It takes more than language and technology to engage Hispanics.
What does it take to market to Hispanics? The question is on the minds of many marketers now that the census results are proving what we all saw coming: Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., representing one in six of all Americans today (17 percent), and potentially three in 10 (30 percent) by 2050. But how do you reach them? What's the playbook?
The playbook, in a sense, is something that my co-columnist Gustavo Razzetti and I have been developing here on the Marketing to Latinos column. But it hasn't been all that deliberate – not everything we write about is about marketing execution – nor has it developed in a way to have generic value – i.e., marketing advice for any company looking to engage with Latinos. Still, I believe we have identified at least three principles for the general Latino marketing playbook in the post-2.0 era. And I most recently saw these principles at work last week when examining a campaign by none other than the Girl Scouts of the USA, an organization that arose well before the age of big media, let alone the social media revolution.
The organization has just announced the latest installment in an ongoing campaign to recruit more Latinas: a new Texas-based program to create "Spanish-language recruitment materials, program collateral and Girl Scouting guides." The announcement would have been unremarkable were it not for one jarring statement: "Hispanic communities have one of the only girl populations in the country that is growing." If that's true, the Girl Scouts – like a number of organizations today – not only have an opportunity to recruit Hispanics, but it is mission-critical and essential to the organization's viability.
The Role of Language
As I said, the announcement for the most part was unremarkable. That the Girl Scout Council of Northern Texas would begin producing recruiting materials in Spanish should not be surprising. What is surprising is how late to the game so many other organizations are in the bilingual content game – particularly when it comes to digital content that is searchable, sharable, and in many other ways more social (for a thorough look at the language-and-content gap in marketing, check out Joe Kutchera's excellent book, "Latino Link").
There are obvious reasons for this – lack of resources, tools, and expertise. And for some groups the challenge is the complexity of the market. For the Girl Scouts, one challenge goes to market segmentation. When thinking of language and content, not only does the company need to think about the preferences of the 2.3 million girls in its organization, it also needs to think about 880,000 adult volunteers that comprise the organization's backbone. More than ever, the preferences of these volunteers matter. Many of them prefer to speak Spanish, even if the girls in their lives do not.
The Role of Technology
Which makes digital and social just as challenging. The Girl Scouts are approaching this very methodically. For the girls, it has been experimenting with tools that leverage the efficiencies of peer production, like an iPhone app for cookie season. For adult volunteers, it has deployed more content-driven programs on blogs and Facebook and Twitter. And it's just the beginning. With tech vendors like Microsoft, it has been exploring the rules and tools required to provide a virtual online experience to complement the more important offline experience for Girl Scouts (see, for example, the LMK project, "an online safety resource where girls are the technology experts on subjects that are often best discussed at a teen-to-teen level, like cyberbullying, predators and social networking"). But like the best of social-tech practitioners, it has been moving toward that goal with some caution. "With social media, we are in the midst of a big technological transformation," said Laurel Richie, CMO of the Girl Scouts, in an interview with ClickZ last week. That transformation can take social media well beyond marketing, as many organizations learn to innovate and implement new business models...all while managing the risks that come with running an organization for young people.
The Role of Culture
None of this matters, of course, if the people most important to the Girl Scouts – the girls and the adults in their lives – cannot be reached. Language and technology aren't enough. When looking at the Hispanic opportunity, the national organization was smart enough to apply what it had learned in earlier times. Says Richie: "A lot of Hispanic families wouldn't allow their girls to leave home," a big challenge for one of the anchor activities of scouting: camping. In fact, a lot of Hispanic families felt uncomfortable sending girls to scout meetings. Before embarking on the marketing campaign, the organization made sure to build the infrastructure – the programs – required to address the concerns of Hispanic families. Among other things, the Girl Scouts has been organizing meetings to explain and discuss the scouting experience with anyone – mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends – who had an interest in the future scout.
In the end, to market effectively in the multicultural world means transforming your organization to become multicultural itself. It's a lesson that can be shared with any organization hoping to reach Hispanics. But the bigger lesson, perhaps, for all marketers today can be summed up with the motto shared by most scouts, boys and girls alike: "be prepared." The Girl Scouts – one of our oldest and most venerable institutions serving future leaders in America – is preparing for its transformation. Organizations everywhere should be watching.
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Giovanni Rodriguez is an author, consultant, and public speaker on organizational leadership and digital/social communications. The views expressed in this blog are entirely his own.
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