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Cultural Relevance Keeps Verizon Ahead of the Pack

Since day one in 2000, after the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE, Verizon has made Hispanic consumers an important part of its messaging.

It remains a leading advertiser to Latinos, with more than $71 million spent with Hispanic media in 2013. It also maintains a fulltime executive staff focused on assuring that services appeal to Hispanic customers, are marketed to them in Spanish and that Spanish-speaking employees are part of the diverse workforce. FiOS TV also offers one of the more robust Spanish-language programming plans in the multichannel industry . For these reasons Verizon will receive the Award for Leadership in Hispanic Television at the Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable Hispanic Television Summit on Thursday, Oct. 22, at the Park Central Hotel in New York.

Javier Farfan, Verizon’s vice president of cultural engagement, will accept the award on the company’s behalf. He joined Verizon this year from PepsiCo Beverages North America, where he led music and entertainment-group and culture-marketing strategy.

Before that Farfan led marketing strategy teams at Microsoft and Viacom, where he was an integral part of launching the Hispanic cable network MTV Tr3s. He spoke with MCN editor Kent Gibbons about Verizon’s approach to the Hispanic marketplace.

MCN: How would you characterize your current approach to winning and keeping Hispanic customers in your various business segments?

Javier Farfan: One thing that was very apparent when researching and understanding the business side of our Hispanic opportunity is that people understand the quality of who we are and what our brand signifies, and there’s a high regard to that. People understand what our brand is about, who we are and the value that we bring to our consumer.

I think the challenge that I’m faced with — taking this new opportunity and growing that business — is how to deal with the dynamic and ever-changing consumer and this evolution of the immigrants coming in and the born-American Latino, second-generation Latino, and providing the right services where we don’t lean so much on Spanish language.

And then, as we think about our business, how do we make sure that we are developing the right products and services that are satisfying the needs of this consumer, and make sure that we’re at the front end of that as opposed to just the marketing and communications aspect to the business?

MCN: Are there new products that you have introduced that highlight your targeting of Hispanic consumers?

JF: I think a great product that is an example of what we were talking about is go90, the new over-the-top platform for content. As you think about the content that’s there, it is targeting the millennial but it’s also considering the Hispanic millennial in there. But it’s not the same old formula of Spanish-language [TV] because, as you think about the millennial, they’re not consuming that in that same way, especially when you think about this device right here [holds up a smartphone]. You’re seeing things that they do care about. Like they do care about MTV, they do care about football, but you’ll see some culturally relevant programs on there too, and that programming is evolving.

MCN: What are the things that set Verizon apart from your competitors in terms of targeting Hispanics?

JF: It comes fundamentally to us not sacrificing what our brand is. We’re not pivoting off value. We’re pivoting off of us being the premium network. And we know our Hispanic consumer cares about that. I think the challenge or the opportunity for us is to make sure that we build off of that and provide the right type of service and plans on top of that premium that we have.

MCN: What does your background at PepsiCo and, before that, Microsoft and Viacom enable you to bring to this marketing effort?

JF: What I bring to it is a fresh perspective to the business. I also bring a breath of new thinking about how to approach this consumer from the traditional way and redefining the consumer. And then also bringing this idea of lifestyle marketing in the way we engage; digital marketing is becoming a bigger piece of our engagement. And then also just a background in entertainment and how to use entertainment and content as a way to kind of be more culturally relevant.

That doesn’t mean sponsoring the typical Latin artists. It’s about redefining a partnership with entertainment properties, music properties or lifestyle entities so we can be deeper within that community. I think Verizon has done a wonderful job in what they have done pre-me, but I think my opportunity is to actually drive a deeper engagement and a little bit newer thinking as we think about those two pieces and adding that to the mix.

MCN: How important is having a diverse workforce for accomplishing your goals?

JF: Diversity has been No. 1 and critical for our business. Our CMO [Diego Scotti] is Argentinean . Our chief diversity officer sits with our C suite, making sure that we are thinking about the future of our business but also thinking about the diversity and talent that we need to make sure we accomplish those things.

I think it’s one of the reasons I’m there. It’s something that I think about every day in my job and who I hire, and I know that it’s a very important and critical piece to our overall business. And that’s not just for hires. It’s who we work with from an agency perspective all the way to our suppliers.

MCN: The importance of the Hispanic audience — is that just the numbers, the size of the population or aspects of the demographics, the kinds of things that they’re buying? It’s said Hispanics over-index on mobile services, for example.

JF: I think the Hispanic market has always been important for the business. I think what is happening now, you cannot run away from the sheer mass opportunity that it has. It’s just hard for any business at this point in time to ignore it.

And everybody knows the same statistics of the over-index. Those are table stakes. I think what that has done is elevated the opportunity. I think what [Verizon] has done before I got there and continues to do, and what I’m helping to do, is uncover the needs these consumers have.

Then when you start thinking about their needs and where our business is going, it’s like, wow, there is an opportunity here, there’s a lot of connection. And if you think about it, some of the plays that the industry is doing show that everybody is thinking about it. We just offered up [mobile-phone] roaming to Cuba.

We just offered up free long-distance to Mexico. Those are our business decisions that are not just a Hispanic impact but an overall impact that you’re seeing the Hispanic consumer drive.

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.