For beauty brands to be truly successful, they need to start asking not ‘What are you?’ but ‘Who are you?’
As a woman with pale rosy skin, freckles, green eyes and red hair, I often hear, “You MUST be Irish with that coloring!” Well, folks, I’m not. I’m Latina – of Cuban descent, specifically. My dad comes from English ancestry, but my coloring is my mother’s. She has auburn hair, green eyes, and a peaches and cream complexion. In fact, many of my Delgado (Cuban) cousins have the same green eyes – some are brunette with darker skin; some are paler with blonde hair. But most of us share the same green eyes. Latinas are not all dark haired and dark skinned. We come in every shade under the sun – from the palest of pale white skin to the darkest of African skin. Our hair varies in texture – you name it – straight, curls, thick, thin and everything in between. Our eye color is as diverse as our skin color and hair texture. We defy stereotyping.
Next people look at my name – Elle Morris. Very American, right? Well, Elle is a nickname. Stemming from Elenita – another nickname – that means little Elena in Spanish. My Anglo friends couldn’t (or wouldn’t) say Elenita when I was child so the nickname ‘Elle’ was born. When I moved to Cincinnati, where there were very few Latinas at the time, I just dropped Elenita and took up Elle. It was easier than trying to explain my ‘exotic’ name with every introduction. For the record, my given name is Maria Elena de la Vera Cruz. My family, to this day, calls me Elenita or Elena. Despite all of this, when someone asks, “What are you?” I identify myself as Latina. My Cuban grandmother, my Abuelita, shaped how I see myself as a woman with regard to femininity and beauty ideals.
She and my mother taught me how Latinas care for their families, express their love through feeding family and friends, how family is of huge importance and how women are to be viewed as sisters – not competition. We are raised to place a high level of importance on our appearance and to be guardians of our culture. This focus on self is paramount as Latinas; we want to express who we are in a way that shows we care about ourselves and not afraid to be confident. Latina beauty is about investing in self for the long-term through attention to hair, skin and body – in products, services and cosmetic procedures. As I say to my Anglo friends, you go buy your Mercedes or Jaguar, but I am driving this face around for the rest of my life – when they question my expenditures on Botox and facials. The rituals surrounding beauty as well as the relationships we have with our own ‘tribe’ are critical to WHO WE ARE. I never leave the house without full make-up and hair – it’s a sense of pride that I have and all Latinas have, not a desire to impress others.
This, in turn, created the dichotomy of who I am and who many Latinas are in this day in age – executive by day, doting Latina mother and wife at home, beauty involved woman, shop-a-holic and social media junkie (who confers with her ‘tribe’ on everything from buying an outfit to recipes and the list goes on). Further breaking down stereotypes, today’s Latinas are professional, we are educated, we are cultured and sophisticated – we are determined and empowered at work, but typically take on a traditional woman’s role at home, embracing care-giving family tasks like laundry and cleaning. We are multi-faceted, complex women who are comfortable in their own skin, resilient and optimistic – and beauty marketers must address them as the women that we are.
We are also incredibly social with a strong sense of shared community – a legacy from our ancestors who gathered in ‘las plazas’ of Spanish colonial towns across the West Indies and Central and South America centuries ago. We thrive on communication and perhaps more importantly, validation from each other. Latinas have become a prominent force in social media communities – or today’s ‘las plazas’. I’ve got over 1,000 friends on Facebook – and my own Latina Posse which includes Cubans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Columbians, and Venezuelans from all socio-economic backgrounds. We all share images of ourselves and our friends; the latest haircut, new eye make up or an amazingly effective skincare product and ‘kitchen logic’ beauty recipes. We trust each other and that is evident at shelf or online in the beauty purchases we make. 63% of Latina women consult social media before purchasing products or services and 44% of Latina women share or recommend brands/products with their social network.
As you might guess, I am in the unique position to blend both my profession with my personal experience of being Latina. We are pretty much invisible to both retailers and consumer goods companies. Speaking to us with bi-lingual packaging – well, that’s great for first generation Latinas. As second and third generation Latinas, we speak, read and write English. In fact, we are more likely to use a blend of both languages – we are very comfortable in both. Second and third generation English-speaking Latina women are the key decision makers in 86% of households and had $1.4 trillion in buying power in 2013, representing the tip of the iceberg in share of wallet for beauty brands.
The US population of Hispanics and Latinos is expected to grow to over 102 million by 2015, from over 55 million (as of July 2014). The US Hispanic population includes Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans, Cubans, Dominicans, Guatemalans and Latino, or other origins. So what’s the common denominator that retailers and consumer goods companies can leverage to speak to our burgeoning US population? Speak to us through the filter of culture! Not race or language. Show us that you know how we live, how we communicate with one another, how we take pride in our appearance, and how we are complex women – not some stereotype that television portrays us to be.
This will pay off – Latinas, generally shop 20% more often than other women and on average spend 37% more per shopping occasion than non-Hispanics, in a multi-channel environment. And in the beauty category, we spend three times as much as non-Hispanic women. Deep-rooted cultural influences drive these purchases along with our fanatical love of rich, indulgent color palettes, luxurious products and fragrance. We shop with our senses and enjoy the shopping experience whether in-store or online, trending significantly higher on shopping enjoyment over other consumers. We appreciate the design and quality of primary and secondary packaging design. Hint: invest in your packaging – attention to craft and detail matters to us. Latina women are also more inclined to be the first to try new products, to follow trends and to share with our friends. Brands and retailers who speak to Latinas as if they are part of our family and truly understand what’s important to us will win our loyalty and trust. So be first with us, and you’ll have us long-term.
Beauty brands that want to succeed with us need to reconsider how they’re reaching and talking to Latinas. Latinas cannot be lumped in with the Hispanic group as a whole or the African American market. Beauty brands need to have an authentic, personal understanding of our skin tone variations, hair texture and color variations as well as skin type variations. We are tired of ‘making do’ with products not specifically for us – foundation that isn’t close to our skin tone or moisturizers that don’t address our specific skin issues. (Seriously, I can’t find foundations that are pale enough for me).
Gone are the blanket identifiers and stereotypical beauty ideals that oversimplify our backgrounds, needs and lifestyles. The strong and empowered Latina woman is not who you thought she was – she is complex and constantly evolving. Brands that want to truly connect with the new Latina-driven market will embrace a more modern view – one that celebrates the many faces of today’s Latina. Afterall, some of us have red hair and freckles, too.
Written by Elle Morris