Learnings from Democrats’ Hispanic Strategy

The 2020 Elections ended the era in which you could afford to leave the Latinx market on the table.

Biden´s campaign strategy seems to have been designed under one core principle: it is easier to regain former Democratic voters than to court first-time voters or to flip soft Republican voters. This meant that Democrats laser-focused on the ‘Rust Belt’ to regain the -white- voters that Trump won to Hillary in 2016.

This strategy's main risk was to neglect the US Hispanic community, with 32 million eligible voters, the most significant minority group voting in 2020. For the first time in history, Latinos exceeded the number of black voters, a pattern that will probably keep repeating itself in future elections.

It also meant risking battleground states with large Latino populations, like Florida, Texas, Arizona, even Pennsylvania, and leaving the 3.6 million first-time Latinx voters -a pivotal young community for Republicans to grab.

Publisher: Harvard University Press, 2019.

Was it a necessary risk to take? Was it a responsible thing to do, if you think not only in the short-term Presidency goal but in the Senate and Congress results?

Every 30 seconds, a Latino reaches voting age. Yet, Democrats deprioritized the Latino target well before the presidential campaign. They stuck with the voting target whose culture they understand and left by the wayside the powerful but complex Hispanic opportunity.

Biden didn´t reach the younger Latino leaders during his primary campaign. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, probably Democrats’ most appealing star among younger voters, got a mere 60 seconds slot in the pre-recorded Democratic National Convention. Julián Castro, the only Latino candidate in the Democratic primaries, not even a second.

After Biden won the nomination, Latino leaders and traditional Latino topics were erased from the Democratic speeches and talking points. There was minimal mention in the mainstream media about immigration, the border wall, family separation, children in cages, and the whereabouts of 545 migrant Latino kids left without their parents.

After the Biden presidential campaign kicked off, the Latino outreach team was created well ahead on the road, and there was no official Latino senior campaign manager. Spanish media investments in major Latino markets and outlets, like Florida, showed up in July… a month after Trump’s. It was no surprise then that a LatinoDecisions poll, two months ahead of the election, revealed that 60 percent of Latinos had not been contacted yet by any political party regarding the elections.

Publisher: HarperCollins, 2020.

There was a tiny media budget invested in Latino voters. Democratic candidates barely visited traditional Latino-intensive states. Mr. Trump held several campaign rallies in Florida over the summer and in the days leading up to the Election. Mr. Biden held his first event in Florida in September, during Hispanic Heritage Month, seven weeks before Election Day. Kamala Harris visited Texas only after millionaire Michael Bloomberg poured a hundred-million-dollar donation. Biden never rallied there.

But the elusive reaction when confronting the Hispanic opportunity is not exclusive to the Democratic party: Corporate America does it as well.

As a Multicultural marketing strategist, I have encountered many professional situations in which public and private companies react in the same elusive way regarding their Hispanics Strategy.

At first, marketers acknowledge the Hispanic community’s demographic power (60 million people strong). Marketers also understand their economic output size or productivity. If the US Latino were an independent country, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be the 8th biggest globally, larger even than those of Italy, Brazil, or Canada, and 45% larger than Russia’s. In terms of growth, Latinx’s would be the 3rd fastest-growing economy globally, only surpassed by China and India.

Marketers understand that Latinx buying power is rising. They know that Hispanic buying power is predicted to grow from $1.7 trillion to 2.3 in five years. It increased by 69% from 2010 to 2019, outpacing the 41% growth of non-Hispanics.

In many mature categories and markets, top executives know that the Latinx community is the only way Corporate America can grow.

Corporations also admit the Latino influence in mainstream consumption in critical categories like food, music, fashion and apparel, cosmetics, and personal care.

Jennifer López in the Coach 2020 Spring campaign “Originals Go Their Own Way.” Creative Director: Stuart Vevers. Photographer: Juergen Teller.

But when confronted with budget decisions and their Hispanic strategy, like Biden, executives tend to revert to the more familiar targets and overcut or ax the Hispanic investments. Latinos are almost 20% of the population, yet only 6% of the total US media budget spend is dedicated to this community.

Corporate America’s marketers even coined an expression for the elusive move: to have “a Total Market Approach.” The term implies that you can effectively reach the Latino population with the same dollars you use to get your General Market (Non-Latino market) as they are also exposed to mainstream media.

Corporate America’s marketers even coined an expression for this elusive Hispanic strategy move: to have a “Total Market Approach”.

The reason for this “Total Market Approach” is not marketing budgets’ efficacy or efficiencies either. Every dollar invested in a Hispanic effort will yield 61% more effectiveness and three times greater purchase intent than a dollar invested in a generalist effort, up to ANA and IPG Media Lab.

The truth is that understanding the diverse Hispanic community can be challenging for any political party or corporation, especially if they themselves are not culturally diverse.

