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Happy 2016!

Happy 2016!

happy2016_tumbTo Spanish version click here

To Portuguese version click here

Dear clients, ACROSS network of suppliers, colleagues, family and friends

As we come to the end of 2015, the main feelings I have in my heart are of gratitude and excitement.

Why gratitude?

Because this is the first year in my life – since my mid teens – that I haven’t worked 60 hours or more every week, all year round.

I’m grateful for having this opportunity to achieve a renewed life balance and for being able to work out (in my own time) what is important for me professionally and what is essential for me to be happy personally.

Many freelancers and small business owners out there will probably agree with me that “life balance” quite easily becomes a luxury or a dream when one works for oneself.

Why excitement?

I have been working at redefining the meaning of professional “success” in my own life and that has had a very positive impact on my life outlook.

I am hoping that clients, suppliers, work colleagues and friends will notice my achieved improvements as a person and as a professional and the extra spark of enthusiasm in all I am doing.

We invested time in 2015 to review ACROSS services: what we were doing, how we were doing it and what else we needed to do to provide better, faster and more affordable quality services. The process is not finished yet, but it has given us a blueprint to start 2016 on a strong footing.

2016 will be an exciting year not only for us at ACROSS but for all of those who deal with us – directly or indirectly.

How did we do at 2015?

We worked less! And that was a good thing!

We kept an eye (as ever) on Brazil’s political and economic developments: we advised some of our clients to be cautious but also encouraged them to continue to persevere with the Brazilian market. We firmly believe that the Brazilian economic crisis is a door for very interesting business opportunities in the country.

We did more work than usual in Mexico, the USA, the UK and other Western European countries.

Thank you to our clients

feliz2016_thumbWe’ve got new clients from industries we had never worked for before. To our “new” clients, our warmest thank you for the opportunity to get to know your business and to help you with your needs. We are looking forward to working with you again soon.

Our regular clients continue to show their support to ACROSS by trusting us with repeat projects.

To our “old” clients, thank you once again for allowing us to serve you for so many years. Our commitment to your success remains unchanged for the future.

Thank you all those who helped us to achieve success

ACROSS wouldn’t be a successful company without the dedication of the many independent professionals who are part of the ACROSS Network of Suppliers. To all of you: thank you for being such good partners.

A special thank you to Ivan F. Martins, our own Chief Information Officer (CIO) for many years. We appreciate your work and commitment to our success every day of the year.

To family and friends: where would I be without you? Thank you for the unconditional support and for listening to my complaints about work and life.

Below, a visual snapshot of some of the projects we’ve been involved with in 2015.


We hope you have a happy and successful 2016!

Iris Griffiths
ACROSS Research Managing Director (and tea lady)


How the World sees Brazilians

How the World sees Brazilians

7 Brazilian behaviours that may raise the eyebrow of a first time visitor

01Baring it all in public

It might disappoint the people watching fashionistas, wanting their fill of Latin-American style but when the weather is super-hot in Brazil it is a usual to see shirtless men going about their daily business. For some the sight of a shirtless torso is not a problem but it can come as a surprise to first time visitors who associate bare chests exclusive to the beach rather than on the high streets of Brazil.

02Whistling in the street

Brazilians have a habit of whistling and singing out loud in the street. Any negative perceptions about this type of behaviour should be put aside whilst in Brazil. Just remember that in Brazil there is a saying that goes something like “Those who sing put their sorrows away” or, more literally ‘when you sing, you scare your evils away’ and that may well just be someone using an ingrained cultural behaviour mechanism to deal with their own problems.

03Noise is a way of life

Returnee’s from Brazil may be surprised to how quiet their home country’s streets are in comparison to those of Brazil. This is because first-time visitors to Brazil have their ears literally assaulted by the cacophony of sounds from all corners wherever they go in the country. From drivers who seem to have been born with their hands on the horn to the animated pushbike street vendor complete with booming stereo pumping out music drawing attention to their wares whilst casually cycling through the streets unperturbed. Noise is one thing that is as certain as the abundance of sunny days all year around.

