By Tiago Sobreira
When a market research study is being conducted, information about people’s opinion, habits, attitudes, usage, consumption behavior or preferences is being sought. Depending on the scope of information being sought, qualitative or quantitative scopes are set to approach the individual. Marketing, in a way, is a tool to enhance people’s sense of need for some product or service. What cannot be set aside, however, is the further understanding about how culture, local praxis or collective behavior deeply influences individuals when they are playing the role of consumers.
Brazil is known as the country whose people are body-built and fit, tanned and outspoken. Rarely, or very seldom, you’re going to run into a Brazilian citizen who is withdrawn or totally unwilling to talk. This archetypical image of the Brazilians was exhaustively studied by some scholars who, for many years, tried to understand why the “ordinary Brazilian” is characterized by these behaviors.
One of these scholars was Gilberto Freyre, who emphasized the miscegenation as the main trace of Brazil: “Every Brazilian, even the light skinned fair haired one carries about him on his soul, when not on soul and body alike, the shadow or at least the birthmark of the aborigine or the negro”. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, father of the also known musician Chico Buarque, also analyzed the ordinary Brazilian. Sérgio, in a avant-garde analysis of the commonplace Brazilian, stated that people born and brought up in Brazil environments are generally regarded as being driven mostly by personal affection, individualism, being averse to hierarchy, aloof to strict discipline, disobedient to social rules and accustomed to paternalism and cronyism. That is explained by a heritage from the Portuguese settlers, enhanced by traces of black and indigenous cultures.
Foreign marketers or research professionals, when conducting a study in Brazil, are subject to some challenges that are brought up by local culture. Not always – and actually, rarely – methodologies applied for studies in foreign countries do suit Brazil, and the lingering question remains being “but why?”
It may not be the main reason, but the so called “aloofness to strict discipline” partially explains why studies conducted with respondents who must perform tasks, fill-in diaries in a long-term study, or use products for an extended period of time, are commonly troublesome. If you’re recruiting individuals for a focus group or in-depth interview, very often recruited participants will tell you about their interest in participating, but at the data and time set for the study they eventually do not show up. That may be partially explained by the “personal affection” behavior. If the recruiter does not try to “get affectionately close” to the possible participant, in a kind of precarious friendship relation, absent participants afterwards will tell you something such as “I was contacted, I liked the person who invited me to the study….but he/she did not call me for a couple days to remind me or ask about me…and I forgot that I had been committed to attending the study. I’m sorry”. Brazilians are somewhat driven by the underlying idea that their opinion, all in all, is something that cannot be traded to enhance somebody else’s profit and, unless they get fully compensated for sharing their information, no 40-minutes or longer face-to-face interview with paper questionnaire would be possible. That, too, may be linked to the individualistic behavior that assumes personal information as something submitted to payment.
Culture, especially when we’re addressing the Brazilian consumer, determines the outcomes and even the progress of the study. That’s why it is important to ask local experts on the most appropriate methodology for a study, not only considering lower costs, but especially how the results will probably come out if you decide for some methodology. Culture determines not only the way of getting information in Brazil, but determines specially the content and accuracy of the information you’re seeking.