Social Status, Not Nationality, Links Latin American Buyers

From Reuters

They live thousands of miles apart, but upwardly mobile consumers in Mexico and Argentina have more in common with each other than with many of their neighbors, according to a Gallup survey of Latin Americans released Wednesday.

The Gallup Organization interviewed 17,000 residents of 15 Latin American metropolitan areas in April and May and found surprisingly strong links among members of similar socioeconomic groups, in spite of national differences and often giant geographical gaps among them.

For example, a typical banker in Mexico City is quite similar to his counterpart in Buenos Aires, Gallup found. Both are likely to be young, play tennis, own vacuum cleaners and washing machines and shop with credit cards, Gabriel Gonzalez Molina, president of Gallup's Miami-based South American division, told a news conference.

But their neighbors might have very different tastes and habits, even though they share national identities, he said.

"In our region, the driver for differentiation is socioeconomic status," he said.

Gonzalez said companies interested in selling to Latin American consumers should keep this in mind and develop marketing plans that target these similar consumers across boundaries, rather than focus on just one country at a time.

"Beyond geographical, currency, economic and other distinctions, consumers must be segmented in terms of what they need, the products and services they want and how much they are willing to spend," Gonzalez said.

"The typical Argentinian, the typical Mexican, does not exist," he said.

Gonzalez said social status also plays a part in defining Latin tastes, so that a rising young banker or entertainment executive in Brazil might have very different habits than a member of her nation's traditional ruling elite, even though their incomes are similar.

The leading interests of the emerging professional elite are dining and dancing, Gallup found, while members of the traditional elite spend more time buying clothes and visiting friends.

Gallup also found that consumers classified as members of the middle and working classes also share traits that cross national boundaries.

For example, Gonzalez said, whether in Argentina or Brazil, factory workers spend more time at church, on community service and with their families than those in other economic groups.

"There is a family mission, an ethics mission, that goes beyond even the skilled middle class," he said of these consumers, of whom only 16% had education beyond high school.

Although industrial workers--most common in Brazil, the industrial powerhouse of the region--have relatively low incomes by U.S. standards, they form a ripe international market for consumer products.

Gonzalez noted that 92% of such households have a color television.

After conducting the 17,000 in-person interviews, Gallup analyzed the data by computer. It found that residents of all the metropolitan areas surveyed--three in Mexico, four in Brazil, three in Argentina, four in Colombia and one in Chile--were divided into eight socioeconomic groups.

"Regardless of where you live, regardless of your currency, you belong to one of these eight Latin Americas," Gonzalez said.

The polling organization did not interview children under 15 or Latin Americans considered to have no disposable income. Gallup said the 17,000 respondents represent a body of 50 million consumers.

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