The United States has always been a melting pot of various cultures, but never has that been clearer than it is today. With a continuous influx of immigrants into the country and a rise in non-English-speaking communities, new markets are expanding throughout many areas of the U.S. Beyond the southwest, where Hispanic communities have been growing for decades, there are now many other increasingly large populations who might not be as receptive to English-language marketing as a native English speaker.
Undertaking a foreign language marketing campaign is a daunting task. But it’s far from impossible. With the right tools and the right employees, marketing to non-English speakers can be a lot easier – and a lot cheaper – than it might seem at first glance.
The first step, of course, is identifying a nearby foreign language market. A storage facility’s customer base is often very geographically narrow. Self storage loses a lot of its convenience when you have to drive 20 minutes or more just to get to the facility. As such, most facilities have a marketing radius of just a few miles.
The U.S. Census Fact Finder is a great tool you can use to find statistics about nearby towns and zip codes. If you see a sizable community of non-English speakers nearby, it might very well prove to be an untapped market for your business.
Here are the stats for StorageAhead’s zip code:
With more than 3,000 Spanish and Spanish Creole speakers (out of 12,000 people total), a storage facility operating in this zip code could potentially find a significant Spanish-speaking market. Moreover, 54% speak English “less than ‘very well,’” meaning English-language marketing materials are probably ineffective. On the other hand, all other languages combined are spoken by less than 800 people, making any other kind of foreign language marketing campaign far less likely to produce a sizable return on investment.
Don’t limit yourself only to Hispanic markets, however. While Spanish is by far the most spoken language in the U.S. after English, there are many other foreign language communities throughout the nation. Chinese populations, for example, make up many large, distinct communities in many of the nation’s big cities. If your facility is near a Chinatown, developing some marketing materials in Chinese could open a lot of doors for your business.
Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog also have a significant number of speakers in many areas of the United States, especially on the west coast.
For many foreign language marketing campaigns, a bilingual employee is almost a necessity. If your customers don’t speak English well enough to respond to English-language marketing, they’ll be doubly confused and frustrated trying to deal with an employee who can’t speak their language. Marketing gets the potential renter in the door, but you still have to make the close. And in order to do that, you’re probably going to need a bilingual employee who can easily communicate with the customer.
I spoke with Anita Silva of 1st American Storage in San Antonio about the benefits of a bilingual manager. “In this neighborhood, you really have to speak [Spanish],” she said. “Sometimes other stores call me to get a translation because they don’t have anyone who can understand it.”
Like any business decision, you need to weigh the costs against the potential return on investment. If your foreign language market is somewhat small, you might only need a part-time bilingual employee. If it’s very large and you find yourself fielding non-English-speaking customers every day, a full-time bilingual manager would be a huge asset.
Even if the Spanish speakers in your area know English, a bilingual employee can greatly increase their interest in your facility. “[Spanish-speaking customers] need to feel like they can trust you,” said Silva. “A lot of them can understand English but are shy about speaking it because of their accent.”
Finding a bilingual employee is not difficult. Here are a few places to begin your search:
• A bilingual job recruiter
• Job fairs
Wherever you look, make sure you’re specific about the job requirements. “Knowing” a foreign language can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, so tell potential employees exactly what you need. For example, a person who grew up speaking a foreign language at home but using English in school might have great speaking and listening skills but poor writing and reading skills in their non-English tongue. This might present problems when it comes time to prepare marketing materials.
Of course, not every business needs a bilingual employee. A bilingual campaign can help increase exposure to and create a stronger relationship with a particular community even if you don’t have someone who can speak their language in the office. Be clear about your goals and budget going into the foreign language campaign and you’ll be able to figure out what works best for your company.
Now for the fun part! If you’ve identified your market and hired the necessary people, you’re ready to start planning your foreign language marketing campaign. The strategies and tactics you undertake could vary widely depending on:
the language and culture of the target demographic
the size of the target demographic
the amount of resources available
A small facility with a small target demographic might suffice with a simple, “Se habla español,” (“We speak Spanish”) on their marketing materials, while a large facility targeting a sizeable demographic has the resources to invest more time and money into creating materials written entirely in the foreign language.
It’s often not enough simply to overcome the language barrier – jumping the culture hurdles is just as important. Many non-English speakers are from cultures that differ widely from our mainstream, English-speaking American culture, so you might need to change gears significantly if you want to reach them and draw them to your facility.