04Talking with the mouth full

Talking with the mouth full is considered as rude in Brazil as it is in Europe. However, conversations among Brazilians tend to be very free affairs and perhaps this is the reason why it is common to see Brazilians happily in conversation each other whilst munching away unchecked. Although the practice of eating and talking is common place, mention the lack of social grace to a Brazilian and you will probably receive a blank stare of incredulity.

05Yawning, coughing and sneezing without covering the mouth

Yawning, coughing or sneezing without covering the mouth is not recommended under any circumstances and although most Brazilians are aware that this is socially unacceptable, many don’t see it as a reference issue should they not cover their mouths whilst yawning, coughing or sneezing .

06Toilet Etiquette

In most parts of Brazil, the drainage system is not as powerful as in Europe. It is therefore, common practice to avoid blocking the pipes by placing any used toilet paper in a basket usually located close by the toilet bowl. As embarrassing as it may sound, there are a lot of anecdotal evidence, where visitors to the country throw everything in the toilet bowl and then flood the bathroom when they pull the flush!

07Kissing and caressing in public

Brazilians greet with one, two or even three kisses depending on the area of the country where one is located. Whilst some may feel uncomfortable with greeting kisses, most get used to this quickly when visiting Brazil or interacting with Brazilians. On the other hand, it is useful to note that Brazilians will openly and passionately kiss in public places regardless of social class or age. So don’t be overly shocked if you see Brazilians engaging in very open demonstrations of love in public.

10 top tips for business success in Latin America

10 top tips for business success in Latin America

latinamerica_thumb2If you’re considering taking your business to Latin America, follow our top ten tips to maximize your business success.

1. Remember: Latin America is not a country

Top of the list for a very good reason. Approach the various countries of Latin America as though they are all one and the same and you are very likely to fail. Each is a country in its own right with its own habits, customs and culture. Your marketing plan may work in Chile but not necessarily in Argentina; your sales strategy for Colombia may be inappropriate in Venezuela or Brazil.

Furthermore, in some Latin American countries, the regional differences can be so pronounced that it is almost as if you are dealing with a country within a country. In Brazil for example, logistics and infrastructure issues will make the penetration of your brand, service or product much slower in the north east than in the south east.

Invest in a thorough cultural understanding of the Latin American country you are interested in to optimise your chances of success.

2. Be friendly

Personal relationships have a strong influence on the way Latin American’s approach business. Before doing business with you, a Latin American business contact will want to get to know you as a person first. This takes time but the importance of forming good, local business partnerships cannot be overestimated. Overlook this important step and you are going to struggle. Accept social invitations, connect with your contact’s family and friends and earn his/her trust. Once you have become a part of his ‘inner circle’ he/she will then be ready to do business with you…and the rewards can be long term.

3. Do business on paper

Two rules for doing business in all Latin American countries – study the legal requirements and ensure all your business is done on paper. A written contract together with good support from knowledgeable lawyers and accountants is a basic necessity, not a luxury. However, keep in mind that, in accordance with number 2 above, business in Latin American countries is primarily concerned with feelings and relationships rather than rules.

4. Examine your own approach

Latin Americans are very sensitive to the approach made by non-Latin Americans seeking to do business in their countries. Some consider that non-Latin Americans bring with them a feeling of superiority over the local business community, but the business class in most Latin American countries is very cosmopolitan, some having gained considerable experience abroad, travelling extensively.

Be wary of trying to impose your own way of doing things, or indeed of trying to do things the American way, the British way, the German way etc. The Latin American way may not sit comfortably with your usual approach but that does not mean it will be bad for your business. And, being completely blunt, you are, after all, the one moving in. When in Rome (or Latin America)…

5. Plan price carefully

Trying to maintain a consistent price across the various Latin American regions (Brazil, Mexico, Andean region, southern region, central America, the Caribbean) is impossible. Local costs will have an impact on your pricing, your profits and your level of investment. Analyse regional cost variations in detail, prior to making your decision about moving your product or service into that region.

