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Cultural Differences Among Hispanics and Their Effect on Focus Groups

By Vivian T. Hernández, Vivian Hernández Qualitative Research, Inc.

The growing importance of the U.S. Hispanic market represents an enormous opportunity for a segmented target marketing approach, and qualitative research in the form of focus groups is the ideal first step in acquiring in-depth knowledge about the Hispanic consumer.

Hispanic Focus Groups differ significantly from non-Hispanic Focus Groups — the Hispanic population segment is assimilating more slowly than other groups because they have remained more cohesive and therefore have resisted external pressure to become fully integrated into the American mainstream.  Furthermore, the U.S. Hispanic population continues to experience very substantial and dynamic growth due to the economical and political problems in Latin America.

Hispanics possess many cultural similarities like common language, Spaniard ancestry and common religion.  On the other hand, there are many cultural, behavioral and attitudinal differences between Hispanics of different countries of origin such as dialects and accents, food, music, lifestyle, values and dress.  A trumpet in a Mariachi band plays well in Los Angeles, but not in Miami.

There are differences even between Hispanics of similar countries of origin residing in different areas of the U.S.  Los Angeles Mexicans (generally newer arrivals) versus San Antonio Mexicans (generally third or fourth generation Americans) can be as different as Texans and Bostonians.

All of the above mentioned similarities and differences affect how both qualitative and quantitative research should be conducted among Hispanics.  Some guidelines to ensure maximum effectiveness in Hispanic focus groups are as follows:

  • Care should be taken when combining respondents of different Hispanic nationalities
  • Sexes should not be mixed (to avoid role playing which is time consuming and unproductive)
  • The Hispanic moderator, even though bilingual, should speak perfect Spanish with no heavy accent from his/her country of origin

Consumer behavior is the result of the psychological and sociological influence of generations of family and friends.  The moderator’s sensitivity to the group dynamics and to the behavior patterns of the various Hispanic groups will be the most important assets of an experienced focus group moderator.

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