Hispanic Chamber targeting nonHispanic firms

March 12, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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When the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce holds its annual awards banquet March 21, recognition of local Hispanic entrepreneurs is just part of the agenda.

This year in particular, the keynote address is “actually targeted to the non-Hispanic business owner,” said Carlos Sanchez, executive director of the chamber.

The featured speaker, Juan Tornoe of Cultural Strategies, a marketing business in Austin, Texas, is going to point out “el elefante” in the corporate boardrooms across America. The elephant is, of course, the rapidly growing Hispanic population throughout the United States. But Tornoe is really a marketing expert; he will go far beyond stating the obvious and will offer specific advice from which businesses all over West Michigan could benefit.

“Non-Hispanics will emerge from our event with the necessary tools to efficiently market to Hispanics,” Sanchez said. “Hispanics will emerge with a renewed conviction as to the importance of their demographic.”

The Hispanic Chamber’s awards banquet is its biggest annual event, and like the Hispanic population in West Michigan, it keeps getting bigger. By early March, more than 300 reservations had been made for the dinner at the JW Marriott next Monday night, according to Sanchez. In 2010, it was sold out with 450 people in attendance, double the prior year’s record turnout. The event is a fundraiser, and the level of corporate-sponsored tables increased last year, too, with the total funds raised at 40 percent more than the year before.

Tornoe, the originator of Hispanic Trending, a Latino marketing and advertising blog (www.hispanictrending.net), has worked for more than 13 years on the media, agency and client sides of the marketing and advertising industry, with experience in copywriting, strategy development, media buying and consumer research. He has worked as a consultant to a wide range of businesses, from owner-operated small companies to Fortune 1000s, and has judged the ADDY Awards. Tornoe also has been quoted in numerous publications, including The New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, The Associated Press, CNN, Los Angeles Times, NPR, BBC, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and others.

Tornoe’s advice to non-Hispanic business is to understand the Hispanic culture before plunging into a plan to market to them. “If you understand the Latino psyche or frame of mind better, you’ll be able to market to them in a better way,” he told the Business Journal.

American companies need to pay attention to the Latino market, if they aren’t already, because it will be a “big chunk” of their sales, he said.

“If they are already marketing to them, they need to realize that the market is complex, it’s diverse, and you need to embrace and understand the diversity and choose who you are going to target — who is your lowest hanging fruit? — and go after it.”

“The bottom line is that we are not all recent immigrants from Mexico who are struggling to survive with large families,” he said. “There is definitely a chunk of the market that is like that, but it varies depending on where in the U.S. you are and what products or service you are marketing.”

The biggest mistake American companies make in regard to the Hispanic market is “to believe that it is an issue of language. Language is important, a vehicle, but simply translating your message into Spanish does not guarantee that you will connect with the market.”

His punch line, he said, is understanding the culture.

“If you understand the culture of a Latino, you’ll be able to market to them in English and Spanish, and know what segment you are reaching,” said Tornoe.

To underscore the Hispanic diversity in the Americas today, Tornoe noted that a person doesn’t need to “look Latino to be Latino.” He mentioned that in his native Guatemala, he had friends whose ancestors were of German descent. They were generally tall, fair-haired and fair-skinned with freckles — “and more Anglo looking than white Anglo-Saxon Americans, but in their mind, they are Latino. They are Hispanics.”

Since he came to the U.S. in 2002, he has seen the reverse: dark-skinned Latino-looking individuals for whom English is their native language.

“They have no connection to the Latino culture whatsoever, other than looking Latino and their last name,” he said. “I agree with the census, which says you are Hispanic if you say so.”

Attitudes have changed in the United States over the last few decades. A couple of generations ago, the prejudice against Hispanics was enough to cause some Hispanic parents to try hard to Americanize their children in order to protect them from bullying at school — to the point where there were a couple of generations “disconnected from the culture and language,” said Tornoe.

Then the 2000 census pointed out to many people for the first time that the size of the Hispanic population was an economic force to be reckoned with. Today, it is estimated to be about 17 percent, said Tornoe, but some experts predict it will be 30 percent or more by 2050.

“I am one of the lucky ones. When I came to the U.S. (in 2002), it was already cool to be a Latino,” joked Tornoe.

The first Hispanics to come to Michigan in significant numbers were migrant workers from Texas and Mexico, brought to the Thumb Area by the sugar-processing companies during World War I to harvest sugar beets. Many of Detroit’s factory workers went into the U.S. Army, which in turn opened up those better-paying jobs to those who had been working in the annual beet harvest. There were so many Hispanics making annual trips to eastern Michigan that, eventually, they formed the first permanent Hispanic community in Michigan, in Detroit.

Today, the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is based in Southfield.

Is there a difference between the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic”?

According to Carlos Sanchez, they mean the same thing. He said “Hispanic” is the word used by the Census Bureau when it began counting them in the population. “Latino” is a word coined by Hispanic people to indicate those from Latin America, and many Hispanics today tend to refer to themselves as Latinos.

The results of the 2010 U.S. Census is avidly awaited by Hispanics eager to see how much their population has increased since 2000.

“The ever-growing Hispanic purchase power is something that requires us to take notice,” Sanchez said. “We don’t yet fully appreciate the significance of the rapidly increasing Hispanic population in the West Michigan area.”

Awards to be presented at the Hispanic Chamber banquet include:

  • The Hispanic Business of the Year Award, given to an emerging business that has grown in the past year and has the foundation to keep growing.

  • The Most Promising Hispanic Business Award is given to an established business that has been operating for at least one year.

  • The Hispanic Person of the Year Award, given to a Hispanic who has shown leadership throughout the entire year or more.

  • The Building Bridges Award, given to a non-Hispanic who has reached out to the Hispanic community to try to build a bridge between cultures.

Tornoe has a bachelor's degree from Universidad Francisco Marroquin, and an M.B.A. with emphasis in marketing and total productivity management from E.S.E.A.D.E., both in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

For more information about the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the annual awards banquet, call 616-452-4027 or visit http://hccwm.org

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