AIMing For Research Relevance In Latin America
I promised a follow-up to my post on the opportunities for the Latin American research industry after I returned from the AIM conference, so here it is.
First, I stand by my previous view: LatAm is poised to lead the future in many substantive ways. The region is ripe with opportunity and is developing fast. We’ve talked about the Asian Tiger for many years, but I think the era of the LatAm Jaguar is at hand. Politically, economically, socially, and technologically countries like Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Costa Rica, and of course Brazil & Mexico are emerging as major markets with much to offer to the rest of the world.
Like any good researcher, my thinking here is based on observation, listening, asking questions, and filling in the experiential gaps with secondary research. While on the ground in Chile I had several unique opportunities to gain a clearer picture of what is happening in that country and connect the dots to the wider region. Here are a few examples:
Upon my arrival my host, Rafael Cespedes of AIM, took Alex Garnica of ARIA and I to one of the local malls for some shopping, followed by a bit of a tour of the city. My overall impression of Santiago was of a modern city; Denver, Colorado actually came to mind as an apt comparison. The city was affluent and vibrant with mostly new cars on the excellent highway system (including all of the international luxury brands), many beautiful homes, numerous parks, a plethora of local businesses and an active population. The mall was beautiful and very large, with every multinational brand you can think of as well as regional players, and it was very busy: malls have emerged as a major socialization center and it appeared that many families come to them to shop, eat, and enjoy family time. The next day I visited an even larger mall (5 floors!) that dwarfed any mall I have ever been to in the U.S. and had brands usually reserved for only the most upscale shopping areas. Mall culture is alive and well in Chile!
What was also striking was the proliferation of technologies: from smartphones and tablets to utilizing the Microsoft Kinect system for large scale interactive activities for kids cutting edge technology was everywhere, and the many tech stores were doing brisk business. Obviously the consumer population was connected in every way you would expect to see in American or European cities.
Through conversations with Rafael and Alex I discovered that Chile in particular is a major test market for many goods and services due to the overall similarities of the population with so called developed markets. In addition, there is a strong culture of “brand tribalism” in the region, with many folks assigning social value to their brand affinity and aspirations. This didn’t appear to be simple status markers; what I detected was a real sense of ownership of the brands themselves and the values inherent in the brands translating into a distinct cultural tapestry. This creates a unique opportunity for marketers and researchers to understand the new consumer-driven brand strategy in a market that is developing quickly and helping to redefine the brand relationship in a very real way.
Lest you think I had blinders on, I also observed areas of significant poverty and learned that the rural areas were certainly different than the major metros. What occurred to me though was that this disparity is no different from what exists globally. I’m not so Pollyanaish to think that the quality of life for the poor in Chile is equal to that of those in the U.S., but it certainly did seem to me that the opportunity to become upwardly mobile was equal, and perhaps even superior, to what exists in the developed world. I saw a country with goals and the resources to help achieve them, and the foremost seemed to be to create a culture of equal opportunity for betterment. It gave me great hope, a hope that many seemed to share.
The next day I had the pleasure to meet with the leaders of the major research companies in the country at a special meeting of the AIM board. Multinationals such as GfK, Ipsos, & TNS as well as local powerhouses such as Cadem, Activa and Lado Humano set aside several hours to discuss with Alex and I the state of the research industry in Chile and the future of the industry. What stood out for me here was how friendly and collegial everyone was. This was a room full of competitors who routinely set aside that piece of their relationship and instead focus on how they can cooperate and collaborate for the good of the industry. There was a palpable passion for taking research to the next level, and although much of what I shared with them about the developments I see happening in other markets was a tad threatening to them, this group’s reaction was to focus on how they could adapt and lead rather than buckle down and protect themselves.
I left the meeting convinced that this openness to change and experimentation on the part of the leading research organizations in the region, coupled with the overall economic vibrancy I had been witnessing, meant that yes, LatAm is indeed poised to help lead the research revolution.
2 more data points that helped reinforce my conviction was the workshop I conducted at the Universidad del Desarollo on social media branding and the main event, the AIM conference itself.
AIM and the Communications and Marketing Faculty at UDD invited me to conduct a 2 hour workshop on using social media for brand building. Usually I expect 20 folks, mostly students, at these things but in this case there were 67 registrants, most from major marketing agencies and client0side organizations. I admit to feeling a bit outclassed by the caliber of talent in that room, but the openness of the attendees to engage in a lively discussion on the new marketing dynamic and it’s implications for the LatAm market was exhilarating. The two hours zoomed past and I think I got far more out of the provocative questions the group brought up than they did from my own rambling. My key takeaway was that marketers in the region get the consumer-driven/Pull model inherent in social media and are far along on learning how to engage with consumers on a value-driven basis. I think the next wave of leveraging social media for brand building will be heavily influenced by the pioneering work being done by thought leaders in the region.
If you’re interested, here is my presentation:
The final piece of the puzzle came together for me at the AIM conference itself. I’m not sure what I expected when I was invited to come and speak, but the actual experience certainly blew away my preconceptions. This was a world-class event, with state-of-the-art production values, almost 500 attendees, and a well orchestrated media campaign that would have been the envy of any event producer (myself included). The major newspaper in Santiago devoted a whole section to the conference and market research in general and the evening of the event the main TV news devoted almost 10 minutes to the event and a piece on the role of market research in Chile! By any definition, this was a big deal event that established a high water mark for AIM that I hope other trade associations will learn from.
You can see many pictures of the conference here, but below are a couple just to show you how well done this conference was:
Now aesthetics and planning are only part of the formula for conference success: attendees and content are far more important and on that note AIM scored very high again. On the attendee side, over 50% were client-side, with easily another 10% being in media, a smattering of government officials, and the rest were suppliers. Many came from across Latin America, although of course the majority were Chilean. In short, there was a diverse representation from across the research value chain.
With that part of the equation solved, the rest of the event was focused on content, and in that respect the conference was a great success as well. The most compelling presentation from my perspective was a on how AIM was working with the Census to develop a segmentation model based on a video ethnographic study of the Chilean population. The presentation on this groundbreaking work was deeply inspiring and evocative; it showcased snippets of video interviews with every population segment discussing their lives, challenges, and aspirations. The cooperation between AIM and the Chilean Census was a model for how research can be used to deliver real value to lives and obviously I was impressed.
Other sessions were case studies on the successful use of neuromarketing, eyetracking, MROCs, online research, and hybrid approaches within malls. All were well presented, insightful, and forward looking. It was thrilling to see so much “NewMR” being showcased based on real applications within the market.
I had many tough acts to follow in my own final presentation. My focus was on the overall trends impacting the industry as a whole and in LatAm specifically, with my thoughts on how to develop a new model for research to thrive in the new paradigm. Here is my presentation:
Now, Chileans are intensely polite folks so although I think it went over well, no one would have ever told me if it really stunk so I’m just going to have to take it at face value that the attendees found it valuable. I can attest to many conversations after the fact with various folks that at the very least my observations were thought provoking and that there was a desire on the part of numerous players to explore what the vision of the future I painted could mean to the MR industry in Latin America in the future.
For me this all boils down to a significant opportunity to help make a difference. I am working on various ideas in collaboration with a few key stakeholders to help engage the Latin American research industry and support innovation in the region. I can’t go into any details yet because we’re still working out the kinks, but I can say that in the month ahead I think you’ll be hearing a lot more from the MR industry in the region and I suspect you’ll come to share my optimism.
I’ll leave you with a video I shot at the end of my talk at AIM. I think it says it all..