by Nina Ivanichvili
Don’t overlook marketing your title services in more than one language. Immigrants are literally hungry for information on home buying—but in their language.
What do insurance companies, mortgage lenders, and drug and food manufacturers have in common? They are increasingly practicing multicultural marketing, also known as cross-cultural marketing, or multilingual marketing. In other words, they are setting up Web sites, filming commercials, placing print ads, and distributing marketing information in the languages spoken by their foreign-born clients in multilingual America. Do these service providers and product manufacturers know something that many title companies may be overlooking? Possibly. At the very least, they are taking advantage of several important demographic and cultural trends.
If your company wants to expand its client base, why not follow the clues provided by the commercial sector and promote your services to foreign-born clients in their native languages? Stymied by where to begin? Here are some basics to consider.
Tip 1. Analyze demographic and cultural trends to discover new niche markets for your company’s services.
Real estate agents across the country report strong demand for their services from foreign-born clients. According to 2003 findings by the U.S. Census Bureau, many foreign-born Americans who became naturalized citizens had higher homeownership rates than their U.S.-born race and ethnic counterparts.
Today about 12% of the U.S. population is foreign-born. This population segment is growing exponentially, and so is its purchasing power. In the frequently cited statistics by the Selig Center for Economic Growth, the national buying power of Hispanics was estimated at 653 billion dollars in 2003, and is projected to exceed a trillion dollars in 2008. The buying power of Asian consumers was $344 billion in 2003, and is projected to reach $526 billion in 2008. Unlike their predecessors, immigrants to the country continue to retain their native languages and customs even after they acquire English-language skills. Were you aware, almost one in five Americans speaks a language other than English at home?
When your company understands this cultural trend, you will realize that you will have a fair chance of winning a niche market composed of foreign-born clients if you start speaking to them directly in their language.
Tip 2. Uncover untapped markets in your zip code. To be successful, multicultural marketing needs to be based on sound facts and a high level of understanding of the target audience. To find niche markets within the ranks of the foreign-born, consider the following questions.
For the last answer, visit www.mla.org/census_data. This Web site, developed by the Modern Language Association, provides information about the top 30 languages spoken in various parts of the United States. For fact retrieval, enter your city or town, state, county, or zip code.
Tip 3. Multilingual marketing can open doors, which otherwise would remain closed. In business, it pays to do things differentl from your competitors. Don’t be discouraged by the fact that none of your local competitors are promoting title services in the languages spoken by the foreign-born Americans. That can lead to two different conclusions: Not enough foreign-born prospects in your local market are in need of land title services, or some of your larger, nation-wide competitors already have a monopoly on serving the foreign-born clients in your local area. If the above facts are true, go after a different niche market.
However, if other land title companies in your area have not yet warmed up to the idea of speaking to foreign-born clients in their language—then use this fact to your advantage and start promoting your title services to a new niche market or to several new niche markets—all composed of foreign-born Americans.
Tip 4. To enhance your land title company’s image, have your documents translated professionally. There are two types of foreign-language experts. Although the terms “translator” and “interpreter” often are used interchangeably, there is a clear distinction between them. Translators deal with the translation of written material from one language into another language. Interpreters translate orally from one language to another.To position your title company as the area’s most language-friendly, you must use both professional translators and interpreters. Invest in having closing documents translated into the languages of your niche market or markets. Professionally translated documents will become your title company’s strategic marketing assets. They will differentiate you from your competitors.
Many companies suffer from the common misconception that any person that speaks a foreign language is automatically a translator. Just because your secretary grew up speaking French doesn’t mean she’d be a good translator. Always remember Mark Twain’s remark, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
Don’t let embarrassing translation errors insult your prospects or jeopardize your relationship. Microsoft, for example, recently alienated women of several countries when its Spanish-language version of Windows XP, made for Latin American markets, asked users to select their gender from “not specified,” “male,” or a term used to refer to a female dog.
To ensure that your foreign-born clients will understand your message the way it was intended and to enhance your company’s image and its brand, have your advertising and marketing materials translated professionally. The fact that your land title company took time to prepare documents in a language these customers use sends a powerful marketing message to them. They will view this as a manifestation of respect for their language and culture and will conclude that your land title company is accustomed to serving the needs of clients like them.
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Tip 5. Invest in focus groups to understand foreign-born consumers. For a marketing message to be successful, it needs to speak directly to the needs of prospects and clients. When marketing to the foreign-born, it is especially important to look at things from their perspective. It is expedient to hold a focus group prior to finalizing important business decisions such as opening a new office in a prospective market’s locale, hiring bilingual staff, or launching a new multilingual marketing campaign. Always think, “Is this something our clients want?” A focus group should comprise eight to fifteen individuals with demographic characteristics identical to those of the niche market. During a controlled discussion, the focus group participants can shed priceless insights into the target audience’s “hot buttons” as well as their thought and emotional processes.
The panel can also review and help refine your marketing materials, attempting to make sure the audience would understand the title company’s marketing message the way it was intended and would not be inadvertently offended by its form or content.
Tip 6. Promote goodwill by supporting ethnic communities. It is important to be informed of what is happening in the ethnic communities that your company is targeting. There are various ways to become involved in such communities: Join a local ethnic chamber of commerce (e.g. Asian-American Chamber of Commerce Hispanic Chamber of Commerce); sponsor a foreign film festival or other event celebrate ethnic holidays (e.g. the Chinese New Year); offer free seminars geared toward new homebuyers and conduct them jointly with mortgage lenders and real estate agents that serve your niche market.
Your company’s education-based marketing messages will find a very receptive audience in the ranks of foreign-born clients. Immigrants are literally hungry for accurate information on various topics related to homeownership. And although such information is available for free in the public domain, it is reasonable to assume that your foreign-born clients and prospects may not know where to find it and will not understand it since it is only available in English. Therefore, consider writing articles or columns in other languages on various aspects of homeownership and placing them in ethnic papers. Obtain the publisher’s permission to post this information on your company’s Web site and to include reprints in information packets to prospects and to those who attend your company’s seminars.
Tip 7. Gain visibility and credibility by advertising in ethnic media. To gain visibility and credibility among foreign-born clients, it pays to advertise in ethnic daily or weekly papers in various languages, and even in English-language ethnic papers. It may take some time to identify media outlets, which may seem obscure to you but are viewed by the prospective client base as “credible.” Local ethnic papers are often available for free in the community grocery stores, while nationwide ethnic papers are typically available by subscription only. The good news is that advertising in these papers is fairly inexpensive, and there probably will not be lots of ads from your competitors. Also note that ethnic papers in general have a longer shelf life. Non-English-speakers often use them like yellow pages and keep them until a need for the advertiser’s services arises.
Tip 8. Prepare for possible future changes in state consumer laws. A law in California called the Consumer Protection for New Californians Act, which took effect in July 2004, requires certain businesses that negotiate property lease agreements, auto loans, and retail installment payment plans in Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and Vietnamese to also complete the contract in that same language. And a similar law is already in place for contracts negotiated in Spanish. The law currently excludes mortgage loans. But that may change.
If other states adopt similar language laws, mortgage lenders and possibly title companies could be faced with the burden and the expense of having all their documents translated into languages other than English.
Land title companies that take time to understand the needs of foreign-born consumers today and start speaking directly to their needs in their languages will be ready for any language-related changes in state consumers laws, and, in the meantime, will be rewarded with referrals, loyalty, and trust.Nina Ivanichvili is CEO of All Language Alliance Inc., a foreign language translation firm specializing in legal and corporate translation services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-470-9555.