To simplify the vast US market's management, political pollsters and marketers got used to Cohort analysis or Generational analysis. “Millennials prioritize experiences over possessions,” “GenZ truly cares about the environment and social causes.” Take any of those overarching generational statements, inject them in your campaigns, and you can repurpose a big part of your previous year’s marketing and outreach efforts without having to surprise, reeducate or discuss with anyone in your organization.

But what to do when you are determined to invest in a less-known Hispanic community, whose heritage includes 20 different nationalities? How to understand their political identity formation, if their immigration history and reason to do so differs in each sub-community or US state? How to learn from them if their language preference changes depending on the topic, the channel or device, and social context? How to portray them in your campaigns if they don´t identify with specific skin color, race, or ethnicity? How to have them speak in your campaigns if there is no such thing as ¨Universal Spanish¨ and every sub-community is proud of its unique accent and colloquialisms?

Publisher: Verso, 2019.

Even when eyeing the Hispanic cake's size, it’s understandable that many professionals decide to avoid investing in this rich and complex community and revert to re-tweaking or optimizing the traditional investment in safer and better-known, white communities. This is especially expected in companies or political parties with a historical lack of diversity in their internal culture and leadership teams. More so if the company or political party does not reward innovation.

There are no miraculous martingales for profiting from the Latino vote or wallet.

Your team will have to do its homework and eat their veggies.

The simplistic Latino stereotypes won´t help your learning goals.

“Latinos lean conservative because of their catholic influence” (1 in 5 Latinos is protestant), “Florida Latinos are Republicans because of Cuban’s experience with Castro’s dictatorship” (49% of Latinos in Florida are non- Cuban descendant), “ Latinos don´t vote” (Latino turnout had a 50% increase in the 2018 Midterm elections, the biggest from all ethnicities), etc.

Watching mainstream culture will not teach you Hispanic culture.

Although there are 624 Latino news outlets and some Latino TV shows like Jane the Virgin, Ugly Betty, or Gentefied did the cross-over, Latino culture is underrepresented and misrepresented in America’s mainstream culture. Latinos purchased more movie tickets per capita than any other group, and yet only 4.5% of all 47,268 speaking parts or named characters in movies from the last 12 years were Latinos. The percentage of lead or co-lead actors was even less, at 3%.

“Gentefied,” an Original Netflix production

Don´t expect your Latino colleagues to be loud, tout their horn about Latinx culture, or teach the rest of your staff.

Most Latinos have an immigrant mentality and values: discretion, gratitude, and hard work. A Harvard Business Review study concluded that most US Latinos do not feel that they can show their true selves at work. 76% repress parts of their personas at work. They modify their appearance, body language, and communication style to conform to traditional white, male standards.

But you can learn from winning Latino strategies, like Bernie Sanders’ “Tío Bernie” campaign.

During the Democratic primaries, Sanders’ campaign hired around 200 Latino staffers, more than the other campaigns. It also put many of them in senior positions.

Bernie Sanders, or “Tío Bernie” (Uncle Bernie), as the campaign branded the candidate for the Latino community, also invested more dollars and effort in sustained outreach to Latinx voters and Spanish language media.

Sanders won the Latinx vote in Nevada, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan, and the young Latinx vote in California by a landslide. The campaign was also the one that raised more political contributions from Latinos: $23.7 million in 2019 alone.

Publisher: Strong Arm Press, 2020.

Where to start learning not to leave the Hispanic power on the table?

  1. Ditch simplistic Latinx stereotypes.

The Latino community is not a monolith. They can make you lose Florida and also help you win Arizona or Georgia. Hispanics don´t live in only four states anymore. You can find sizable Hispanic populations in Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota, and Maine.

2. Help your team to learn from Latino culture by exposing them to it.

Celebrate all Hispanic festivities as well as Hispanic Heritage Month in your company. There is more than the controversial Cinco de Mayo. Suggested movies to watch.

3. Create a Latino Marketing Council in your company.

You can create a Latino Caucus in your organization, inviting Latinos and colleagues who are more familiar with or exposed to Hispanic culture.

4. Hire Multicultural strategy experts, if needed.

You don´t need to create another silo in your organization. If you need help, there is plenty of consultants in Multicultural marketing. Remember, being Latino doesn´t mean that you are a Hispanic marketing expert by default. Check out the Cultural Marketing Council.

5. Commit to your decision to serve the Hispanic community.

Avoid showing up only when you need them and then complain if you don´t get the desired results.

6. Embrace that we are living in an increasingly diverse country.

Your team will require more humility, curiosity, and effort to lead politically and economically than before.

7. Ditch the “Total Market Strategy.”

The 2020 elections ended the era in which you could afford to leave the Latinx market on the table.

Don´t leave the Hispanic votes on the table. Don´t leave the Hispanic market on the table.

*About the author:

Antonio Nunez is a communication strategy consultant, author, and speaker who specialize in Storytelling. For ideas and tips on storytelling and communication, you can join his free newsletter at antonionunez.com or follow his Twitter @AntonNunez

Communication Strategy Consultant, Author, and Storytelling Teacher at Domestika.com. More at antonionunez.com

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