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Is Latin America Going To Lead The Research Revolution?

Based on conversations with colleagues in the region, observations on the activity in the social sphere by LATAM researchers, what I have heard from others at conferences, it seems that there is a lot of interest in Latin American MR firms leading the Research Revolution.


Next week I’m making my first ever trip to Latin America and I am immensely excited! I’ll be speaking at the 1st annual conference for AIM (the Chilean Association of Market Researchers) on the future of market research and how the current trends driving change in our industry may play out both globally and in Latin America particularly. It is an understatement to say that I am honored to be a part of the program, but what has me truly excited is the opportunity to meet and chat with professionals who may very well be some of the leading drivers of research transformation and innovation.

I have been fairly vocal in my opinion that I believe the so-called emerging markets (exemplified by the BRIC countries) are likely to lead the charge in embracing new approaches and technologies. That may seem like a counter-intuitive argument when one considers that face-to-face is still a major method in many of these regions, but necessity is the mother of invention and no amount of inertia on the part of researchers will stop the explosive and transformational impact of mobile and social media in those countries. In many cases those technologies are more prevalent and have wider consumer penetration than in the “developed world” (which may soon me a comparative misnomer) and it is quickly becoming a trusim that where 5 years ago the best way to reach consumers for research may have been through face-to-face or intercepts, today the best way to engage with consumers is through social media and mobile devices.  Check out this nifty infographic about the digital lives of consumers in Latin America:

Click to go to the original larger version.


A quick search on Goggle reveals many more startling facts that leads me inexorably to the conclusion that digital channels have already emerged as the best means of engaging with consumers for brands and researchers, and in these markets mobile devices are the primary means of accessing all other digital platforms.  Now, that situation isn’t so dissimilar to the rest of the world, but I think there is another key driver at play that will force innovation a shorter time frame in LATAM than perhaps in America or Europe: client demand. The new consumer base for brands is in these markets and it is here that they will experience  the most growth over the  next few years. As cited in the Latin Business Chronicle:

Although Latin America’s economy should slow down compared to last year, it will still be one of the world’s shining stars.

Latin America’s economy should expand by 3.6 percent this year, according to estimates from both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and The World Bank.  That compares with an estimated 3.3 percent globally and only 1.2 percent in advanced economies, IMF projections show.

A rising tide floats all boats, and the continued relative strength of the LATAM economic sphere means growing consumer spending driven by a hunger for new products and services. As local,  regional and multinational brands look for new ways to engage with, understand, and grow their relationships with consumers they will look for the insight function to help achieve that mission. Now that may not seem to necessitate a radical  shift, but considering that we are talking about a population that has embraced digital life with an unprecedented fervor the expectation will be that social media and mobile based approaches will be the key to deliver business insight and impact. As always, market forces will pressure MR to adapt to client needs or clients will simply look elsewhere for a solution, and many new competitors are vying to get a piece of that pie.

The good news is that the MR industry in LATAM should be positioned well from a relationship standpoint and won’t have quite as many barriers to change as exists in more established markets. Since it is still largely a developing market for suppliers as well without significant infrastructure investment in legacy technologies and also not burdened with a preponderance of  historical trackers and outdated norms (although those are still key drivers of revenue for many of the multinationals in the region)  there should be more flexibility to rapidly adopt new approaches and capitalize on the opportunity inherent in the new social/mobile paradigm. It is an unprecedented opportunity for leadership by the large suppliers in the region as well as an open invitation for enterprising homegrown firms to move aggressively.

At the recent MRMW conference LATAM research innovators eCGlobal Solutions conducted a series of interviews with attendees on their thoughts around growth in Latin America, especially on leveraging mobile technologies. It’s a great set of short interviews, and of particular interest is the interview with Paul McDonald of Google Consumer Surveys, which is poised to become a major player with their iminent launch of GCS into the Android ecosystem (among other reasons) Here is Paul’s interview:



And for those who are interested, here is my condensed take on the opportunity for LATAM and mobile (and no, I wasn’t praying despite appearances in the awkward screen freeze).



Since the AIM conference is projected to have several hundred attendees from across the continent in attendance I think I’ll have a better sense of what’s happening on the ground next week and will be sure to post a follow-up to this afterwards. Leading up to it though, based on conversations with colleagues in the region, observations on the activity in the social sphere by LATAM researchers, what I have heard from others attending recent conferences in Mexico, Venezuela & Brazil as well as looking at the roster for the upcoming ACEI conference in Columbia it certainly seems that there is a tremendous level of interest in Latin American MR firms leading the Research Revolution.

My hope is that I will be able to play some small part in helping to pave the way next week.

¡Viva la Revolución!

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12 responses to “Is Latin America Going To Lead The Research Revolution?

  1. Get a grip, Lennie – mobile is a great tool, but it is not a revolutionary tool, and no offense to my LATAM friends, but LATAM doesn’t lead the world in marketing research ever. It is unlikely to do so in the future as long as the majority of clients (I’m thinking CPG) are multi-nationals that are not indigenous.

