As we near the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, we would like to reflect on the ways in which the Hispanic community across the U.S. has changed over time. This large and growing group is often misunderstood and its characteristics overgeneralized. Corporations, brands and others need to fully understand the nuances of this group to create messages that resonate.
By now, every American should know that Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the culture and contributions of Hispanic Americans, and has evolved over time to also include Latin Americans who can trace their roots to Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Central and South America, and Spanish-speaking nations in the Caribbean. What many fail to realize is that this population, whose members often speak multiple languages—not just Spanish—see themselves as more than reductive labels like “Hispanic” or “Latino.” And, while this segment of the population does share a number of similar values and experiences, Hispanics and Latinos in America are varied and polycultural.
Thanks to important and ongoing updates coming out of the 2020 Census, we now have more precise data to support this notion. Citing data from the census, the Pew Research Center, (which uses “Latino” synonymously with “Hispanic” here), recently published an article noting that, “The number of Latinos who say they are multiracial has increased dramatically,” as “[m]ore than 20 million Latinos identified with more than one race on the 2020 Census, up from just 3 million in 2010.” While improvements to the census form may partly account for this drastic change, the statistic yields information that cannot not be ignored by any brand, political group or corporation hoping to reach America’s racially diverse Hispanic and Latino population.
Perhaps more striking than the number of Hispanics and Latinos who consider themselves multiracial is the rate at which this segment in America continues to grow. According to the 2020 Census, America’s Hispanic and Latino population has nearly doubled since 2000—increasing from 35.3 million people to 62.1 million today. Furthermore, they comprised more than half of the total U.S. population growth from 2010 to 2020. The importance of Hispanic and Latino cultural influence, business leadership presence, and purchasing power across industries is no longer a forecast—it’s a reality.
So, what does it all mean? Well, for businesses and brands, it means that their growth will likely be impacted dramatically by Hispanic and Latino consumers —if it hasn’t been already. The stakes are high, which is why the following are important considerations:
- As with any consumer demographic, factors like age, geography, education, income, and language matter. There is no “one size fits all” solution that will work for brands every time. Messaging, therefore, should be tailored to cultural relevance and not assume that the Hispanic and Latino community can be reached via a single language or angle. American culture is moving toward a polycultural reality, but this segment of the population has long been polycultural.
- Hispanic and Latino communities in the U.S. are not all the same. Geography, history and immigration trends affect the development of Hispanic and Latino communities. There are subtle but critical differences in certain Hispanic and Latino communities, and smart brands know this. A Hispanic and Latino community in New York, for example, is different than one in, say, Miami, Houston or Los Angeles, and brands should keep that in mind.
- Popular and highly publicized “Hispanic holidays” are often far from representative. For example, days such as Cinco de Mayo and Día de los Muertos are distinctly Mexican holidays, and not celebrated in other countries – and in the case of Cinco de Mayo, it is mostly relevant to only Mexicans from Puebla. Brands can reach broader Hispanic and Latino audiences by prioritizing holidays and events, such as Christmas, the Super Bowl and the FIFA World Cup—all of which have been shown to appeal to a multitude of Hispanic and Latino communities.
- Cultural elements should be included in brand storytelling. Music, archetypes, semiotics, values, lifestyles, economic and political sentiments, familial structure, food, traditions, and imagery can tell vibrant and colorful stories, so long as stereotypes are avoided. As a best practice, leverage the knowledge of culture experts rather than general perceptions about cultural items.
- For Hispanics and Latinos (and most of the world), multilingual communication is not foreign, but standard. Translation must not be an afterthought nor considered a charitable service. Integrating a multilingual approach to messaging and communication – again, avoiding stereotypes – enables you to communicate directly to a Hispanic and Latino audience, acknowledging everyday realities.
- Hispanic and Latino communities are no longer just in Southeast Florida, New York, Texas and California. They are all over the country and are as diverse as their people.
More than simply being valued as a consumer demographic, the Hispanic and Latino community in America is asking to be truly seen for the diverse and culturally rich people that they are. They aspire for America to see them through the same lens that they see themselves and to appreciate their unique heritage and contributions. And, as they continue to grow both in influence and number, the opportunities to connect meaningfully are as rich as the many dimensions of the Hispanic and Latino community itself.
Gaby Lechin is BCW’s West Coast Market Leader and EVP. Born and raised in Venezuela, she specializes in brand strategy, diversification, crisis communications, market share strategy, and media relations.
Marcos Martí is an Account Director in BCW’s New York City corporate practice. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, he focuses on media relations, public affairs, and cross-cultural communications, as well as serves as part of BCW's polycultural consulting unit.