Hispanics, or Latinos (which kindly includes my native country, Brazil, where we speak Portuguese), have been a strong influence in the US economy for decades. As an integral part of the workforce seeking the “American Dream”, more and more Latinos tried, as time went by, to “fit-in” to the American culture to succeed and achieve that Dream. Latino parents would only speak English with their kids, so they would fit-in in school. When American neighbors came to visit, they made sure to serve peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the kids and hot dogs for the adults (“keep the tamales in the fridge, Mi Amor!”). You get the picture.
The process of trying to “fit-in” to an alien culture is called acculturation. It does not have much, if anything, to do with which generation you belong to, but it is a phenomenon statistically proven to be correlated with two major variables:
- How easily you flip-flop from your native language to the country language. In this case, how effortlessly a Latino goes back and forth between Spanish (or Portuguese) and English, and;
- How similar the purchase basket is of a Latino family or individual to an American one.
These two factors are critical because they reflect how people feel and how they act. Your level of comfort in any given language allows you express and feel emotions in those languages. Try to play with a baby in a foreign language and you will see what I mean! Your purchase habits show how much of that “new” country’s habit you have embraced and adopted daily.
According to Simmons, the Hispanic data division of Nielsen, the distribution of the Hispanic population by level of acculturation historically looks like a bell curve:
But about 15 years or so ago, something interesting started to happen:
- Hispanic women’s rate of college graduation started to spike;
- Celebrities such as J-Lo, Rick Martin, Gloria Estefan, and other Latin artists hit the US charts big!
- For the first time, in 1992, salsa outsells ketchup.
- In 1998, Haagen Dazs launches the Dulce de Leche flavor, a staple in Argentina and a favorite across Latin America. It quickly became the second best seller of the brand, only after vanilla, but surpassing chocolate, coffee and strawberry in sales volume and revenue.
And this trend is alive and well. So, what’s going on?
This phenomenon is known as retro-acculturation. Basically, the now 57 million Hispanics living in the United States figured out that they CAN eat their cake and have it too! They don’t have to hide the tamale when people come visit... they can share it, and their neighbors love it! Latino music is beautiful and lively – and many Americans like it too, so it’s okay for us to listen to it. It is possible to be Latino and love the US way of life at the same time.
As a result, for the last 10 years, Simmons has consistently tracked the evolution in the acculturation levels bell curve. It shows:
- Those less acculturated are more comfortable adapting to American culture and are doing so at a faster pace, because they no longer need to choose between cultures;
- Those originally highly acculturated got permission to go back to their roots and embrace all the aspects of their heritage they love and missed.
Today, given how fast Hispanics are acculturating and the influence of retro-acculturation, in all top Hispanic markets in the US, the acculturation bell curve is moving from the distribution in red, towards the green shape below:
So, what does it mean to you, as the CEO of a company trying to grow your business in US markets with a strong Hispanic population?
- You can’t ignore them – it’s too much purchase power to leave on the table;
- If you’re already addressing the Hispanic consumer and doing so only in Spanish through Hispanic media, that may not propel your business growth in that segment. This is because the Spanish speaking only, less acculturated population is sinking.
- You better be mobile digital savvy. Hispanics over-index in mobile digital usage and under-index in desktop usage. Build your digital platform for mobile first.
- If you want to capture a piece of the $1.4 trillion Hispanics spend in the US each year, according to Nielsen, you have to go beyond language. It’s imperative to understand where your potential core Hispanic consumer is in the spectrum of acculturation and meet them there, from the initial offering of your product or service, all the way thru the purchase experience and delivery.
By the way, if you became uncomfortable with the back and forth between “Hispanic” and “Latino” in here, get used to it. It is an on-going debate, with no right answer. In fact, it is part of the journey to understand this awesome culture!