The Great Acculturation Debate

September 11, 2011 Author: Roy Eduardo Kokoyachuk

The Hispanic research buzzword currently circulating in the online universe is “acculturation”. It is an essential aspect of Hispanic consumer research yet paradoxical in the sense that Hispanics never define themselves in acculturation terms.

It is great to see general market companies begin to use the term acculturation in an intelligent way as I remember when the only qualifying factor (if any) among Hispanics was language. As Hispanics become the “New American Reality” we are seeing Hispanic quotas become less and less an augment of a study and more the focus of the study. As this evolution progresses, market research companies are starting to have to deal more and more with acculturation models.

Many of us tend to use the same acculturation model for every study but there is no magic formula for acculturation. U.S. Hispanics come from 20 countries in Latin America alone which complicates generalizations based on acculturation. While there are certainly many useful distinctions a properly constructed acculturation model can reveal; the complexity of the U.S. Hispanic consumer, and indeed of human behavior, needs to be considered when looking through an acculturation prism.

Many companies have devoted considerable effort to breaking the acculturation “code” and have come up with very elegant solutions to the acculturation problem, yet researchers that are savvy within the Hispanic market will almost always find flaws in acculturation models as they are limited to certain aspects of the Hispanic experience. For example, many acculturation models take media consumption into consideration when classifying respondents. The typical assumption found in most acculturation models is that the more English based programming a respondent watches, the more acculturated they are. Yet with the recent fragmentation of media consumption among U.S. Hispanics, this traditional view of acculturation may not always apply as a Spanish dominant respondent might consume Spanish language television, English language music, and bilingual online social media regularly.

Acculturation models need to be questioned rigorously in relation to the study that is being conducted. For example, if you are designing a study for a media company, media related questions should be more prevalent and insightful, greater care should be taken in the crafting of those particular questions and your acculturation model should revolve around those particular questions. It is the job of the researcher to guide clients during the creation of questionnaires, especially acculturation models when it comes to researching Hispanics as they are such an important part of the research mix.

While we support making acculturation models more accurate, we do not endorse needless complication. Anyone who has worked with the Hispanic market online has conducted a study that had a rigid acculturation model with attached quotas that make closing a study nearly impossible. This happens when the focus of the study is lost in trying to create the most elegant acculturation model that ultimately makes a study impossible to field. As a full service research company that has extensive experience in providing Hispanic sample as well, we have seen the issues it causes on both ends of the research process. While you want to make sure you are including all the necessary questions in an acculturation model, you also have to think of the practicality of the questions as the more you add, the lower your overall incidence rate and ultimately the harder the study is to close.

Tips to making a good acculturation model:

  • Quality questions over quantity – trim the fat, the leaner your acculturation model the better
  • One model does not fit all – figure out what the most important aspect of the study is and focus on it
  • Use traditional questions as a guide only – don’t use an acculturation model just because that is what is done, make sure you think about it rigorously before implementing it in your study
  • Test your model – if you have the ability to test your model, make sure you do to see if it is accurate and yields data you can actually use in your marketing efforts.