June 18, 2008

    A study last year by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion revealed some surprises regarding Latinos and religion, including the growing number of Latinos leaving the Catholic Church and joining various evangelical movements.

This spiritual exodus dispels the naïve yet popular marketing notion that Latinos are abnormally loyal consumers. This shift should force some brands to pay attention, as there are some lessons for them.

The reason most cited by Latino Evangelical converts is the desire to be closer to god, beginning with their experience at the church. One third of these converts describe the lack of excitement at Catholic masses as a deciding factor for their decision. This should be of specific interest to retailers who question if they have to change any aspect of their in-store experience to appeal to Hispanics in high-density Hispanic areas.

And those Catholics that are staying in the Catholic Church are redefining their churches, giving it a Latino makeover of sorts, including more lively music and a more natural embracement of the mystical. A growing majority of these Catholics refer to themselves as “Charismatic” and share with evangelicals the belief in God's intervention in the everyday in the form of supernatural phenomena such as speaking in tongues, miraculous healings and relevations (and you thought selling Sábado Gigante to your client was tough).

Prosperity Gospel as Strategic Positioning

Perhaps a more important lesson for brands than the in-church experience is the overall evangelical stance regarding economic and social mobility.  The prosperity gospel espoused by evangelical movements stresses the importance of perseverance in attaining financial and personal empowerment, something very attractive to Latinos. This positioning is a strong contrast to a traditional Catholic Church that has stressed resignation with one's condition. As Latinos focus on getting ahead, the evangelical movements become their church in the US, another way of achieving the American dream.

Evangelical Lessons

The lessons and implications of the Latino religious shift from Catholicism to Evangelicalism are many. First and foremost, it signals a changing consumer mindset and personality towards self-realization. The evolution also challenges the notion of the loyal consumer. You have to keep up with their needs and update your positioning to reflect these wants and aspirations.

Finally, as the evangelical movements have done, your brand must also create an experience and a home for them. You must allow them to embrace and customize your brand, to be part of it.  You must also go where they are. An important opportunity can be grassroots partnerships with some of the evangelical groups more open to engage marketers.

By doing these things you will start building a foundation for a dialogue so they can become brand ambassadors. And if you play your cards right, your marketing results might be of biblical proportions.

By Roberto Ramos, President/CEO & Co-Founder, The Vox Collective


I would anticipate that as Latinos join the evangelical movement that there will be a renewed sense of community, a support system to deal with the emotional traumas of relocation/the immigrant experience and an informal network of brand advocates, sharing consumer tips and favorite retailers, serving as third-party endorsement. The church is a great environment to seed a brand idea and maximize word of mouth. Saludos.

Roberto, I found your post too over generalized and hard to agree with your premise. I have read the research about Hispanic immigrants switching faiths. The reason for this paradox are as varied as Hispanic marketing itself. Other studies demonstrate that levels of assimilation, emotional attachment, limited disposable income, and other variables determine the buying habits of immigrants. As a first generation Mexican completely assimilated I also have a past that can give you a first hand behind the scenes perspective. My immigrant parents were the first to start the consumer assimilation process by giving me American made products. I remember eating Cracker Jacks as the weekend treat. These imprint experiences turned me into a die hard loyal buyer of American brands. My point is simply this, kids that have no emotional attachment or utility value associated with a product or service are easily conditioned regardless of brand strength. The flip side of that argument is that recent immigrants are very loyal to their fatherland brands. I know two famous grocery store chains in the Houston market that catered to immigrants and they built a multi million dollar empire. If I have a choice I will purchase Mexican bottled Coke over the U.S. made coke. This demand for Mexico made Coke is costing Coke Millions due to the disruption in their distribution model. the demand is so large that there is even a black market for this beverage. My point is Hispanics prefer a product that is a deeply ingrained habit. I will spare you all the many examples of Latin American brands from other countries that are carving out a U.S. market share by taking their products where their customer base has moved to. I spent two decades in a Christian group I was recruited into. Many of these new Hispanic recruits experience bait and switch tactics that in time leads to buyer's remorse. In my opinion the majority of these prosperity and mega church ministries use predatory strategies and practices that enslave the naive and uneducated poor immigrant demographic. As one previous poster commented the most successful churches use the tried and proven path of using main media to brand themselves, market and recruit. One of the most successful marketers of faith is Joel Olsteen a TV producer by trade of his deceased Baptist father's church. So can marketers and brand managers learn from the mega churches? I doubt it because these churches borrowed their advertising strategies and media schedules from the blue chip brands. Have the churches improved on or innovated marketing ? I don't think so I personally know the CEO of an ad agency who specializes in marketing mega churches. His only differentiation is he is also a minister himself and his father was a long time ad executive. Just my dos pesos.

If you shift gears for a moment, consider the following: 1. The evangelical groups use tons of mass media, albeit half hours, but tons of mass media 2. They have a great retail location 3. They really don't do a lot of other stuff that could be considered "grass roots"; they don't do promotions, sweepstakes, appearances in malls, visits to parks and many other things. They seem to be thriving by using a media model that almost everyone has pronounced dead. If you go back to media 102 and extract yourself from a lot of cliches, there is a huge amount of research that shows why this succeeds (and which is easily accesible to everyone to read) 1. Reach works --it is the highest correlation with share growth 2. Continuity work -- affecting sales ocassions is key to generate a loyal consumer base 3. Dominance -- especially SOI/SOM-- has a very high correlation with share growth So, these guys have applied basic media principles, well executed, and have been successful. Doesn't surprise me.

I completely agree with the comment: "Dispels the naïve yet popular marketing notion that Latinos are abnormally loyal consumers." It is time someone killed that sacred cow. However, as one Latino who has renounced religion altogether, in favor of no religion at all, I find the analogy between brand preferences and religious behavior disturbing. Why? Because people will be sceptical about boastful product performance claims in a way they would rarely question an Evangelical recruiters claims, so the purchase and decisionmaking process is skewed. Also, the Hispanic Evangelicals that I've had to turn away on the street and at events are very insistent and persistent and the pamphlets they distribute contain several claims no brand can live up to. Which shows a different angle to the Hispanic mindset as well.

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