Sears habla Español, ¿y usted?
By Cecile B. Corral -- Home Textiles Today, 2/3/2003 12:00:00 AM
MIAMI BEACH, FL —
Sears, Roebuck & Co., widely considered one of the most successful marketers to the U.S. Hispanic population, shared some of its insights into communicating and catering to the Latino market at the 9th annual Marketing to U.S. Hispanics and Latin America conference, held here last week.
Jack Byrne, director of collections in the retailer's Los Angeles offices, and Maria Martinez, director of multi-cultural marketing for Sears Financial Services, spoke to more than 100 attendees about the importance of reaching out to the country's large Hispanic population and understanding it in order to earn its trust and business.
"The most important thing is to recognize that it's a huge mistake to think of Hispanics as one monolithic block," Byrne said. "Instead, it's a hugely diverse group with ancestry from 25 countries, and you can't just peg them all into one single group — nor should you want to."
Martinez said that at the onset of its efforts to conquering the Hispanic market, Sears found the factors common to all Latinos. They were, she said, the language, "with some variations"; some food staples; love for music; and close family ties.
But, she warned, "Some people tend to take a general approach in their marketing efforts, and many times that doesn't work because there are differences among all Hispanics," she said. "You need to be aware of the differences."
While the retailer does use some general media efforts in advertising, it does not use it for its financial services.
"We are much more targeted in our approach," she said. Instead, to get the word out about its credit card and other financial services, Sears uses direct mail; its Spanish-language website, titled "Sears En Español" (Sears In Spanish); its publication, titled Nuestra Gente (Our People); bilingual in-store signage; and bilingual customer service representatives at stores and on phone customer service offices.
Emphasizing patience and persistence as key to wooing Hispanic customers, Martinez said companies must learn their markets through trial and error and avoid stereotypes.
One such example in Sears' case was the discovery that many Hispanics preferred bilingual — not Spanish-only — direct mailings that focused on information and education and less on visuals.
"The more pictures and colors we used, the worse these mailings turned out to be," Martinez said. "It proved wrong the theory that Hispanics like visuals and bright colors."
In addition, Sears also learned that more than half of its Hispanic customers like the bilingual direct mailings because it helped them "make sure they truly understood what we were offering them. They were able to validate it both in English and Spanish," Martinez added.
Setting the right tone is also a major point to consider when using Spanish, said Byrne.
"When we're meeting a new customer for the first time through direct mail, for example, we prefer to use the formal language, as in 'usted' in addressing them," he said. "But we found that once they became our customers and they felt familiar with us, we found it was fine to switch to more informal language, using 'tú'."
Expanding on the intricacies of the Spanish language, Byrne pointed out that "business Spanish" — the basic language without slang — is essential in communicating to all U.S. Hispanics, as is proper translation.
"Many times, you can't translate literally because you lose the meaning," he said. "Different Hispanics use different words for the same concept. You need to understand this to get your message out effectively."
At the stores is where Sears' financial services division makes the biggest impact with its customers, noted Martinez. "We have pinpointed which of our stores are Hispanic dominant, and then we have been sure to include Spanish-language signage, brochures and staffed bilingual customer service reps so that our customers feel comfortable."
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