Tamara Barber [Posted by Tamara Barber]

This Wednesday, I'll be hosting a discussion with panelists from Best Buy, Wells Fargo, and SMG Multicultural at our Consumer Forum in Chicago. The topic? How to reach multicultural consumers across channels — including online. Turns out, a panel I was on earlier this month at the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) Multicultural Marketing and Diversity Conference has already provided me with some good fodder for Wednesday. For the ANA, I was part of a discussion with the manager of Best Buy’s Spanish-language site and the director of Allstate’s multicultural marketing. According to these marketers, their research with current and potential customers is what led them to the sites they have today. Both companies have done usability testing to understand what their consumers need and expect from their brands. And, interestingly enough, both took exactly opposite approaches when it came to whether or not to localize their sites specifically for the Spanish-preferring Hispanic audience.

Best Buy has learned that their customers won’t trust the Spanish-language site if it doesn’t have all of the same content that’s available in English, although they do appreciate any information that’s additional to this content. As a result, their Spanish site is for the most part a direct copy of the English version, and its URL is part of the overall Best Buy page at espanol.bestbuy.com. The company instead localizes how it drives consumers to the Spanish-language site, through banner ads, microsites, and emails that are tailored for this audience. On the other hand, Allstate’s research prompted the firm to strongly highlight auto insurance on its Spanish language site. Key differences include a homepage link to a Spanish interactive primer on what kind of information Allstate would need for a quote, as well as an agent locator directing consumers to Spanish-enabled office locations. This site also has its own URL at miallastate.com. In this case, both the English and Spanish-language versions have the same look and feel, and the differences in content are actually subtle to the casual observer. But it’s clear once you dig-in that the Spanish-language site has been optimized to meet this unique audience.

So, why would the same kind of research yield vastly different results? This is where the nuances of online Hispanics' language preference really come into play. Our research shows that, even among Hispanic consumers who prefer to interact in Spanish online, 83% still use both English and Spanish when reading about different topic areas. The anecdotal results from Allstate and Best Buy suggest that the preference for a unique Spanish-language experience will also differ based on industry and the degree of familiarity with and complexity of the topic at hand. A less-acculturated Hispanic consumer trying to understand the insurance industry in the US would arguably need more of a personal touch online than the same consumer shopping around for the best price on a PC. Even Best Buy has held off on translating its music catalogs into Spanish and has given priority instead to more complex products such as PCs and TVs.

Lesson learned: There is no one-size-fits all solution to how and when to create a Spanish-language Web site for this audience, and that’s why research is such an important part of such a decision. I'm looking forward to further discussion at our forum session, and I of course welcome comments right here on the blog as well.