6. Understand the Latin American style of communication

Latin Americans generally are friendly, sociable, respectful – and they don’t like to offend. They are chatty (so meetings can last longer than expected) and there is a strong trait, particularly among Brazilians, towards saying ‘yes’ even if they think ‘no’. Many non-Latin Americans view this latter trait as negative. However, a ‘yes’ that means ‘no’ has the potential to move towards a ‘yes’ meaning ‘yes’, once the individual has had the opportunity to get to know you better. Complicated? Not really; not when you understand how it works.

7. Logistics

Distribution channels and logistics barriers are different in each Latin American country. However, the different countries do have in common a multitude of consumer sales channels so a good tip when considering your distribution and logistics strategy is to work via multiple channels: home shopping (catalogue and infomercial sales), e-commerce, independent non-chain retailers and larger, global concerns such as supermarket, hypermarket and club stores. However, remember that independent and informal channels of retail still represent more than three-quarters of Latin American retail for fast moving consumer goods in most Latin American countries.

8. Learn the language

Spanish is the main language of Latin America. However, if you are going to Brazil, the largest country in the region, Spanish won’t take you far. Portuguese is the language spoken by Brazilians.

Don’t just expect your business contacts to speak English. In fact, in Brazil very little English is spoken, with the exception perhaps in São Paulo. Learn the language (it’s also a respectful gesture) and ensure you employ and partner with people in those countries who speak the native language.

9. Learn from those who have gone before

The actions of international companies entering the market ahead of you can give a good indication of what you should and shouldn’t do. Understand what worked for them and why. For example, what cultural traits may have impacted on a positive or negative outcome? Also, observe how domestic companies and government agencies communicate with their target audience for an increased understanding about how to build relationships with your own target audience.

10. Slow down!

The pace of life in Latin America is very different to the UK. The pace varies from country to country but as a general rule of thumb you are advised to allow at least 25% more time to complete projects in Latin America compared to the UK – and be prepared to be very flexible with time keeping.

And finally…

…remember that in Latin America people are great where ever you go. It’s just business that is different.

At Across, we are the Latin American qualitative research experts. We take the language, culture and attitudes of people from the different Latin American countries seriously, so you can be sure our research findings are truly accurate and meaningful.

To learn more about our work in Latin America and how we may help your business, please telephone us on +44(0)207 321 5686 or email

The appeal of the British brand in Colombia

The appeal of the British brand in Colombia

colombiabus_thumbWith 4% economic growth in 2012, Colombia is a key country of the CIVETS bloc. How does that affect British consumer brands?

The CIVETS countries – Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa – are the collective group of nations thought to be the next economic powerhouse after the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China.

With many  British brands  already looking at the trading and investment advantages in  Brazil we at Across believe it is time to be clued up to what is going on in the ‘C’ of the CIVETS countries, namely Colombia.

Colombia is an appealing emerging market and the Colombian Government has worked hard to create the right commercial and regulatory framework to ensure that when British brands arrive onto the Colombian high street they will be able to do business with relative ease.

An example of the Colombian government’s commitment to making its territory an easier place to trade is that any British company interested in operating a business in the country can do so within 13 days. This is a far cry from that of other Latin American markets, where the same process takes months, instead of days.  The cutting of the business red tape combined with the country’s improved stability has contributed greatly to the high levels of interest Colombia receives from international companies looking to take advantage of its new emerging consumer market.

With its rich natural resources Colombia has traditionally been an investment target for companies such as British Petroleum; however there is a new emerging market trend for European and British consumer high street brands establishing themselves in this country.  Recent British arrivals in the Colombian market place include shoe company Hackett of London, specialist mother and baby store Mothercare and sportswear brands including names such as Umbro and Mitre to name just two.

Figures show that from 2002 to 2009, the UK was the second greatest investor in Colombia, after the United States, with a 17% share of inward investment.

At Across Research we have been conducting market research into the Colombian market on behalf of clients from different industries for a number of years and we’ve been observing the growing business and brand interest in the Colombian consumer market for some time.  Our heightened interest is such that we are working on an exciting research project which seeks to understand the perception  Colombian consumers have of British brands.

So why we are carrying out this study?