    1. Ahh, my favorite curmudgeon! 🙂

      I calls ’em like I sees ’em Steve. All I can say is that from my recent conversations with the Global MR leaders at several of the largest companies in the world (including 2 CPGs) this is a major priority for them. Growth in Asia Pac is slowing and despite huge potential the Middle East and Africa are unstable so they are taking it slow there. That leaves Latin America which is quickly emerging as an economic powerhouse (Brazil just eclipsed the UK in GDP) with the concomitant technological and infrastructure development to support the growth. In those markets mobile is THE primary means of connecting with consumers, and those consumers have embraced social media more than any other region in the world per capita.

      Add those factors together and I think the case is made. Are there barriers to making it happen? Sure there are, but that doesn’t make it less likely, just possibly more challenging. I guess we’ll both how it unfolds, but I think it’s foolish not to consider all of the trends at play, and doubly so to be dismissive of the opportunity.

      Let’s grab some Mexican food for lunch soon and continue the debate my friend!

  2. I hate to be critical, but this smacks of reverse-strategy: try to retro-fit a solution that happnes to be there, but may well be sub-optimal, into a strategic case to justify what you need or wish to sell. Happens in the world of PR and advertising all the time. Best executions (and sales pitches) never reveal their strategies, though. So – whilst I have no idea how the BRICs and Next 11s may pan out (and frankly, I don’t think anybody does, from Nobel Prize winners down) – I would say that the Jury in my personal case will remain out for rather longer than normal….;)

  3. And one other thing: just becaues someone doesn’t agree with you – Steve in this case – doesn’t make them a curmudgeon.

  4. LOL, but Steve is an avowed and self professed curmudgeon Edward; he wears it as a badge of honor and I use it as a term of endearment. Reg Baker and (sometimes) Ray Poynter belong to the same club (see this post for proof: They serve a vital function in any debate and I am grateful for anyone who takes an informed and thoughtful contrary position to help keep me on my toes!

    I see your point regarding reverse strategy, but I prefer to take a much more pragmatic approach to the process of research. I think reverse engineering is a completely acceptable and appropriate strategy. It’s most certainly what the new emerging competitors are doing. I think principles of research can drive the design, but good business is based on learning how to use what is available to you to deliver the maximum value possible; that is simple adaptation. Innovation (or perhaps evolution?) is the process of building off of that foundation to improve the level of value created. I think the paramount challenge for all businesses today, and certainly for market research, is to adapt to a rapidly changing world and learn to leverage the tools available to us within their own context to drive business impact.

    I certainly agree that no one really knows how this will play out. My point was simply to lay out some trends I see and their possible implications. Secondarily, I want to support anyone who is challenging the status quo with a reasonable business proposition and I see that happening in Latin America.

  5. Lenny- I actually meant something different regarding “reverse strategy” – as I’m sure you know. There is so much in what you say I could comment on and disagree with – lets take one, your comment on norms. For whom are norms outdated? Maybe for – I hypothesise – suppliers who wish to sell a different technology mode. Norms are incredibly useful and valuable. Again – and I repeat myself – MR only has value via Business Impact. In many cases, I think that actually using new methodologies could have a potentially beneficial impact – but likely an incremental one, unless it really touches on key issues – topline sales, profitability, cost avoidance…there are more. Step-changes are, I believe, happening in our industry – disintermediation, for example, the continued ability of many many people to access “insights” via Social Media for free, commoditisation….these are to me the real game-changers.

  6. Hmm. I read “reverse strategy” as “reverse engineering” so the reference might have gone over my head my friend. 🙂
    I’m not sure where the disagreement is here Edward. I agree (and thought I was being quite clear) that everything comes down to business impact and that is what is driving the shift to embracing new technologies and models for research. I certainly agree that disintermediation is a significant issue and hence my urging of MR suppliers globally, and in this case specifically Latin America, to make the needed changes in order to remain competitive.
    I 100% agree that there are many game changers in play right now and that is my whole point regarding business need and possibly outdated norms: technology changes behaviors. The pace of technology driven change is increasing, meaning that our culture and possibly even species is changing faster as well. Norms of 5 years ago by their very definition are quite possibly outdated; we have new norms of human behavior, thinking, engagement, etc.. occurring regularly now so we must recalibrate and adjust to keep measuring things that are relevant and in context with the the situation today. Does that mean we throw out anything older than 5 years ago or that major elements of what we have been doing as researchers, what we measure, and how we measure it is wrong? Of course not. It does mean that we can’t assume that it is right for the world as it is today either. We need to keep pushing, adapting, evolving to keep delivering value and impact. Accepting the status quo just isn’t going to work anymore.We at the very least owe it to ourselves and our clients to ask the questions and be open to the possibilities that come up when we do.

  7. Lenny – agree with much of the above. One aspect that I see differently is on change – technology change to me is clearly outpacing consumer change by a long stretch. Do you have any evidence that people are fundamentally accepting new norms in thinking, engaging etc? Sure, people are experimenting more thanks to the wider choice – information, communication exchange options – availalbe. Does that mean that the basics are changing? Branding rules, for example? Fundamentals of marketing? Have any read anywhere that having low awareness levels – as an example – is a good thing? Or not having a well differentiated proposition? I haven’t. I think excitement levels are great, but bigging everything up as “the” next “big thing” before that is clearly established and validfated actually has a tiring effect, as it just merges perceptually into the general backdrop of “selling messages”

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