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Acculturation and segmentation

Veronica Cool Bigger

If today, you moved and relocated to Italy, it would take you approximately 10 years to become acculturated as an Italian. Acculturation is the process in which an immigrant adjusts, or acculturates, to the local culture, language, customs, traditions, etc. It’s the process of becoming comfortable enough to maneuver life, such as registering the car, learning to drive on the opposite side of the road, shopping for amenities and groceries, and getting the kids into school with the proper vaccinations.

A Latino moving into the United States takes about 18-20 years to acculturate, predominantly due to technology and cultural appreciation. Technology permits maintaining closer ties to the home culture, where the immigrant remains engaged to the routine and habits of her native land; also, technology allows access and information in Spanish. This tends to minimize the need to assimilate and learn the language to get by in the United States. As for cultural appreciation, up until several months ago there was a very inclusive and welcoming environment where Latino culture, customs including food and music where sought and enjoyed.

The process of acculturating, or the acculturation spectrum and where individuals lie on this spectrum, drives how they respond to messages and outreach. For instance, if you are still learning how to read and write Italian, an insurance carrier or auto dealer advertising in an Italian-dominant TV/radio/newspaper/website will be ineffective in engaging you as a client.

Effective segmentation based on acculturation is one of the most important strategies in engaging Hispanics today.

Total-market strategy

For years, traditional marketers have executed predominantly a total-market strategy with some progressive marketers investing into ethnic markets, segmenting for acculturation. Meaning, everyone received the same message, same stock photography, etc., because marketers assumed the audience was exactly the same, i.e. all white or African-American.

Why does this matter?

It matters because of changing demographics. I often refer to the 2010 U.S. Census and the 2016 population estimates, reflecting that there are 57 million Hispanics in the U.S. In Maryland, about 9 percent of the population is Latino — about 550,000 people.  And remember that the data is old and the numbers are actually much higher; just walk around Patterson Park, Wheaton and even Frederick County to see the increased visibility of Hispanics residents, shoppers and visitors, not to mention other immigrant groups.

This is the opportunity for retailers, day care providers and nursing homes, just to name a few industries. If you need workers or customers, this is a segment worth pursuing.

The huge elephant in the room (or page) is the question of WHY DON’T THEY JUST LEARN ENGLISH AND ASSIMILATE ALREADY? Like the Irish, Germans and previous individuals that migrated to the United States.

Why should anything be done differently for Hispanics and immigrants? That topic is being addressed with workforce development and education, but, my friends, that  assimilation will take years, maybe a generation or two, to be visible.

Keep this in mind

But what happens today?  That’s a choice.  Your choice.

From the perspective of business and sales, the answer is simple: Hispanics wield over $1.5 trillion dollars annually, money that you, as a business, restaurant, retailer, manufacturer, can attract.

From the perspective of society and social services, why modify anything to engage Hispanics?    Well, 1 out of every 4 kindergarteners is a Latino. One of out of 5 millennials is a Latino.  This is our workforce.  These are future teachers, doctors, police officers. And, yes, they will speak English and they will be Americanized, but they still affiliate with their unacculturated or semi-acculturated family, neighbors and friends.

The opportunity to be inclusive, both as a business and as a society, yields tremendous benefits.

I’m in full support of ensuring our neighborhoods and communities are safe, and yes, people should abide by the law, although the issue is not as one-dimensional as that. I’m not discussing undocumented immigrants, that’s a whole other topic. This column addresses the tremendous opportunity in our region to engage a new market and develop a future workforce.

As we know, the only change you can push is the change within. We cannot change others; we can certainly influence, empower and advocate, but individuals must choose their actions and behaviors.

I encourage you to explore a different culture, increase your cultural competence especially around folks hailing from different lands or backgrounds.

Till next time, amigos.

Veronica Cool is founder of Cool & Associates LLC, a business management firm specializing in financial wellness and diverse segment marketing. Her column appears twice a month in The Daily Record and can be found at Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @verocool

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