The Colombian perspectives of British brands

To begin, there is no publicly available primary research on the perceptions Colombians have of British brands.  For example the information available online only provides a superficial overview and does not fully examine the core reasons why British brands believe it to be a good business proposition to enter the Colombian market. Tellingly, none of them cite the associated “feel -good” factor that Colombians have towards British brands as a reason to enter the market. Rather, they all rely on macro-economic motives.  A typical example of this position, at least overtly, is Hackett’s global commercial manager José María Pasquín who stated that the reason for opening stores in Colombia was due to the economic growth of the country, in general, and of the fashion sector in particular. The desires Colombians have for British brands were not  mentioned.

Local Colombian businesses seek to exploit the connotations of being British

Our own project is still current so we are not in a position to reveal much at the moment. However, based on the desk research data collected thus far, together with our own observations of the market, we believe that there is more to learn about the perceptions of Colombians towards British brands.

It is very interesting to observe that local Colombian  companies do capitalise upon names that reference the United Kingdom.  For example we found a shirt manufacturer called ‘Camisaria Inglesa’ whose literal translation means English shirt tailor. On their website their marketing boast is that their aim is to “Sell products that reflect the wishes of its founder of conveying the English culture as a synonym of elegance, sobriety and distinction in male fashion, giving  its clients the satisfaction of feeling elegant and well dressed”.  The English cultural reference goes some way towards confirming our hypothesis of the allure of the “British-ness” of the brand.

Further, there is a well-established shoe company called Croydon.  Much as we would like to say that the company was named after its British South London namesake, given that the company was co-founded in 1910 by a Canadian who came from Croydon, Canada, it is probably unlikely.  That being said, given Colombia’s penchant for the British connection, this can only be seen as a happy marketing coincidence.

The question one would ask is simple:  Why would native Colombian companies, who operate in the business to consumer, rather than business to business market, choose names which clearly capitalise upon a British connection?

Whilst examining this conundrum we are discovering very interesting evidence.  Suffice to say, for the moment at least, that the British connection is noticeably targeted towards the Colombian consumer who in turn responds positively. Even without reading too much into this hypothesis it is safe to conclude that the alignment local Colombian companies are making with Great Britain is based on the notion that the association creates a marketing advantage for their brands or companies. If that is case, it is also fair to conclude that Britain, as a country, has brand equity amongst Colombian consumers.

Presently, we are working towards obtaining further primary research insights which will assist us to identify exactly what the positive connotations Colombian consumers have in relation to the United Kingdom are as well as deciphering  the marketing advantage these local brands acquire by using or referencing UK names.  For example does the reference to UK convey heritage, quality, and reliability? And if so, what is the trigger?  These are questions that Across Research is committed to answer in order to provide greater insights into this new exciting and emerging market.

How do British brands describe themselves to the Colombian consumers?

Interestingly, whilst we see local Colombian companies taking the initiative to actively exploit the “Great Britain brand”, the few British companies currently embedded into the Colombian market place have seemingly missed this clear marketing opportunity to exploit their ‘home’ advantage to any great effect.  For instance, Mothercare marketers have not capitalised on the opportunity to legitimately link the quality of its products to the fact it is British on its Colombian website. The only mention of a British connection on its website is that Mothercare opened its first store in England in 1961. Rather, the company’s message is centred on its expertise acquired over 50 years in business.   Imagine our surprise when we found that the quintessential British brand Hackett does not even have a Spanish language website or English heritage sportswear brand Umbro does not promote the fact that it is British in its description on its dedicated Colombian Facebook pages.

This leads us to ask the question whether this lack of self-championing by these household classic brands indicate that local Colombian companies are a lot more aware of all the positive connotations of conveying a brand is British than the UK brands themselves?

From our perspective as researchers it seems that British brands trading in Colombia are missing an opportunity to exploit and market their British heritage prominently in order to feed into the desires of their Colombian consumers.  Notable exceptions to this omission are Burberry and Pepe Jeans. Whilst Burberry simply highlights its heritage on its Spanish language website, Pepe Jeans smartly indicate its country of origin in its name, Pepe Jeans London, much in the same way that some French and Italian luxury brands do so successfully, Hermès de Paris for example.

British brands’ preferred channel of communication to Spanish speaking consumers

What we have found so far is that creating a Spanish section on home website is the preferred channel of communication for some British brands.

