Marketing to Hispanics? Find the Right Translator

Make marketing messages understandable and culturally relevant.

January 24, 2011
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When reaching out to the young and fast-growing Hispanic market, credit unions sometimes fall short in a crucial, yet surprisingly difficult, area: translating their intended marketing message from English to Spanish, says Warren Morrow, CEO of Coopera Consulting, Des Moines, Iowa.

He recalls one credit union that used a play on words to tell Hispanic consumers about its low fees.

“It had a tagline throughout its branch, ‘feedom,’ trying to play off of freedom from fees,” Morrow recalls. “It was difficult to translate or find the culturally relevant version in Spanish. We’d have to go a little different route to express in Spanish what the English version attempted to express.”

Warren Morrow
video Coopera Consulting CEO Warren Morrow discusses common translation mishaps. Watch now.

This type of translation mishap can confuse Spanish-speaking members and prevent the intended message from getting through. A good translator would prevent this type of mistake from happening, Morrow says.

He cites three things credit unions can do to find a high-quality translator:

  1. Look at the translator’s credentials and ask for references;
  2. Look at the person’s previous work and have your bilingual staff verify that it’s on-target;
  3. Express to the translator that it’s the message you want translated, not necessarily the literal English translation of what you’ve created.

“That’s where this becomes a more consultative, strategic process,” Morrow says. “The translator should be adept enough to spread the intended message.”

Coopera does “back translations” which show parallel versions of the Spanish and English translations. That way, non-Spanish speakers know what’s being relayed to Spanish-speaking members.

According to the Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C., Hispanics will make up approximately one-third of the U.S. population by 2050. Currently, almost one of five people under age 18 is Hispanic.

The median age of Hispanics is 27, while the average age of credit union members is 47, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Credit Union National Association.

Hispanics have a purchasing power that’s expected to reach $1 trillion next year, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, Athens, Ga.—and yet 40% to 55% of U.S. Hispanics don’t have a relationship with a traditional financial institution.

Reaching out to a new market takes commitment and dedication to demonstrate you truly want to serve its needs, Morrow says. “It’s not enough to simply translate marketing materials into Spanish or hire bilingual personnel.

“Success requires deliberate, comprehensive steps resulting in a true partnership with the Hispanic community—where your credit union is a trusted financial service provider, an employer of choice, and a caring neighbor.”

It's about culture, not language

January 14, 2011 11:22 am
Those of us that have been marketing to Hispanics for some time find these types of articles disturbing and regressive.
No financial institution would ever think to take a marketing campaign from a Latin American country and simply hire an English translator and expect it to work. This should not be the expectation or the approach in the Hispanic market with general market campaigns.
Simply put, marketing to Hispanics isn't about language. The word translation shouldn't even enter the discussion unless it's about a bank document.
All marketing is cultural. Marketing that is developed for one mindset does not necessarily work for another group with a different mindset, no matter how well the translation.
I suggest reading the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agency's Latino Identity Study. It is specific about how Latinos differ from non-Latinos and the marketing implications thereof. We Latinos often have a very drastically different perspective when approaching financial services than non-Latinos. Thus, communication has to be specific to our understanding, expectations and experiences.
We call this "transcreation" ... and not only does the messages have to be different, but often so does the approach. We can't take messages and approaches developed for the general market and put them in Spanish and expect them to work.
Too many financial services institutions take this approach and when it fails, they blame the market rather than the approach.
So, my advice is to not look at a translator's credentials and/or express that you want the message translated, but rather, ask what they know about how Hispanic culture impacts their decisions about consuming financial services products, what marketing expertise they have in the Hispanic market, and most importantly what results have they generated for other institutions.

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Cultural Relevancy, Not Language

Lucia Matthews
January 16, 2011 3:47 pm
Communicating with Latinos is more than a translation issue. Not to negate the importance or the use of the Spanish language, but studies suggest U.S. Hispanics, as a majority, speak English. Findings from the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization dedicated to improving understandings of the U.S. Hispanic population, suggest 88 percent of second generation U.S. Hispanic adults and 94 percent third generation are fluent English speakers.

