Thursday, December 30, 2010

The 2010 Census Count: Marketing to Latinos

Many marketers are waiting for the results of the 2010 US Census to learn about the growth of the ethnic/cultural segments they target. That expectation will be met when the Census releases that data by about March 2011.

We can expect to learn about the age, gender, household role, Hispanic/Latino origin, and race of theoretically every person living in the United States on April 1, 2010. We will learn about how many Hispanics there are in the US, and the number is likely to be surprising and revealing even though there are always issues in counting those who do not have documents and others who simply do not want to be counted. Most likely the official number will be around 50 million Latinos. We need to remember that there were many social, political, and economic issues that influenced the residency of Hispanics in the last 10 years, when many decided to return to Latin America and others just did not feel like being counted.

The US Census form was simple and contained only 10 questions. The results of this form will tell us the very important story of how many people of different backgrounds and demographics live in the United Stated. The findings will provide information for the allocation of congressional representation and for the allocation of Federal budgets to States, and will give us an important overall picture of the composition of the country.

But there are many issues that the decennial US Census will not address because of the use of the short form. Thus, many important questions that marketers have will not be answered by this count. Many may not be aware but marketers do not have to wait for decennial census reports to obtain valuable information about their customers. That is because the US Bureau of the Census collects data from very large samples every year the main one of which is the American Community Survey (ACS) that addresses specific issues such as language use at home and ability to speak English.

For many years the US Bureau of the Census has provided 1 and 3 year average estimates of many measures based on the ACS. The most recent ACS data currently available is for 2009, which for practical purposes is pretty much as good as it will get for a while. Yearly estimates do not vary dramatically. Marketers are encouraged to become familiar with the data available from the ACS as it can make important contributions to their decisions. And again, these data come out every year with about a one year lag. Not bad at all.

In doing some analysis of the 2009 ACS data I came up with some figures that are quite interesting regarding language use. For example I found out that California, Texas, Illinois, and Colorado, each respectively have 26% of Hispanic household that can be considered linguistically isolated. That means that in those households there is no person age 14 years or over who speaks only English or who speaks English "very well." These are households who likely depend on Spanish language communications quite substantively.

Further, in doing more digging I found in the 2009 ACS that approximately 70% of Hispanics speak Spanish at home. The amount of time they speak Spanish is not known but this is an important figure that has been relatively stable over many years. Perhaps more surprising, estimates from the 2009 American Community Survey show that about 54% of those who speak Spanish also speak English “Very Well” or “Well.” And that approximately 77% of all Hispanics Speak only English or speak it “Well” or “Very Well.” Now, remember, these are not households as in the case of linguistic isolation but individuals. The implications are quite interesting in that they confirm that targeting Hispanics in English is increasingly more feasible. This, however, does not mean that the cultural insights that will resonate with Latinos can be ignored. In fact, it is perhaps more important now than ever because connecting culturally is probably the most powerful tool available to marketers in an environment where language is not as determinant a differentiator as it was some time ago.

The moral of the story is that the 2010 Census will be very important but that many of the details about consumers are now available every year and that a 10 year wait is not necessary, or even possible because the decennial Census contains just 10 questions. Further, it is important to dig deeper in these data since numbers out of context can tell a story that is just not the complete story. Our upcoming book "Hispanic Marketing: Connecting with Latino Consumers" will address many of these issues and it is expected to be published by August 2011.

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