Pepe Jeans, London has a dedicated website page on its history, in Spanish, where it emphasizes its roots in London. Across believes that this represents a very smart marketing strategy.  The company markets to Spanish speaking countries, including Colombia, through story telling in order to take full advantage of the competitive advantage of brand equity.

Across believes it is important to remember that it’s not only the suggestion of quality  the British link evokes in Colombians but the added appeal of the exoticism of an exciting narrative from half way around the world which seems to pay dividends

In this initial stage of the research, it was noticed that in order to access the Spanish website pages, the Colombian online consumer must go on the English language homepage of the company which is at odds with many businesses’ stated desire to make Latin America a priority.  It is our supposition that if British brands enter Colombia through multi-brand stores or through franchises without creating specific social media and websites specifically for the Colombian market, then there is real danger that the Colombian consumer will remain unaware of the extent of the British origin and heritage of the brand.

So to conclude: We are, of course, aware that further qualitative research is required to ascertain the exact purchasing traction the “British origin” has on the Colombian consumer. Across believes however, that it would be worth communicating this message much more prominently in country specific communication channels.

We’re very pleased to be involved in this project as a result of an exciting partnership with the British and Colombian Chamber of Commerce.  We are really committed to understand the appeal of British brands in Colombia.  The project focuses on the retail sector and we would therefore be very interested in hearing from any British companies considering Colombia as a market for their own retail brand.

If you would like to talk to us about any aspect of our work in Colombia, please do call us on +44 (0) 207 321 5686 or email

Brazilian brains: drain, gain or circulation?

Brazilian brains: drain, gain or circulation?

braindrainA hot topic at FAPESP week in London

The Brazilian institution, FAPESP, (the São Paulo Research Foundation) recently announced a raft of new scientific agreements and collaborations with UK higher learning institutions. The announcements were made during FAPESP week, an event held in London, which aimed to strengthen the links between Brazilian and European scientific researchers. During FAPESP week, which took place between 25-27 September 2013, the term ‘brain drain’ was bandied about quite freely. Perhaps the speakers were aware that the term, used to describe the emigration (or human export) of large numbers of technically skilled workers such as scientists, was in fact coined at the Royal Society, which hosted the conference. Or maybe it’s just a hot topic for Brazil.

What’s wrong with brain drain?

Traditionally, brain drain has been from developing countries to developed nations such as the US and Europe. The typical causes of a country’s brain drain are a poor economy, lack of opportunities or political instability. The appeal of the host country tends to be its wealth, improved standards of living, stability etc. Other factors such as a personal preference for travel, ambition and family connections also come in to play. Brain drain is usually regarded as an economic cost for the original country since emigrants take with them the value of their training plus the country loses its skilled and talented workers. For the migrants, it is often the case that they end up employed at a lower level than in their native country.  In these instances, it is argued, that it is not only a brain drain for their own countries, but also a ‘brain waste’ for the world as a whole. There are also cases of economic migrants being victimised by the host society for ‘stealing jobs’.

Moving from brain drain to brain gain in Brazil

Until recently, brain drain of Latin American intellectuals, such as doctors and scientists, has been commonplace. In 2007, a Guardian article reported that 9,400 Brazilian students were living in the UK, of which 1,170 were in higher education. However in the past five years, due to its booming economy, Brazil has seen the return of many native Brazilians. Furthermore, as a result of the global recession, there has been an influx of European migrants moving to Brazil to find work. From 2010 to April 2012, the number of foreigners living in Brazil increased by over 50%, to 1.5 million, according to the Ministry of Justice. This large-scale immigration of skilled professionals, or ‘brain gain’, is the flip-side of brain drain and it’s happening right now in Brazil.

The new phase: brain circulation.

One of the key aims of FAPESP week was to entice UK scientific researchers to Brazil. A recent Science4Brazil piece discussed the Brazilian brain gain phenomenon in some depth, concluding that “there are many opportunities for international scientists seeking to expand their career horizons within Brazil”. However several speakers at FAPESP week argued that there exists now a two-way flow of skilled migrants, between Brazil and the UK, and so the term ‘brain circulation’ was frequently used. It is considered that brain circulation presents a more reciprocal arrangement yielding benefits for all parties. In other words, it is neither a drain nor a gain for Brazil. But looking beyond the individuals involved, how is brain gain, or brain circulation, benefiting Brazil economically, socio-culturally and politically?

