To know your audience, you have to speak their language

by James Breiner
Oct 30, 2018 in Miscellaneous

Tony Morejon likes to tell the story of a community outreach program that failed because the government agency in Tampa, Florida, did not understand differences among Hispanic groups.

The government wanted to offer health services to the Mexican immigrants who work on local farms. But instead of hiring Mexicans to do the surveys and health screenings, as Morejon recommended, they used their own employees, mainly Cubans and Puerto Ricans. The reasoning was that since the employees spoke Spanish, they could persuade the Mexicans to enroll, said Morejon, Hispanic Affairs Liaison at Hillsborough County,

It didn't work, said Morejon. The Mexicans politely declined to volunteer information about household health issues. Even though the outreach workers spoke Spanish, the Mexicans perceived them as authority figures to be feared rather than trusted.

Know their passions and fears

Morejon, whose parents immigrated to Florida from Cuba, understands the subtle differences among Hispanic groups. He told a group of communications and public relations professionals in Tampa that they need to keep this in mind as they try to do more business with Hispanics, who don't respond to the standard advertising messages.

Although Morejon is offering government services, he said the same rules apply in the world of business and media. Know your audience. Know their aspirations, their passions and their fears. Know their culture, their language. (Tip: Google Analytics and other programs allow you to see the preferred language of visitors to your website, based on how their device is configured.)

Mexicans immigrants have deep-seated distrust of authority. They often use a different vocabulary from other Spanish speakers. Marketers, advertisers and, yes, journalists need to embrace that to be effective.

Some successful campaigns and what we can learn from them, according to Morejon:

  • The U.S. Army's campaign to recruit Hispanics attempts to persuade parents of the educational benefits available to veterans. Lesson: Hispanics place tremendous value on the extended family. If you want to reach young people, persuade their parents first, and they will make sure the children come along.

  • The National Football League started NFL en español to attract fans to the stadiums and to the television broadcasts. They started highlighting some of their Hispanic players and retirees: Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez, Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and others. Lessons: Speak your audience's language. Show you´re interested in your audience and they will show interest in your product.

  • The U.S. Census got more Hispanics to participate in the 10-year count by telling them that by being counted, services to their communities would improve. "Count me" was the slogan in Spanish. Lessons: see NFL above.

  • When Jeb Bush, who is fluent in Spanish, was Florida governor, he went on television to encourage residents of coastal areas to participate in a program in hurricane preparedness. He made his plea in English and Spanish. His remarks were recorded and posted on websites favored by Hispanics. The Hispanic audience responded. Lesson: again, speak the language.

If Morejon were advising the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are 0-7 and rank third from last in attendance, he would tell them to let each adult who buys a ticket bring in a child free. The parents will make fans of the children, and the children will become Buccaneers fans for life.

(I know that Morejon's proposed strategy works. As a kid I received free tickets to Cleveland Indians games based on my report card, and I have been a loyal fan for five decades, despite many disappointing seasons.)

Some other tips from Morejon:

  • No matter what anyone tells you, automated translation will not produce satisfactory results for publication. If you publish documents translated by a computer program, the results will be ludicrous. You will be a joke.

  • Diversity in the workplace isn't just a noble goal for society: It's good business. If you don't employ and promote Hispanics, the fastest-growing minority group in the U.S., you won't be able to compete. Companies who have bilingual, multicultural employees will produce better products and services for the marketplace. They will leave your company behind.

This post originally appeared on the blog News Entrepreneurs. It is published on IJNet with the author's permission.

James Breiner is a consultant in online journalism and leadership. He is a former co-director of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University and a former Knight International Journalism Fellow who launched and directed the Center for Digital Journalism at the University of Guadalajara. He is bilingual in Spanish and English. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via tracilawson.