Chiqui Cartagena, Latino marketing expert and author of Latino Boom and Latino Boom II, joined Alignment Strategies CEO Dr. Vanessa Weaver to discuss the United States’ burgeoning Hispanic population. She addressed the rapid growth in Latino buying power, why there is an increase in Latinos living in the South and Midwest, how Latinos are shaping consumer habits and popular culture, and why recognizing Latinos’ influence is critical to the success of companies in all industries. The following is an edited excerpt of their conversation.
Dr. Vanessa Weaver: Latinos contribute $2.6 trillion annually to the gross domestic product. I don’t know that a lot of folks in our society get how significant this is.
Chiqui Cartagena: What’s more important about that first data point is that a decade ago it was only $1.6 trillion. So in a decade our contribution has increased $1 trillion.
Weaver: Why such a significant increase?
Cartagena: We are a key segment of the U.S. economy because we are young. Our median age is 28 versus 38 for the U.S. population. Our years of buying power is 56 years versus 36 for the U.S. population.
Weaver: If Latinos were an independent country, you would have the eighth largest GDP in the world.
Cartagena: That’s right. We are 64 million strong and we have a larger GDP than Mexico, which has over 100 million people. People don’t understand how powerful the impact of Latinos is in every sector.
Weaver: When you share the facts we just talked about, how do people react?
Cartagena: Some people are in awe and then they say, “Oh, but they speak Spanish. I don’t know how to market to Latinos who speak Spanish.” And yes, a lot of Latinos speak Spanish. A lot of them speak Spanish and English, and a lot of them only speak English. The language has always been one of those barriers that I think marketers have had a hard time grappling with, but that’s why we have Spanish-language media.
I worked both at Univision and Telemundo. These media companies do a great job helping companies better understand how they can get their message to my community, and really start growing their base. I did a lot of work with P&G, not only in the Hispanic market, also in the African-American market, because P&G gets it. P&G gets that one-out-of-four babies born in this country is born to Latino parents.
Weaver: That’s a lot of Pampers and Luvs.
Cartagena: That’s right. And also, they know the Latino woman is the main decision maker. She loves to take care of herself, so beauty care, another big division of P&G, is very important. P&G has been a leader in the marketplace advertising to Latinos. In the Fortune 100, you have companies like McDonald’s and P&G, and Unilever, who have done a great job over the past 30, 40 years, but then you have a ton of companies in the Fortune 1,000 who haven’t even started marketing to Latinos. There’s a lot of room for growth and all they have to do is really understand the Latino community, understand the power that we bring to the table.
Weaver: It’s surprising to me, with a cohort generating $2.6 trillion GDP, why companies have not placed that as a priority. It’s one thing to say languages is a barrier, but is it about language being a barrier or a company not making the commitment to them?
Cartagena: You got it. The commitment part is the big thing. Often people will say, “Okay, we’re going to launch our product in Canada.” Canada is like one-third, half the size of the U.S. Hispanic market, but they’ll choose Canada over the U.S. Hispanic market because they think it’s easier. Smart executives understand that they have to start addressing this.
Weaver: I lived in Los Angeles for about eight years and there’s no way a business can survive in Los Angeles without any understanding of the [Hispanic] culture or the language.
Cartagena: In big cities, New York, Chicago, you get it because you see it. You walk down the street, you get in the Metro, that’s the beautifulness of our multiculturalism. But then there’s other big swaths of America where you don’t see that kind of change.
Although there is growth of Latinos in non-traditional areas, places like North Carolina and Georgia. It’s really surprising. It’s triple-digit growth every Census. So, even though we were in our enclaves, I think now Latinos are everywhere and this is why it’s such a great opportunity.
Weaver: Why are they leaving the traditional areas like California, Texas, New Mexico?
Cartagena: They follow the jobs, Dr. Weaver. They go to where they’re needed. A lot of the growth in the south has been either in agriculture or also in furniture, building, construction. A lot of the growth in places like Montana, they’re following the oil industry. And in Utah, the Latino population grew overnight when they hosted the Olympics because who was going to take care of all those new hotel rooms, and who’s going to do all that construction? We were.
We are one of the hardest working populations in this country and you can see it. We’re 18% of the total population and yet over 30% of the construction workers, over 30% of transportation workers, over 30% of medical assistants. There are categories and industries where we way outnumber our total population as a demographic.
Weaver: Well, with those kinds of shifts in location, how is that impacting our culture in the United States?
Cartagena: Salsa sells more than ketchup. It has for 20 years. Twenty years ago, nobody had heard of dulce de leche. Now it’s a mainstay. Look at the popularity of soccer. Look at the music. How many times have you danced to “Despacito?” Look at America’s favorite pastime MLB, baseball. Over than 30% [of the players are] Latino.
And here’s another misconception. We have been here for many, many decades. This painting us as immigrants, new immigrants, it’s a false narrative. I know people who are, especially from Texas or California, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth generation Latinos. They were here before the pilgrims landed.
Weaver: I would love for you to share with corporations what they should be doing to be better connected to their Latino community.
Cartagena: Within your companies, really make an effort to understand the Hispanic identity. We’re not a monolith. We come from 22 different countries. I’m half Puerto Rican, half Spanish, but maybe in your company you have Dominicans, or you have Mexicans or Salvadorians. We’re all a little different. The beauty is we all speak Spanish, so that unites us, but there are also differences that you need to understand, and you need to celebrate.
You also need to really reduce the obstacles to success. What’s stopping your employees from being the best they can be? Ask them but be careful. Don’t trust only employee surveys. Latinos, with surveys, tend to try to be very positive. They’ll never tell you how they really feel, so use other devices. Ask your managers to do one-on-one meetings and take notes. Create a suggestion box where people can really freely speak.
Latinos feel they need to repress part of themselves to succeed. In fact, let me quote a study done by Latinos at Work where 76% of Latinos said, “I repress part of who I am when I go to work.” And by the way, 43% of them are women. There are three aspects of the Latinoness that I think employers need to keep in mind and that are a little cultural shift. People’s appearance, the way they dress. Latinos, we’re a little more voluptuous. We’re a little more colorful. That’s just our culture.
So, let’s talk about that. Body language. Look at me. I’m expressing myself with my hands all the time. I cannot talk without moving my hands. Some people interpret that as weird. And then, I don’t have an accent, or at least I think I don’t, but a lot of Latinos do and that also makes them feel less than. So really just reach out and again, try to reduce the obstacles to their success and start fixing the culture that has always existed to be more open and more receptive to authenticity.