Is brain circulation changing Brazil?

Brain circulation is undoubtedly resulting in additional educated human capital for Brazil, thereby stimulating economic growth, but the benefits go beyond simple economics. As quoted in an article in the Christian Social Monitor, Mauricio Santoro, a professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio, said that Brazil’s new immigrants are “people from advanced democracies with different expectations about society. Foreign people who live in Brazil are very critical about social inequalities in Brazil. This is a very good thing.” Based on this comment it would seem that brain gain is having a positive impact on Brazil’s society too. The mixing of cultures can also benefit Brazil in terms of learning new skills and adopting best business practices. The Science4Brazil article, mentioned above, refers to brain gain as “a win-win pattern of international partnership and harmonious development for science that advances the sum total of human knowledge beyond national boundaries”. At Across Research we are keen to observe how brain gain, or the event newer phenomenon brain circulation, is impacting on Brazil and its population. Are native Brazilians truly benefiting from this influx of European intellectuals? How is society changing in response to the arrival of new cultures? Or is it, in fact, only impacting on small pockets of the community? We welcome your comments, thoughts and reflections.

Kate Nash draped in a Brazilian flag: a cultural faux-pas?

Kate Nash draped in a Brazilian flag: a cultural faux-pas?

katenash_thumbA photo opportunity in other people’s country can be risky in many ways. In the case of Kate Nash, the British singer, was it a cultural faux-pas? Although not covered by the British press, Brazilian online news outlets are full of comments and negative reactions caused by a picture that Kate Nash posted of herself, on Facebook, draped in a Brazilian flag during protests in São Paulo. The singer was in the city to participate in the Cultura Inglesa Festival (Cultura Inglesa is a well established British English Language School in the country) and, whatever  her intention was, her picture did not go down well with Brazilian protesters.

Did Kate Nash and her team misread the Brazilian spirit?

Comments left on Facebook, in Portuguese, relating to this picture, include “Kate, I love you, but you were not protesting. Do you at least know what these protests are about?” and “You are not protesting, you are posing.” Even the famous Brazilian author Paulo Coelho commented on Kate Nash’s image via Twitter by stating: “Change Brazil but not with Kate Nash ‘protesting’ “. One of course assumes that Kate Nash did not expect this negative reaction from the Brazilian people. At Across we wonder if the singer and her team misread the Brazilian spirit.  In our experience, we can safely say that the idea foreigners often have of Brazilians overall is that Brazilians are easy-going and friendly. Many, including Kate Nash and her team, may conclude that this Brazilian response to her picture is out-of- character.  If that is the conclusion, the only possible explanation is that the country’s friendly collective character has momentarily been suspended, owing to the tense historical and political moment Brazilians are going through. That being the case, poor Kate misread the Brazilian spirit big time. There is a saying in Brazil that can be literally translated into English as: “I will give you a cow to not enter in a conflict/confrontation but, once I engage in a confrontation, I would let go of the whole cattle ranch if required to avoid stepping down “. That is to mean that Brazilians are not easily distracted when they take a resolve to do something.  In this particular case, Kate Nash and her team apparently failed to understand why Brazilians are protesting and consequently, how they would not be easily distracted by her image. The result: from the starting point of being someone with a good fan base in the country, Kate Nash became just the famous foreign artist with little connection with the issues currently being discussed in the country, trying to take advantages of the Brazilians’ good nature.

Are Brazilians becoming more sensitive to foreign involvement in local issues?

We posted Kate Nash picture on our facebook page ( and are currently exploring why Brazilians reacted so negatively to Kate Nash’s picture.   Our network of Across co-workers  and friends who are locally based, told us that Brazilians do not appreciate  when foreigners are seen to become involved gratuitously in very sensitive domestic issues. At the heart of the protests lie questions regarding how best Brazil’s resources can be allocated. Where should Brazil’s priorities lie: in building stadiums or in improving schools, hospitals or the affordability of public transportation? From the comments we’ve heard and read, the main insight that comes through from the Brazilian citizen’s point of view, is that Kate Nash is seen as having taken advantage of tensions, which led to protests, over these crucial issues between the Brazilian government and its people. The message within, directed at the British singer seems to be: ‘Your image does not bring credibility to our social movement because, as a foreigner you can’t even begin to understand what we are protesting about. So, don’t get involved in our local issues’.

