I am a Latina, and Spanish is my first language. It’s also the primary language I use to communicate with family here in the US.
As a PR professional, I’ve noticed the past few weeks that very few companies and brands are communicating essential updates and information about COVID-19 in Spanish. Some are, but most aren’t.
My grandparents, mom, aunts and uncles are getting all of their information from Spanish-language media, and if my family is any indication, much of the news is scaring people instead of informing them. Almost none of my aunts and uncles, much less my grandparents, know what brands are doing to protect them during this time. They’ve simply stopped buying goods, even online. Their grocery trips are limited to the stores that they’ve heard are taking consumer safety seriously. They’re relying on word-of-mouth, not the retailers, for their information.
And while my own inbox is inundated with messages from brands telling me – in English – what they’re doing in the face of the pandemic, there are no such messages getting to me or my relatives in Spanish.
As communicators, we need to do better.
As many as 41 million people in the U.S. (13.5 percent of the population) speak Spanish at home, and 35 percent of Latinos age 55 and older are Spanish dominant, meaning that they are more proficient in speaking and reading in Spanish than they are in other languages.
Yet, it seems very few companies and brands are communicating essential updates about their COVID-19 efforts to customers in Spanish. I’ve seen very little Spanish-language communications from brands online. And even less from brands in Spanish-language media.
Our own research at Golin validates this: As of April 3, 4 percent of U.S. news and social media content about COVID-19 is in Spanish whereas only 1.5 percent of content from a large selection of U.S. brands is in Spanish.
This is contributing to a lack of awareness among Spanish-dominant Latinos about important information: store availability/hours for purchasing essential products; special accommodations for vulnerable individuals (e.g. senior shopping hours, ability for curbside pick-up); how companies are protecting employees who have to continue going to work; and brands’ initiatives to "do the right thing" and support the public through charitable projects.
Not only are brands failing to keep nearly 14 percent of the U.S. informed. They’re missing a real opportunity to build brand trust and loyalty that would last well beyond the pandemic.
From my perspective, there are three simple ways to ensure that brands are reaching my family and other Spanish-speaking audiences with essential COVID-19 communications efforts:
- 1. Earned media push: Gen X, Baby Boomer, and the Silent/Greatest generation Latinos most often consume media through television, followed by radio and internet. Therefore, it’s extremely important to pitch announcements to Spanish-language media. Even if the brand doesn’t have bilingual spokespeople available, media can translate interviews as needed.
- Publish bilingual content: Develop all essential online communications and earned materials related to COVID-19 in Spanish. Brands should share Spanish-language materials across their owned channels (websites, direct emails, social) to ensure important updates are reaching all consumers. As an alternative: when deploying content only in English, brands should ensure that the content includes a link for consumers to access the information in Spanish if needed. Brands should ensure that their customer care teams are staffed to answer questions/concerns from Spanish speakers and consider paid tactics to reach Spanish-speaking audiences with essential information.
- Consider bilingual employees: Develop internal communications in English and Spanish, to ensure that all employees have access to the same information. This is particularly important for companies considered "essential businesses" that have employees on the front lines of the pandemic (e.g., grocery and restaurant workers).
Communicators have made amazing strides in recent years helping brands connect with today’s profoundly diverse market.
Now, more than ever, brands must communicate in Spanish (and in other languages!) as they work to maintain connections with consumers across the country.
Jocelyn Ocampo is a senior manager on Golin’s digital team, and helps support the agency’s issues and crisis team. A first-generation Mexican American, Jocelyn provides an important perspective on the profoundly diverse market to colleagues and clients alike.