By Tamara Barber
I recently made my first trip to Bogota, Colombia to present on international social media research at the Second International Congress on Market Research, hosted by the Colombian market research association (known as ACEI).
Anyone how knows me well knows that I’d be hard pressed to turn down a trip to Latin America, and this happened to be my second trip to a market research conference south of the equator. In the Spring, I visited Peru to be a part of their advertising association’s second conference on market research. And I’m not the only Yankee making the trek to these kinds of events: Annie Pettit was treated like a research rockstar at a Venezuelan conference in June, and Lenny Murphy’s experience in Chile last month compelled him to ponder Latin America’s role in the market research revolution. A trend is afoot.
Is the Latin American market research industry poised for a renaissance of sorts, or is it just that we blogger types happen to be on the radar down south? It’s no secret that Brazil is very interesting to global brands right now, and the bigger economies in South America are giving rise to a new middle class that is piquing the interest of companies looking for new growth opportunities. It follows, then, that the market research industry in these countries would mean brands have more desire to better understand and communicate with Latin American consumers. In fact, according to recent ESOMAR data quoted at the Colombian conference, the Latin American market research industry has grown at a rate 13.9%, compared to single digit growth in the rest of the world. And, it’s worth noting, too, that market insights are becoming important to local businesses that aim to reach either a broader swath of people in-country or export more products to a global audience.
Both local and global research associations are promoting a culture of conversation and information sharing in the region. For example, ESOMAR has regularly been holding Latin American conferences for the past few years; Alejandro Garnica of Latin American research industry alliance ARIA is working to unite various regional associations; and I also spoke at global conference co-hosted by CASRO and ARIA in Miami this spring.
This is all goodness for the industry and for the region. But does it mean that Latin American researchers will lead the charge on innovation? Well, in Bogota, I saw an industry grappling with issues that are relevant to any market researcher: things like panel management across countries, shopper insights in the digital world, what to do about social media data, what to do with neuroscience, trendspotting, and the redefinition of market research as a more strategic competency. The speaker line-up was world class, with thought-provoking presentations and leaders from both north and south and from across the Atlantic.
Some stories we’ve heard again and again – social media is hot, mobile is a new frontier in Latin America – are true, but with important caveats. With regard to social media, challenges still remain to pinpointing comments from in-country, especially when there are relative few country-specific social media outlets. On the mobile front, mobile phone penetration in general may be impressive, but – according to research I heard – smartphone penetration is stagnant at 2%. And, when it comes to online survey research, bear in mind that internet service can be spotty and slow, and to many consumers the notion of a survey is still somewhat foreign.
This isn’t to say that the excitement about the prospects aren’t worth the hype. I’ve been completely energized – giddy even – from my experiences in the past few months. I sincerely believe that this is just the beginning of dialogue we will see in Latin America, and I hope to be an ongoing part of it. I’d encourage us all to approach emerging markets with a balance entrepreneurial spirit to try new things (absolutely!) and healthy pragmatism to ensure that we are still having conversations on how get the basics right as well.