The value of a cross-cultural communication briefing

As an artist, Kate Nash is getting publicity and even  negative publicity might be good for her career in Brazil in the future. However, for the moment, she has tarnished her name as an artist in the Brazilian soil. In an age of instant communication, when all conversations are re-posted and shared online, Kate Nash’s picture is a perfect example of cross-cultural communication going wrong. In an ideal world, the artist and/or her team would have consulted with a cross-cultural communication specialist about Brazilian attitudes and moods and would have got some advice on what to say, if anything, on the matter of protests in Brazil. She would also have been given tips as to how to express herself in a way that Brazilians would see her take on the Brazilian protests as a genuine message of support, rather than using the event as a PR opportunity. At Across we believe that cultural faux-pas such as this also happen in the market research industry and it can be avoided. How? Choose country partners that can give you in-depth understanding of the country’s psyche based on the country’s cultural context beyond the present or just what is heard in interviews.

The rise of the Mexican Middle Class

The rise of the Mexican Middle Class

mexico_thumbMexico’s new middle class equals big opportunities for business Rise of middle classes in Mexico

According to statisticians, the Mexican middle class is booming. A study carried out by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) found that ‘la media clase’ increased by 11.4% from 2000-10. The middle class now represents 39.2% of Mexico’s population, that’s 44m people. But what does middle class really mean in Mexico? Broadly speaking, ‘middle class’ represents the group of people who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class. However, the measures of defining ‘middle class’ vary significantly from country to country.  

The many definitions of Mexico’s middle class

For European and US businesses looking to enter the Mexican market, it is certainly worth understanding the cultural differences regarding what constitutes being ‘middle class’. In the UK, for example, the middle classes tend to have reached higher education, hold professional qualifications and own their house (though admittedly this is changing, especially in London, due to unaffordable house prices). A recent Great British Class Survey, carried out by the BBC Lab UK, measured social class in the UK by assessing respondents’ economic, social and cultural capital. Over 160,000 respondents answered the following five questions:

  • What is your annual household income after taxes?
  • Do you own or rent a property?
  • Do you have any savings?
  • Which of these people (lists types of professions) do you know socially?
  • Which of these cultural activities (list presented) do you take part in?

In this UK study, social connections and interests were considered equally as important to class status as wealth. But how is ‘middle-classiness‘ defined in Mexico? An educated Mexican 38-year old, Jorge Castillo, now living and working in Berlin, told us at Across that “there is no middle class in Mexico. There are just ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots'”. Perhaps his outlook has been influenced by his European experience? Indeed, Xochitl Chavez, a self-proclaimed middle class professional living in Guadalajara in Mexico, disagreed: “I am middle class. I have worked hard to improve myself through studies to get a better job. That is so middle class.” As demonstrated by the differing perspectives of Jorge and Xochitl, there is some controversy over what middle class means to Mexicans and definitions certainly differ to the European perspective. Furthermore, different institutions use their own indicators to measure social class and consequently yield differing results.

Purpose-made Mexican middle class?

The methodology used for the abovementioned INEGI study, to define a person’s social class, is based on a combination of spending patterns, type of residence and levels of education. Example parameters include: owning a computer, spending money on eating out and having a credit card. In the Mexican market research industry yet further parameters are used to group people by class. Typical questions include: how many rooms does your home have? how many cars do you own? how is your home heated? In the world of politics, social class is often used to demonstrate improvements made by the government (or to suggest the failings of its predecessors). Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has recently vowed to raise 15m million Mexicans from poverty by tripling economic growth. It therefore suits the current Mexican government to classify people as middle class as it demonstrates socio-economic development. Nevertheless, in real terms, the new Mexican middle class does not have the same prospects as the US and European middle classes, especially when it comes to education. But this is changing, and access to education presents big opportunities, not only for the next generations of Mexicans, but also for businesses looking to invest in the region.

