As we ramp up our marketing efforts for the upcoming fall semester, messaging and communicating with different groups can be challenging. Whether that be how to address the group, terminology, or motivations to go to college, it’s important to modify your messaging based on each group’s values. In an interview with Paula Di Dio, Ph.D. in Latin American literature and cultural studies and senior director of communications & research strategist at Interact, we break down how best to communicate with Latino and Hispanic students. 

Latino vs. Hispanic

“Can you please tell us the distinction between Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx, their context, and when they should be used?”

There’s a lot of confusion in the marketing world about whether to use the term Latino or Hispanic when talking about Spanish-speaking individuals. 

Some people identify as Hispanic, some identify as Latino, and some identify as Latinx. The term Hispanic was more of a conservative term, but the term Latino has more political implications, and it relates more to political movements and can be traced back to that kind of moment in the ’60s.

The terms are basically a linguistic category. You can use Latino with people from Latin America, including Brazil, where they speak Portuguese, but you cannot use Hispanic with Brazilians as Hispanic is a linguistic category that defines people who speak Spanish.

The term Latinx is a little bit different. It’s a more recent term that circulates a lot around in academic circles, mostly. It’s not known where it was born, but it was created by white non-Hispanic academics. In popular culture today, Latinx is used for people who are gender fluid, people who don’t identify as male or female, as an easy way to identify with their culture without the gendering that comes from Latino/Latina.

Messaging

“I was wondering if you would have any advice then on marketing to Latino and Hispanic students, especially with messaging, because I know that’s often something that comes across wrong, the messaging when talking to the students. What kind of messaging works best?”

When we talk about race, we often talk about white and black, and sometimes we forget that a huge portion of the population is Hispanic or Latino. When we do marketing for Hispanics or Latinos, we tend to think in terms of race or ethnicity only. So, we often focus on these stereotypes of appealing to family values, religious values, or even food.

We must move away from that because what we are doing is reinforcing the stereotypes. Not all Latinos and Hispanics feel attracted to this idea of a huge family—this is a white construction of what Latinos or Hispanics are. We have to move away from talking about family values or about religion or spirituality. We have to move away from talking about food or using expressions in Spanish that are stereotyped expressions that nobody uses in their own country of origin or within their own culture. When you use things like that, you are excluding a huge portion of Hispanics and Latinos.

Values change depending on location, geography, age, and how people identify themselves. Some second-generation Hispanics still identify as Hispanic, even if they don’t speak Spanish. But some others may consider themselves fully Americans, so there is not one message. We have to start thinking of how to target these populations in terms of who they are as people, like you would do with a white person. It’s the same. Move away from all these stereotypes that sometimes work, but more often than not reinforce these stereotypes and make Hispanics and Latinos feel that they are not heard. 

Media Prefs Data

“Do you have any Media Prefs data about how best to connect with and reach Latino/a and Hispanic students?”

Hispanics and Latinos are underrepresented in the Media Prefs survey, so we have to be careful when we analyze the data. 

Latino or Hispanic students thinking of enrolling in a community college might prefer to go in person instead of doing inquiries over the internet or over the phone. And again, we have to take into account that we have some very different students when we are talking about Latino or Hispanic students, as some are English as a Second Language (ESL) students. So, they would rather do inquiries in person because it’s easier since there is a language barrier there.

But I’m a little bit hesitant to give some kind of trends or data on the Media Prefs survey because I know that the Hispanic and Latino population is underrepresented. And I think the reason why has to do with something I mentioned before: sometimes they feel that their voices are not heard. So why take the time to fill out the survey? We have to find ways of encouraging more participation in the surveys. We have to find ways of understanding how we can attract people to participate in the survey, and at the same time, make them feel that their voices are being heard.

What are we going to do? What is our responsibility? In using this tool, we need to make sure that what Hispanics or Latinos say in the survey is important and that we are going to change directions if needed. This is a great tool, but we have to encourage more participation, from minority groups in particular.

Obstacles Latino and Hispanic Students Are Facing

“My last question is just for marketers, when they’re thinking about messaging, especially, or just considering what their students are going through, what are some of the difficulties and struggles that members of the Latino community and Hispanic community are facing right now? And how can we help support them better?”

After the pandemic we’ve seen a sharp drop in enrollment, especially in L.A., and it’s very noticeable. The Hispanic demographic is the demographic that has been hit the hardest during the pandemic. Sometimes if they are first-generation students going to college, they might not be familiar with the process and what it takes to go through a million forms to register and enroll later. 

The financial situation is key, offering financial aid and informing students of what it means to get financial aid. How do you apply to get financial aid? What is available to you? And then accompany these populations in the entire process because a lot of them could be first-generation college students that are not familiar with the process.

There is also this idea that some people prefer to get a job right away, or they need to get a job right away to support their entire families in some cases, and they see going to college as sort of a privilege that they cannot afford right now, especially after the pandemic. Supporting a family and acquiring financial aid are the main obstacles that Latino and Hispanic students are facing right now.