Latino Link: Q&A with author Joe Kutchera

Hispanics make up about 15% of the US population, or 45 million people. Not only is this group growing at a faster pace than the national average, but its spending power is poised to reach $1.3 billion by 2014.

With that in mind, Joe Kutchera’s new book — Latino Link: Building Brands Online with Hispanic Communities and Content — is very well timed. Joe built some of Time Warner’s leading web properties including CNNExpansion in Mexico and CNNMoney, ThisOldHouse.com, and Warner Bros. Online in the U.S.

His book contains a mix of case studies, data and trends, and expert interviews (including yours truly). Anyone who thinks targeting the Latino community is simply a matter of translation would be wise to read this book. You can download a sample chapter on social media from Joe’s web site. Joe will also be conducting a webinar on the book with Lionbridge later this month.

Here’s a brief Q&A with Joe…

What are the most common mistakes that marketers make when connecting to Latinos online?
One, when you decide to enter the Hispanic or Latin American markets, make a long-term commitment and stick with it. Don’t launch a web site and then exit after the first problem. For example, The Home Depot launched a site in Spanish for U.S. Hispanics and only four months later shut the site down because so many Latin Americans found the site and wanted to make purchases. In contrast, Best Buy found a similar situation but instead accepted international credit cards and encouraged Latin Americans to shop on its U.S. Hispanic site and pick up in-store when Latin Americans were on holiday in the United States.

Two, don’t just offer a straight translation, try to offer culturally customized content for your target Hispanic audience in addition to the translated content. This may include user-generated reviews, custom videos, or additional new sections of content. You will of course want to double check translations with native speakers.

Can marketers successfully launch pan-regional content sites with no or very little local fine tuning?
Marketers that want to target wealthy Latin Americans could successfully launch a pan-regional site. Why? The wealthy of each country have far more in common with each other than they have in common with their fellow countrymen. They travel internationally. They speak English. They are well-educated (and many have studied abroad). They own fancy watches and cars. That demographic presents a unique opportunity for a successful pan-regional site in Latin America.

And what mass sites are popular pan-regionally? Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Terra, and a handful of other sites. Each of those features an extensive amount of local fine tuning and personalization. A website can only expand globally today by incorporating those tactics as online markets become much more sophisticated. Many localization features can be automated. In addition, most global sites now enable users to personalize how they experience a site by entering their own personal profile information. User generated content can compliment local editorial customization as well.

You write that Latinos cross virtual borders to find relevant and engaging content online. Who owns all the great content In Spanish online today?
As the saying goes, “content is king.” And content from one’s country of origin can act as a gigantic magnet, attracting consumers back to Mexico virtually. The major newspapers in Latin America (e.g. El Universal, El Tiempo, Clarin, etc) see anywhere from 10-40% of their visitors from the U.S. They own a good chunk of the quality content in Spanish online today.

If you love Mexican soccer teams, the best place to find the latest news about them may be from MedioTiempo.com in Mexico City, for example. Because both Hispanic and Latin American audiences tend to be younger, many of them blog or use Twitter, so you can find a lot of content on the social networks.

The reverse is also true. Many Latin Americans look to the U.S. for the latest technology and fashion trends for example. Therefore, they visit U.S. sites in English and Spanish to get that information.

In the final sections of your book, you look at two models for distribution on the Web: Facebook and Google.  What are the relative merits of each, and what can will come next?
This issue boils down to the following: do you want one global “.com” site like Facebook where users customize their online experience with their relationships and personal interests? Or does your company want to manage one country-specific website for each country you do business in? There are pluses and minuses for each. Latino Link outlines the technical recommendations. But underneath it all, it boils down to the web becoming more collectivistic and global and less country-oriented.

ENDNOTE: Latino or Hispanic — which term is correct?
It depends on whom you ask. Joe writes that it’s a matter of personal preference. The US government uses the term Hispanic, though many people use the term Latino. He uses the terms interchangeably, and I find that I do as well.

Link: Latino Link: Building Brands Online with Hispanic Communities and Content

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Author: John Yunker

John co-founded Byte Level Research in 2000 and is author of The Web Globalization Report Card. He also co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.