilingual copy for products that affect families, due to multigenerational Hispanic households with different levels of language capabilities. Financial services communications also are best delivered in a bilingual package because Hispanics under-index in financial services and need a little more in-language explanation of products and services in that sector.
2. Get the translation right.
“You have to work with good copywriters. A direct translation will really hurt you because … it will be spotted immediately,” Saray says. To avoid insulting the prospect, know which Hispanic group you are targeting and be sure to check for taboo words and meanings. “There have been some examples of words that have been chosen that were not appropriate for all Hispanic groups,” Saray says.
3. Say the same thing in both languages.
This tip seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how meanings can diverge, especially with regard to complex products and services. Saray cites a loan offer he saw in the mail, which accidentally had two different rates for the monthly payments, one in Spanish and one in English. “Hispanics can be skeptical at times, so you want to be sure that the English and Spanish [copy] say the same thing,” Saray warns.
4. Craft the message in Spanish first.
“[You] want to write the piece in Spanish first, even if its going to be bilingual … because that will convey the thought process that is more relevant to the Spanish community,” Saray advises. He says the Spanish language has a more persuasive style and argument structure, which even Hispanics who primarily speak English will identify with.
5. Use a fitting format.
“In a bilingual format, you still have to keep the English and the Spanish [message], in a sense, separate. You don’t do one paragraph in English and then the equivalent in Spanish, and then back. You put the Spanish on one side and the English on the other side of the letter,” Saray explains. And when you write in Spanish, you will need 30 percent more words to convey the same message, he adds. “The reality is you’re doubling your copy, and a good Spanish language copywriter will have to shorten their copy to fit but still keep the message.”
6. Make a right-brained appeal.
“We really believe that Hispanics, in general, are more right-brained thinkers, which tend to be more creative, emotional and intuitive,” Saray describes. To get your point across to such visionary, big-picture thinkers, he suggests avoiding the general market’s linear, analytical and numbers-based approach. Instead try to trigger emotion. “You want to talk to the heart, not the left brain,” he says.
7. Test lead languages.
Marketers who have a generous enough budget can test an A/B cell of English-lead versus Spanish-lead mailers. Results for lead language testing vary across all of the different sectors, lists and mailer formats, so it is wise to test and see if the order of the languages affects results. “There’s no conclusive evidence either way,” Saray says.
8. Test English language plus Hispanic details.
“We’ve actually done a piece for a large auto insurance company and developed an in-culture piece in English only because their call center couldn’t handle Spanish telephone calls. They wanted it to be in-culture, so the concept, graphics and words chosen were very much ones that would resonate with an acculturated Hispanic population,” Saray says. He adds that the piece did well.
9. Know where your prospect stands.
Saray reminds marketers that there’s no “typical” Hispanic customer. Marketers must consider immigration status, education, country of origin and geographic location. “It also helps to know where Hispanics are in the product life cycle. Don’t assume it’s the same as in general markets—they could be ahead or behind and tend to over-index and under-index in certain areas,” he explains. In his experience, Hispanics tend to under-index in financial services, regardless of their income, and over-index in technology, health and food.
10. Allot ample time and resources.
Remember to use the same resources and energy to reach Hispanics as you would the general market. “Too often, we’ve seen companies quickly drop in and out; they’ll try something that doesn’t work, forget about it and later try again,” Saray says. “It takes years to develop a control in the general market, and so you’ve got to have that same commitment to the existing Hispanic market,” he concludes.