The first time I learned about the market research situation in Latin America was at an ESOMAR Congress organized in Rio de Janeiro. By that time, online research was known as a methodology but hardly used in the industry. The reason why the usage of online was so limited was due to three different constraints widely known in other markets:
– The first one was the amount of households still not connected to the internet. In 2005, internet penetration in Brazil, Argentina or Mexico didn’t go beyond a 30%.
– The second one was more technical and related to the internet connection. Its speed and stability were not good in comparison with the US or Canada.
– Last, but not least, was the fact that the difference in cost between traditional research and online research was not as wide as in other markets where the costs between both kind of methodologies differed more than double.
Nowadays all three issues remain the same but significant changes have taken place.
Internet penetration has increased, but not enough to offer a strong solution on those studies where good representation is needed. On the other hand, the Latin American governments are heavily investing to improve the internet connection in the region and the speed offered by multiple internet providers. Brazil and Mexico are leading with policies encouraging greater competition and better service. Finally, when referring to the difference between costs of traditional methodologies and online research, nothing has changed dramatically. Nevertheless, a steady growth of the inflation rate in the region has slightly increased the difference between both.
So, why are companies seeing increased interest in online research? Why are more projects now completed online? What are the triggers for change in the region if the main issues remain the same?
Basically, Latin America is changing day-by-day thanks to the Brazilian economy’s steady expansion and the stability of other economies such as Colombian, Mexican and Argentinean. This change challenges the industry with studies never before run and where online research makes the difference. Pre-test, post-test, product-testing, IHUTs and specialized B2B research are in need of technology already in use in other parts of the world.
Additionally, so-called pressure from the outside (big market research companies wanting to use online research) has been key to understanding why research houses are moving to online. Data management companies have become essential when aggregating the results coming from studies run in different parts of the world and in which data needs to be standardized no matter the origin.
But please let’s not forget the reasons coming from the inside of the region. As mentioned before, the inflation rate in the continent is important to the understanding of the current situation of online vs traditional methodologies. Nevertheless, issues such as hard-to-reach regions (now well-connected via the Internet) or even regions where traditional methodologies are becoming a challenge are key.
For example, Mexico is suffering from a wave of violence which has caused hundreds of deaths of late. The problem is aired in the worldwide media and thousands of Mexicans living in those areas are now suffering an insecurity hardly known before. This touches all industries in the Nothern part of the country. Market research is no exception. Agencies are experiencing many problems carrying out their fieldwork in the region. Essentially, there are almost no interviewers available. Hence, researchers who were not intending to use online research are now considering the methodology as a possible way to solve this situation.
Summing up, there are many different reasons why Latin America is adopting online research. Online is getting its own place even though there are technical and methodological issues that need to be solved. Just imagine where the methodology will be when those issues are solved. The research revolution in Latin America has begun!