US Latinos and Innovation in Qualitative Research

Authentic, innovative research shows us how products fit into the consumers’ lives and what those products mean to them. Understanding the US-Hispanic family relation is a way to see who they are; in turn US companies can seize new market opportunities.

Doing studies among the same culture requires understanding the consumers and their motivations for using a product. Now, imagine a study among two different cultures in which the client is Anglo, speaking in English, while the consumers are Mexicans living in the US who prefer to speak in Spanish (US Hispanic). It requires a high degree of authenticity, meaning the consumer culture is presented to the client in its “real way” and is interpreted in its “real way”.

That is why ethnography is one of the top qualitative tools we use to present the US Hispanic culture to our Anglo clients. For those unfamiliar with the term, ethnography is the scientific description of the customs of people and cultures. As a qualitative research tool, it provides a researcher the opportunity to explore cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings that guide a cultural group. Techniques include empathy exercises, culturally sensitive interviewing, video ethnography and projective techniques.

Authentic research grounded in innovative techniques is mandatory. The client, who usually speaks English, attends the in-home interviews with a translator, listens and observes the interviews as if he/she was part of that culture. A culturally sensitive interviewer invites participants to be themselves by building a very strong rapport through the use of empathy exercises. Video ethnography allows consumers to record and then realize things they do not know they do in their busy lives.

Going to the participants’ homes gives us a true glimpse of how real consumers act and what the product means to them. We get to look for differences on product usage among the US Hispanic culture and the Anglo culture. I am reminded of a time when, after an in-home interview, a less acculturated Mexican family invited us to their nephew’s birthday party.

During the party, family members sang “Las Mañanitas” which is a birthday song from Mexico that is sung in Spanish. Then, the US-born children started singing the “Happy Birthday” song in English. The four-year old birthday boy was teary eyed while watching the candles on his cake and listening to his family sing “Happy Birthday” in two languages. The entire experience was an excellent example of the Mexican high sense of welcoming and how US Hispanic families live between two worlds – the United States and Mexico.

Along with in-home interviews, creating a collage is a projective technique that is a great medium for understanding what the product means to consumers, who in turn express their feelings about that product. For example, a US-born female participant welcomed us to her house. A devoted Hispanic mother of 4 (ages 4 to 10), she said she lived with her husband, her mother, and her two teenage nieces because her brother could not take care of them.

During the in-home interview, she and her children showed us the collages they made about their favorite foods. After each child presented their collage to us, the mother explained how the collages truly reflected the children’s food preferences and cravings. The client was pleased to realize who the target for their product was and what the product meant to them. Through this exercise, we were able to see the strong ties in raising children and how a product comes to life through their eyes as well as their mother’s eyes.

Authentic, innovative research shows us how products fit into the consumers’ lives and what those products mean to them. Understanding the US-Hispanic family relation is a way to see who they are. In turn US companies can seize new market opportunities as the US-Hispanic family does live in two worlds.

Isabel Aneyba is a member of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association and the Managing Director and Moderator of COMARKA Research, a consulting firm that also does marketing research specializing in the Hispanic Market with coverage in the US as well as in Mexico.

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