Polling Latinos for business opportunities

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and moderator Jorge Ramos participate in an education town hall hosted by Univision at Bell Multicultural High School, Washington, DC.

Latinos are enjoying the limelight after they helped re-elect president Obama. Pollsters and researchers who correctly predicted the Latino vote are also seeing their clout rise. These are companies that study Hispanic demographics for politicians, but also for companies trying to establish relationships with Latino consumers.

President Obama hired the consulting firm Bendixen & Amandi International to do his polling in the Latino community. Managing partner Fenand Amandi says the research shows that many US companies fail to connect with Latino consumers. “There’s been a little bit of a blind spot," says Amandi, "part of it is because of the cultural gap.”

He says companies make a classic mistake when they simply translate an advertisement into Spanish. It's an especially bad idea when the translation involves humor. “Sarcasm and irony is something you find a lot in the general marketplace,"Amandi says. "That is literally lost in translation."

Another mistake is that companies assume they need to communicate with Latinos in Spanish.

“Certainly with the size of the Latino market at over a trillion dollars, there has been a lot of interest in reaching out to Latinos," says Mark Lopez, associate director at the Pew Hispanic Center. "But a lot of that is focused, it seems, on particularly Spanish-speaking Latinos.” 

Lopez says about two-thirds of the Latinos in this country are either bilingual or speak English predominantly. Some media companies are coming around. Recently, ABC and Univision struck a deal to create a network aimed at English-speaking Latinos.

Gary Segura, with the polling firm Latino Decisions, says TV producers have overlooked the Latino audience for English-language shows. “Currently, right now, there’s no show where Hispanic characters are central characters of the show," says Segura. "And that’s really quite interesting, given that they’re 17 percent of our population and about three-quarters of them consume their entertainment in English.” 

Another misconception is that all Latino consumers are penny-pinchers. Consultant Fernand Amandi says the growing Latino middle-class has more top-shelf taste. “Some have ascended into what you might call the ‘luxury market," he says. "I think there are tremendous opportunities to engage this population that heretofore have never taken place.”

Opportunities, he says, for high-end insurance, banking and investment products. Not to mention, opportunities for consultancies like Amandi’s that poll and research within the Latino community.

In the past, there wasn’t much demand for data from a national pollster because the Hispanic population was regionally concentrated in a few states. But interest in understanding Latinos has risen now that they have settled in almost every corner of the country. “The number of people who are doing market research for commercial firms is growing and growing quickly,” says pollster Gary Segura.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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