The key to communicating relevantly with Latinos is to understand the significance of messages founded in cultural nuance. When speaking with Latinos, health programs, education, and other resources should move away from translating mainstream content into Spanish and towards resonating culturally.

Lucía Matthews
Executive Director, DIÃ?LOGO
San Diego + Mexico City

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Credit Union Magazine
January 18, 2011 10:02 am
I think we're all in agreement. Warren Morrow cites the need to have culturally relevant marketing messages that resonate with Hispanic consumers.

As he says,"It's not enough to simply translate marketing materials into Spanish or hire bilingual personnel."

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No, we aren't in agreement

January 23, 2011 11:35 pm
With all due respect, I need to clarify that we are not in fact in agreement. The quote you cite reenforces my point. Mr. Morrow says translations (and hiring bi-lingual people) are not enough, by which he refers to the fact it takes a commitment (he's right) and not that translations aren't an approach. What I'm saying is that culture and not language is the primary consideration for marketing to U.S. Hispanics, and that translations don't have a place in effective Hispanic marketing. As my collegue rightly states in a previous comment, we do have a high level of bi-lingualism. But, that doesn't mean that because I speak English that existing financial services messages will resonate with Hispanics. That is because they were created in English with a general market audience in mind. Hispanics have a relationship with financial services that is often vastly different from our Caucasian counter parts that must be considered and addressed in message development ... regardless of what language is selected. Again, no one would take a Chinese campaign developed in Mandarin and translate it to proper English and expect it to resonate with the U.S. market. Why companies think they can take this approach for the U.S. Hispanic market is why so many are failing in their attempts. U.S. companies that are finding success in the Hispanic market may start with their general market campaigns as a base, but they are much more culural in their messages. I am in agreement with Mr. Morrow that community relations and other outreach are critical to success. But, none of that will work if the message is wrong.

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Thank You

Warren Morrow
January 24, 2011 10:45 am
I am very happy that this posting generated some responses and that the writers are as passionate as they are about the topic.

Since there seems to be a little bit of misunderstanding, and since I had the privilege of posting the video blog, I thought I might weigh in.

The two comments which ascert that it takes more than a translation of English to connect with the audience are correct. Perhaps, the short length of the video blog didn't allow us to explore this topic as deeply as needed. I also agree that the term "transcreation" is a good term for what should be the goal of translations. Again, the necessary brevity of a video blog didn't allow this deep of an exploration.

I also think, however, that the posting is consistent with these thoughts. I would invite you to look more deeply into how Coopera advocates that credit unions reach Hispanics in the U.S. Out of over 200 best practice tactics, translations (or transcreation) of relevant materials is an important step, yet will reliably not lead to results unless accompanied by other very significant efforts. To name some of the most critical: GROUNDWORK: 1) Understanding of the local market - yes, in some markets and for some Hispanic segments, Spanish transcreation of materials will not be appropriate; 2) Board and management-level buy-in - this is perhaps the most critical of all tactics and no amount of translated/transcreated materials will succeed if this does not exist; ADAPT TO THE MARKET:

PERSONNEL - 1) Hire bilngual/bicultural professionals that can build trust with the community; 2) Train staff on the nuances of serving Hispanics in your community;

PRODUCTS - 1) Understand the unique product needs of your market and create new products or repackage existing products to be relevant;

PROCESSES - 1) Establish a baseline of your service to this market and track the success of your initiative; 2) Adjust policies to fit the needs of your market;

PROMOTION/MARKETING - 1) Define your primary and secondary targets; 2) Create your advertising/branch strategy; 3) Transcreate if appropriate for your market (translate to be culturally relevant) your marketing materials and advertisements (as noted in the video blog, sometimes the message will have to be totally different because the English tries to convey something that simply can't be conveyed in Spanish); 4) Commit to a financial education strategy; 5) Explore community partnerships; 6) Utilize relevant media for your market.

While I spent more time describing the promotion/marketing tactics, we consider it essential to address the other foundational tactics before advertising.

I hope this demonstrates that we're in agreement that it takes much more than simple translations to effectively reach this market and I look forward to the continued dialogue!

Thank you.


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