The Science Behind Brand Loyalty Among Hispanics

By Christian Filli (MediaPost)

It is generally accepted that Hispanics are often more brand loyal than the average U.S. consumer, especially during certain stages of their cultural assimilation process. People always say things like “Hispanics are more passionate” or “Hispanics are genetically different,” but I have yet to hear a convincing argument that explains this phenomenon. Instead, just applying a simple understanding of how our brains work to Hispanics’ assimilation in the U.S. will help shed light on why they tend to be more brand loyal.

First of all, loyalty is practically synonymous with “avoiding change.” As much as humans are designed to evolve, we are also designed to cultivate homeostasis. Our body temperature needs to be kept in check in order for our whole system to properly work, and our mind seeks equilibrium and stability through rationalization and gaining an understanding of the world around us. This innate tendency is a vital part of our defense mechanism, triggering internal alarms when something is out of place. In other words, it helps us detect perceived errors or dangers in our surroundings or inside our own bodies. Because of this, we tend to naturally resist change, even if logic tells us it’s okay. Some may call it mere stubbornness, but it’s really our survival instinct in action.

This instinct is controlled by the oldest part of our brain, the limbic system, and it’s no surprise that this is where our fear circuitry resides. Thus, any change that makes us feel uncomfortable can be seen as a threat, causing us to adopt a defensive behavior. The limbic system is inside the core of our brain, where neural circuits of long-standing habits are formed and held. This area is invoked by familiar routine, like instinctually putting an often-purchased product into the shopping cart without consciously paying attention. When we see a new product on a supermarket shelf and rationally compare its benefits to one we already use, our working memory takes the new information and matches it against the old. However, the core of our brain requires less energy to function, so the path of least resistance, literally, is to stick with old behaviors and habits.

I believe that oftentimes foreigners who have come to live in the U.S. take a long time to feel completely comfortable in their new environment. Their courage and resilience are highly evident, but adaptation is not easy and individual circumstances can make it even harder. While they are willing to undergo a lot of changes, all of this new information can feel draining for the mind. It’s not surprising that they find comfort in things that remind them of their ‘home.’

It has been scientifically proven that people’s brains can design new neural wiring patterns based on fresh input. Even the simple act of buying a different shampoo can stimulate new neural pathways to form. The increased ability to embrace change can make people adopt new products and brands.

It’s just a matter of identifying good insights combined with message repetition. We need to always remember that Hispanics are humans and understand them as such, combining that basic understanding with the complexities that come into play when they are challenged with so many changes in their lives.

That said, we must consider that a growing portion of the Hispanic population today is actually born in the U.S., therefore it will be interesting to observe how brand loyalty patterns shift. We might finally see marketers forget about the things of the past that Hispanics are attached to and start focusing on what future lifestyle they are creating for themselves.


Categories: NGLC Conference

1 reply

  1. Great post, Christian,

    Great insight into the our human “fight-or-flight” instinct in terms of shopping, branding or communications.

    I’m sure that almost every latino and latina around has heard “más vale malo conocido que bueno por conocer” as a parent’s or Grandparent’s sage advice. Your article post explains this nicely. Whenever it’s my turn to give this advice to a kid, I’ll now have an answer to the typical and pesky follow-up question: but why?

    As a latino kid, I would ask this a LOT but seldom got a straight answer from any adult in my family: it usually was “porque sí” or “just because” However, this answer would sometimes calm my curiosity but other times would really increase it – i don’t think I’m the only one who was a curiously annoying kid.

    Similarly, I think that the stubbornness to which you refer may indeed hinder our acceptance of change but may also enhance it.

    I agree with your point that marketers who embrace the double-edged nature of this phenomenon may indeed develop a significant competitive advantage by ” focusing on the future of the latino lifestyle” but IMHO , this goes beyond the biological/neurological phenomenon into the cultural understanding of the roots of our consumer behavior.

    I believe that that 2nd and 3rd generation latinos are a little more open to change depending on HOW their adaptation process goes in specific product or brand interaction circumstances. As an example, we might drink our own brand of (e.g.) beer and not that “boring/nasty/old stuff my Dad drinks”, but we’re more likely to buy Ace (Tide) because “mi Mamá lo usaba en la casa”.

    I agree with you that it’ll be really interesting to monitor and reading the shifts in brand loyalty patterns. My guess is that for latinos, the generation effect (i.e., time) will polarize brand loyalty; It will nearly disappear in some categories, but will simultaneously become more entrenched in others.

    The challenge for us lies in learning how to distinguish one from the other.

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