Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hispanic Heritage May Be This Month, But Hispanic Culture is 24/7

Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 - October 15. It's invented here in the U.S., much like the term "Hispanic" itself. It is based on Fiestas Patrias, or the many countries' independence days celebrated by Latin Americans everywhere. There is no "Hispanic Heritage Month" in Latin America or Spain.

So while it may be a little forced, it's a way we can devote a month to the incredible history, culture and people of these regions. It's a clear target for corporations to get "involved." But of course, that wheel keeps turning whether we're celebrating it or not.

Earlier this month, I retweeted a message about Nordstrom and its involvement in Hispanic Heritage Month this year with a special Roberto Rodriguez-designed top, the proceeds of which will benefit the Hermanitas program (part of MANA, the largest pan-Latina organization in the U.S.). Nordstrom quickly followed me on Twitter after that retweet. While this major retailer is not a client, there's something they may not realize I know about them.

Nordstrom has backed the passions, aspirations and achievements of Latinos for years, and in many significant ways.

While Nordstrom has done some national print advertising, its connection is deeper than simply attracting the Latino consumer to shop at their stores. And while it does it pretty quietly 11 months out of the year, it makes a big difference. Here are some ways Nordstrom has done it right--ways that every corporation should be noting:

When I last spoke with a Corporate Communications contact there, Nordstrom was making annual donations of $1,000 to $65,000 each to more than 20 Latino organizations nationally--eight of which were focused on education.


Their Supplier Diversity Program, created in 1989, ensures access to the economic opportunities within Nordstrom for minority- and women-owned businesses. I have figures back from 2005, when Nordstrom expenditures with minority and women-owned businesses reached $635 million, bringing total expenditures to $6.4 billion since the program was launched.

Also, prior to building or relocating a new store, Nordstrom sponsors and promotes a Project Preview, which is designed to introduce Nordstrom to minority- and women-owned subcontractors and suppliers in local communities. This presents a great opportunity for local companies to learn about Nordstrom business practices, bidding procedures and to become familiar with the requirements of the project.

Each year, Nordstrom hosts the Latina Empowerment Summit at its downtown Seattle store. This is a day wherein local Latinas are invited to hear from nationally known speakers as well as a panel of regional role models. This year's Summit--the 10th annual event--is this coming Saturday. Attendees will hear from keynote speaker Consuelo Kickbusch, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, founder and president of Educational Achievement Services, Inc., and an accomplished author. It's an event that inspires and connects attendees to the Latinidad they share. (I've attended this event, too, and its an amazing warmth that's created in that room!) This year's invitations feature the work of local artist Blanca Santander.

So as you may have noticed, it's about more than just Hispanic Heritage Month, and it's about more than advertising. It's about creating a real connection--a connection that truly matters--to communities and to consumers.

Of course, as a native Seattleite I'm partial to Nordstrom, which got its start as a Seattle shoe store in 1901. But I think this is one company that can proudly serve as a model of diversity. Oh, and here's more information on its Hispanic Heritage Month promotion this year.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What's Appropriate? Understanding Cultural Cues

It's amazing what people *think* is appropriate.

We all have our ideas about what is, and isn't appropriate, and they're usually based on context. When a guy would ask my then college-aged sister to dance, her response would be "that's not appropriate." That usually had them backing away, confused. Why is that not appropriate? (And how do you respond to that, anyway?) As it turns out, she just liked dancing by herself.

Knowing that our individual sense of what's appropriate, relevant--and that behavior or those words which send the same message we're intending to send--can vary within a culture, just imagine the mistakes that are made when working cross-culturally.

I'll never forget about a beautiful gift of flowers my Japanese friend received. Her all-American boyfriend surprised her with an impressive bouquet of fresh mums. She was less than pleased, and that was confusing to me because it was a lovely, considerate gesture. (If only all guys were so inclined, I thought!)

Turns out, chrysanthemums are funeral flowers in her native Japan--an important piece of knowledge for anyone courting someone from Japan, I'd say!

And speaking of Asian cultures, I just read a novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (a surprising view into the wartime treatment of Seattle's Japantown residents, a subject that just wasn't taught when I was a kid growing up here). Samantha, a Caucasian engaged to Marty, a Chinese American, is trying to win over his father. She goes to Uwajimaya to buy ingredients for traditional Chinese dishes like choy sum and black-bean crab, to which the father smiles approvingly. Then she announces the green tea ice cream she purchased for dessert. Pregnant pause.

Green tea ice cream is not Chinese, but Japanese, but based on her earlier victories the father tries to let it go.

If you are marketing to a specific group and truly understand what makes that demographic tick, you can capture their hearts--much like Samantha captured her future father-in-law's heart by preparing traditional Chinese dishes that he remembers growing up with. Then, even if there's a slip, consumers may maintain loyalty based on your history of "victories."

Of course the contrary is true as well: Companies can easily push away their consumers by not doing their homework and learning about what truly captures the hearts and minds of their target demographic.