For example, many Hispanic people are slower to commit to a sale. As Juan Tornoe of the multicultural marketing company Cultural Strategies told the New York Times blog, some Hispanic cultures value trust and relationships in their business transactions far more than other Americans. “Latinos interact in a more personal manner,” said Tornoe. “We want to be recognized as a person. Connect with me on a personal level before you start selling [to] me.” Developing a real bond with these customers is essential. The sale might take longer, but the customer retention and satisfaction reflects the stronger bond as well.
"When a Latino walks into your business, sends you an e-mail, visits your website, is on the phone, be ready not to go into full sales mode," said Tornoe.
For an example of how cultural differences should be reflected in your marketing materials, let’s take a look at Storage Post Self Storage. Here is their website in English:
Here is the same website in Spanish:
For the most part, the two are very similar. The coloring is slightly different; the Spanish site has more green, while the English site has more white. The layout, tabs, and search feature are all essentially the same.
Where the two differ is in the deals mentioned at the bottom. The Spanish site includes a link to the company’s referral program, an element missing from the English-language site. The accompanying image shows two people standing together with smiles on their cardboard box faces.
With the knowledge we gleaned from Juan Tornoe that many Hispanic cultures emphasize interpersonal connections, we see that Storage Post’s referral link is more than just another chance to show off a deal. It does that, but it also creates an image of the company as one whose values align with their Hispanic customers.
Marketing is more than just selling a product – it’s selling your company and the image of your company. A different culture might need a different image in order for your business to be successful, so do your research to learn how to engage most effectively with a particular demographic.
Different cultural values lead to different buying patterns. Hispanics are less likely to complete a transaction online. This is sometimes attributed to their use of cash over other forms of monetary transaction, although it could also be the result of their interest in building a personal relationship before buying. Hispanic marketer Carla Briceno thinks it’s because of a lack of trust in Spanish-language sites. “There are many poorly translated sites out there, which has caused many Latinos to lose trust in all sites,” she told StorageAhead.
This doesn’t mean a poor site in Spanish is acceptable – it means a Spanish-language site is sometimes a tool to bring the customer into your office rather than complete the sale right then and there. “It’s important to keep in mind that any communications effort that is of high quality and focused on the audiences’ specific circumstances will engender trust and set itself apart,” said Briceno.
On the other hand, Chinese-Americans do more online shopping than any other demographic. With this knowledge, you know that effectively targeting Chinese-Americans probably requires a solid, in-language website. Whatever language demographic you want to target, you need to learn about their spending habits in order to optimize your marketing.
When beginning a foreign language marketing campaign, your first thought might be simply to translate your English-language marketing materials (e.g. your website, newsletters, advertisements, etc.) into the target language. This can be an effective – and efficient – tactic, although it’s generally not ideal.
A word-for-word translation rarely sounds as satisfying in the target language as it does in the source language. Many words and idioms don’t have a literal translation, and attempting to translate them literally obscures the meaning. As Briceno told us, no translation is better than a shoddy translation. Poorly translated materials show that you, as a business, don’t value the target demographic enough to invest in quality translators.
Putting in the time to create a unique campaign specifically for the target market is a significant undertaking, but it can reap great rewards. Beyond issues of diction and translation, different markets often have different values and perceptions of your business. If two groups see your facility in two distinct ways, why would you use the same marketing tactics for one as you do for the other?
The travel industry is one that must cater to the needs and desires of many different cultures and demographics. As such, travel-oriented businesses can be a good example of unique foreign language marketing campaigns. Here is the Hilton Hotels website in English and in Chinese:
The two are almost completely different, from the slideshow of background images to the tabs near the bottom – even the search bar is laid out differently.
Completely designing a new website from the bottom up is no easy feat, but if your company has the resources and the market is there, it can be a worthwhile investment. Even if you don’t have the resources, you can employ the same tactics in other marketing strategies. A Chinese-language paid ad, for example, is much cheaper than designing and building a Chinese website but could still result in a greater penetration of the Chinese-American market.
If you don’t have an employee who you trust with writing your foreign language marketing materials, it’s not difficult to find a translator. The American Translators Association has a directory of thousands of freelance translators and language service providers in the country.
The most important step of any marketing campaign, bilingual or otherwise, is the analysis. If one tactic doesn’t seem to be working, change it. Your marketing should never be static. By tracking the success of your various tactics and strategies, you can determine what works best and what needs tweaking.
This is especially important if you’re venturing into foreign-language marketing for the first time. You’ll probably hit some dead-ends, but if you continue to put in the effort, a bilingual campaign can greatly expand your core customer-base and increase your facility’s visibility.
Whether your bilingual campaign is as simple as a small “Se habla español” at the bottom of a flier or as complex as an entire foreign language website, the effort you put in will not be wasted as long as you research your market, approach the customers on their own terms, and analyze the results.