Amidst the bustle of the throngs down Avenue of the Americas in New York City, a conference in the Hilton hotel is adding a Latino touch.
SES New York (Search Engine Strategies) is a search and social marketing conference that seeks to help companies and individuals stay ahead of the curve and understand what is happening in the ever-changing online space.
But this year, the third day of the conference that runs from March 21-25 will have a track of programming called Focus Latino, which will be centered on the Latino online market and how and why companies should reach out to Hispanics. Is this a big deal? You bet it is.
"We're really just beginning to understand how to reach Latinos online," said Giovanni Rodriguez, the Chief Marketing Officer of Broadvision and board member of Latinos in Social Media (Latism). There are big numbers out there, he said. Like that Hispanics in the United States have 1.3 trillion in spending power but "competing studies say different things about how much Latinos are actually online," he said.
Rodriguez said that some organizations commission studies where its in their best interest for results to say that Latinos are online. But even when it comes to nonpartisan "fact tank," the Pew Research Center, there have been confusing reports.
In a report published in February, the Pew Hispanic Center found that Latinos were less likely than whites to be online, have a broadband connection and own a cell phone. But in previous reports Pew found that Hispanics lead when it comes to mobile applications and cell phone use and that Latinos use Twitter more than other groups as well as location-based services like Foursquare. The rapid adoption of social media by Hispanics has also caught the attention of many people.
But because of contradictory information, companies and brands have been unsure how to approach the Hispanic market. Do they pour money into digital campaigns and advertisement or do they stand pat knowing that Latinos are behind?
Google made a move that sent ripples through the industry and answered uncertainty about the Latino market when it hired Mark Lopez, the new head of U.S. Hispanic Audience in the U.S..
Its place in the online market is robust and ever-present so when Google created a new position and hired someone just for marketing to Latinos, people sat up and paid attention.
"Google is the number one player," Carlos Vassallo, CEO of Latinvision and creator of the Focus Latino track said. "If they say, 'We have a whole new organization that is going to be active in this market, nationally and internationally,' it makes everybody aware," he said. "When the number one moves everyone will follow.
"Google validates that the market is there," he said.
And Vasallo says evidence of the Latino market growing in importance can be seen everywhere. One of the reasons he wanted to hold a Focus Latino day of panels at SES New York was because of the outreach and infrastructure already in place. Carlos Manzano heads the Latin Media and Entertainment Commission, started by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which hopes to draw events like SES New York to the city.
Vasallo says that Hispanics are the fastest growing audience segment when it comes to the NFL, the NBA and Nascar and he believes that something like Focus Latino brings Hispanics out into the spotlight even more.
The track will feature panels such as "Reaching Latinos Through Search Engine Optimization," "Search and Social Marketing to Latinos" and "Analytics for the Latino Markets" as well as a keynote speech by Mark Lopez and a question and answer session afterwards.
A sign of the times for SES NY is that the event, which was once geared primarily towards search engine marketing, now has added social marketing to the mix -- an acknowledgement that social media is significant online and that Hispanics are very engaged. And Rodriguez says this provides a challenge for advertisers.
"Besides how much to spend on digital [strategy], how much do you spend on social?" he said. "Do you spend money on Facebook ads? Companies understand that the world is developing and multi-cultural [English and Spanish-speaking] Hispanics are a huge part of it.
Rodriguez has a theory that if Latinos are truly early adopters and over-indexing across social media, then advertisers will be forced to treat them differently and cites a precedent for preferential treatment to a certain market segment.
"Bloggers were invited to advise companies on product strategy five years ago," he said. "It's the way we treat anyone who is ahead of the curve. Its not about just throwing advertisements at them but saying lets actually include them."
Paul Lima, the CEO of Lima Consulting and the person who put together the content for the Focus Latino programming, brings it back to Mark Lopez when he talks about the excitement for the event and what it means for the importance of Hispanic consumers.
"I'm most excited to hear his keynote speech," Lima, who will ask questions of Lopez afterwards said. He gave a preview of some of the questions he thinks people are really interested in having answered.
"This is a newly created position. Why? What is Google saying by doing this? If its good for Google, its good for business. And Latinos are good for business," he said.
And Lima thinks something like Focus Latino was a long-time in coming.
"This is a mainstream topic, I'm glad that its part of a mainstream conference."