Consumer Collaboration around the World: Latin-America [3/6]

Meet our Collaboration around the World series. Every article in this blog series overlooks the state of consumer collaboration in different parts of the world. This based on recent travels around the globe to speak at conferences, talks with moderators from our proprietary Global Community Moderator Network, experiences with client projects and fresh figures from a new global consumer survey. In the previous months we already discussed Europe & North-America, next up is Latin-America.

The Perfect Storm is there, but companies do not act upon it…

Last November, I visited Brazil to speak at the Best of ESOMAR event and to meet up with clients and our local moderators. Brazil can be seen as quite representative for the vibe in the region, given that it is the economic giant and main business hub of the continent. Although every survey among consumers in Brazil we do teaches us that consumers love to start the collaboration dialogue with brands they like on topics they feel an affinity with, it struck me that local decision makers within companies are not yet taking advantage of this opportunity.
The principles of Consumer Collaboration fit very well with the Latin-American consumers’ behavior and their culture: digital/mobile applications and social media are hot in the region, the social aspect of the method fits very well with the outgoing culture and having a great debate/sharing ideas freely feels very natural to the local population. Moreover, the fact that a country such as Brazil is massive and the population very diverse make that clients could benefit big time from using online qualitative techniques such as Consumer Consulting Boards (or Market Research Online Communities): it would allow them to efficiently bring people from different parts of the country and different backgrounds together in one place.
The Perfect Storm is definitely there: the consumers are ready for it and the reasons to make the switch as a client are there as well. But little action is taken. In talks, I clearly felt that local decision makers do not dare to make the move, not just yet. Almost all the projects we conduct in the region through our Global Community Moderator Network are commissioned by global decision makers of multinational companies.

The ‘interested & interesting’ test

One of the things that could help convince local decision makers to level up is if we could show them that the current way of doing qualitative research – i.e. traditional offline focus groups – is not perfect at all. What is perceived as ‘a safe haven’ is merely a false feeling of security. Here is what is wrong with focus groups:

  • Offline focus groups are mostly conducted in specific and selected parts of the country (in urban areas). An online community approach could bring together a diverse group of people from all over the country. Especially if we wish to do research with ‘middle class and up’ target groups who love online, communities feel like a better and more natural solution.
  • A second problem with offline focus groups is that only a limited number of people is really interested in the topic or brand they will talk about. They are mainly motivated by the cash incentive that is offered. This implies that they are not really interesting nor inspiring to listen to either. In over 100 speeches all around the world I did the following test: ‘Think back to your most recent focus group. Picture the 6 to 8 people who were there. Tell me now, how many of them were interesting to listen to? How many said something that inspired you, something that was thought provoking?’. All around the globe the average number I get back is ‘2’. Is that not scary?! That in most of the qualitative research that we do only a few people are worth listening to? In communities, by nature, we work together with consumers who are more into the topic or the brand than the average consumer. This positive bias makes that those consumers will be willing to work with us over a longer period of time (‘interested’) and that they will tell inspiring stories (‘interesting’).
  • And last but not least, given their high social media usage, Brazilian consumers are very empowered, which means that they would rather ‘co-create’ and ‘collaborate’ with a company in a two-way dialogue than to simply answer a company’s questions without knowing what the answers will be used for later on.

So, let’s be honest: is it so safe and good to stay with the traditional approach? Would it not be better, given these 3 facts and taking into account the local context, to make online (communities) the default method and to only do it offline if there are good reasons for it (low Internet literacy, specific and hard-to-reach target groups…)?

Think big, start small

So the first battle ahead in Brazil and all of Latin America will be the transition from offline to online. Short-term 3-week communities with 50 people are the alternative to (traditional) focus group projects. So, whereas in Europe and North-America it is all about going ongoing and embedding the Consumer Consulting Board into the companies’ processes, in Latin America it is rather about convincing people of the method and its advantages!

Let’s say ‘goodbye’ to traditional focus groups!

A simple but very useful framework to evaluate a new research method and to demonstrate its effectiveness is to check whether it is providing you with ‘automational’, ‘informational’ and/or ‘transformational’ benefits:

Automational: doing things faster and more cost-efficiently

  • A research community takes more time to set up, but once created it can be reused without losing the time of a classical set-up phase.
  • Moreover, online has the advantage that nobody needs to travel anymore to conduct, be part of or listen to the research. This eliminates a range of travel and opportunity costs.
  • Thirdly, the set-up cost of a community project is higher than that of an ad hoc qualitative project, but once established and in use it becomes a cost-efficient tool: more and different research methods can be combined within the same budget.

Informational: gaining higher data quality and deeper insights

  • Online participants will talk more openly and freely, given the fact that there is a higher level of anonymity on the platform and that they participate from the comfort of their own home.
  • Communities are characterized by the fact that you can work with more different profiles, leading to more and different opinions. The clashes of ideas between different profiles brings additional richness to the table.
  • To get a holistic view on consumer behavior, a whole range of research techniques can be plugged in to the community platform: observational tasks, an online diary, a collage tool, mini-surveys, creative exercises, group discussions and even implicit/emotion measurement tools. Communities allow us to blend different research methods, giving us depth and breadth in terms of the discovered insights.
  • Out of research on research we did in the past, we know that for most participant profiles and research objectives it is best to run a community in the mother tongue of the participants. Firstly, by doing so they will discuss more with us and they will post with more nuances and more emotionally. Secondly, our experience has shown that it is a must for the community moderator to be a native who perfectly masters local language, local culture and local market. All of this will lead to more relevant and to-the-point customer dialogues.

Transformational: doing things that were simply not possible before

  • A Consumer Consulting Board gives us the opportunity to work with the same participants over a longer period of time (3 weeks of 24/7 contact) in the context of their daily living environment.
  • Another advantage of having more time on your hands with participants is consecutive learning: one can continue to build on what was learned. Or stimuli material can be tested, adapted and tested again with the same group of consumers in only a few days.
  • Participants cannot only participate from behind their desktop, but also through their mobile phones, which is an important element given the high penetration of mobile Internet in a country such as Brazil. Not only does this allow mobile-only users to participate in communities, it also adds richness to the research community approach in general: more personal, contextual and in-the-heat-of-the-moment reactions through photos, videos and shorter, more emotional posts.

Be brave

This is a call to all Latin-American researchers to be brave, to embrace the Consumer Collaboration revolution and to follow in the footsteps of some pioneering companies in the region. Dare to do things differently. But, this does not only hold for people in Latin America; in many Western markets the majority of clients still needs to make this switch. Let’s all say ‘no’ to non-interested and non-interesting participants in qualitative research! And ‘yes’ to the future: ¡Que viva el futuro! – Viva o futuro!

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