(CL) – According to The U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos comprise the largest minority group living in the United States today. As more families emigrate to the country and future Hispanic-American children are born, we’re sure to see an even more continuous rise in this influential group.

Although Latinos have been part of the landscape of this country for ages, it hasn’t been until recently that their distinct cultural mark has been so widely felt. In the mid to late 1990s, and into this century, the “latin” flavor was quite apparent and warmly embraced by people of all backgrounds – most readily, the Latino community itself. From an influx of latin beats on the radio, to a greater number of Hispanic actors and actresses garnering top rolls in Hollywood, to Hispanics occupying influential government positions, there has been maximum potential to cater to this demographic and elicit their thoughts on mainstream products and services. What’s more, Hispanic disposable income has risen 29 percent since 2001, twice the overall U.S. increase, reaching $653 billion last year, according to a University of Georgia study. This means they’re an important consumer market, one who should be targeted and consulted for future products and marketing campaigns.

Recently, the Latino community was the key target market for Major League Baseball’s New York Mets. After years of sagging attendance and little success, the Mets decided between the 2004 and 2005 seasons to drastically overhaul both their front office and onfield personnel.

The move was initiated with the hiring of Omar Minaya, a Queens-raised former employee of the team who’s own heritage traces back to the Dominican Republic. Minaya’s job was to change the franchise’s losing ways, something he felt was only aided by changing the face of the franchise as well. Minaya has done just that, putting together a roster filled with All-Star caliber players, many of whom boast Latin American roots, such as Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran (Puerto Rico) and Pedro Martinez (Dominican Republic), among others. That overhauling has greatly increased the team’s Hispanic fanbase, as promotions such as “Merengue Night,” a popular event held each year during a game at the team’s home, Shea Stadium, can readily attest.

That increased fanbase was something instantly recognized by Banco Popular, a bank that caters to working classes and the underserved, a category much of the Latino community falls into. Banco Popular is now a chief corporate sponsor of the New York Mets. The Hispanic community has benefitted quite a bit simply by expressing this interest in the Mets, not only through promotional nights at the stadium but also with the New York Puerto Rican Day Parade, which was sponsored by Banco Popular, and the bank’s recent donation of $75,000 to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.

Another company that recognizes the importance of the Latino community is Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart began printing its monthly ad circulars in English and Spanish. It also launched its own Hispanic magazine, which it distributes free at 1,300 stores heavily shopped by Hispanics. The glossy quarterly magazine features profiles of Latino leaders and celebrities next to ads highlighting Wal-Mart’s expanding line of products and services geared toward Hispanics. The company has also begun stocking housewares and artwork inspired from designs by notable Hispanic people.

These mainstream companies have been successful in incorporating Hispanic culture into their company and marketing strategies. However, others continue to struggle to establish ties with the Latino community. A coveted demographic if there ever was one, Latinos need to take on a more personal role in establishing that connection to continue to reap benefits.

One notable and easy way to do that is to participate in market research, where you can express what you desire in the market and products you would prefer to see or not see. A company such as San Diego-based Luth Research, for instance, is actively seeking to involve more Latinos in its market surveys as a means to further establish the connection between Latino consumers and companies looking to reach them.

Luth features traditional market researching methods as well as an innovative online community known as the SurveySavvy community – one that rewards participants for filling out surveys online. The Web site and surveys are available in both English and Spanish – which makes it easy for anyone to participate.

Becoming involved in programs such as market research is increasingly powerful for the Latino consumer. It is a great way for you to further establish yourself in America’s consumer markets and it expands the collective voice of Latinos so that options can be shared about the products and services that are important to you.

To learn more about the SurveySavvy community or sign up for online surveys, visit www.surveysavvy.comsign up for their online studies, visit www.surveysavvy.com.

Contexto Latino