Opportunities for business

477354_80002505The current, booming, Mexican middle class loves to shop. Big TVs, mobile phones and designer clothes are all on the shopping list. As a result, businesses, especially from the US goods and services sector, are already capitalising on these new Mexican spending patterns. In a Forbes article from 2013, we found a quote from the president of the Latin American Retail Connection, Franco Calderon, where he explained that there is a definite uptick in interest from brands that just a couple of years ago he never imagined would be calling them and saying they were interested in Latin America and wanted to know more about business opportunities in you tell us about Mexico. This interest is evidenced in the growing presence of retail stores across Mexico. According to an extensive study by the Wilson Center, the number of units of department stores, auto repair shops and convenience stores grew 44% between 1998 and 2008 and this rate of growth is continuing despite the economic crisis. However, although sales of consumer luxury goods are rising, critics say that Mexico’s current middle-class spending is unsustainable and that their social mobility is volatile. Few have savings, health insurance or pensions. For businesses looking to invest in Mexico, a longer term, more sustainable, perspective would be to invest in the next generation, who are more likely to be members of a more established middle class. As we’ve heard from Xochitl: “middle class children are now getting a good education to maintain their middle class position and mostly they stay in that class because of what their parents have made through life.” Xochitl own assessment is supported by public reports, which claim that in recent decades, “the average number of years Mexicans spend in school has doubled (to 8.3 years) and at the same time that university enrolment has tripled”. With better access to education, more Mexican children of today’s generation will have the opportunity to become the true middle classes of tomorrow. Nowadays, the vast majority of Mexican kids are getting an education. One argument is that this is due to the fall in fertility rates. Fifty years ago seven children per mother was an average compared to just two children per mother nowadays. As a result, parents can afford to invest in their children’s education. Regardless of the definition of what makes a person middle class, it is clear that Mexicans have ever more disposable income and increased access to education. This inevitably has positive implications for the next generations and their employment opportunities. Today’s middle classes like to shop but their children will have more stable purchasing power based on their enhanced education, improved employment prospects and greater access to credit. Here at Across Research we anticipate that middle class Mexican kids currently going through the education system represent a large potential market and an investment opportunity for international brands. Our opinion is that companies would be wise to start building connections and nurturing relationships with these future Mexican buyers right now.

ACROSS Research in The Guardian

ACROSS Research in The Guardian

theguardian_thumbBrazil is a hugely expanding market with lots of potential for small businesses. Here is an insider’s guide to succeeding in the world’s sixth biggest economy.

As the sixth biggest economy in the world, it’s no surprise that Brazil is receiving a lot of attention from the international business community. The potential is huge and for those keen to venture into this expanding market and make their fortune in Brazil, countless opportunities exist in a huge range of sectors.

Encouraged by all the success stories, the number of new businesses registered in Brazil grew from 680,881 in 2009 to 1,370,460 in 2010. While many of these will reap the financial rewards of doing business in this vibrant country, many will inevitably fail, and unnecessarily so. The problem? Cultural business shock. The solution? Do your homework.

Brazil has 26 states and one federal district distributed in five regions: north, south, north-east, south-east and central-west. The Portuguese language is the main thing all regions have in common. However, each state or region has a unique cultural profile and a way of doing business – even their tax systems can be different.

Findings from a short poll carried out by Across Research through one of the company’s social media channels confirm that the Brazilian way of doing business is unlike any other in the western world. Some of the most frequently highlighted issues that businesses encountered when entering the Brazilian market include:

• Bureaucracy;
• Complex tax system;
• High taxes;
• Complicated labour legislation.

Other issues mentioned included an under-developed infrastructure, language difficulties (little English is spoken in Brazil), costly products and services, a relaxed approach to time-keeping, the influence of social culture on business practices, lack of planning and the Brazilian conviction that it’s rude to say no.

Inflexibility in adapting to the business culture of Brazil can deter businesses in their initial approach to the market and can hinder their potential even after the first, most obvious hurdles are overcome.

Patience and persistence emerged as the keywords for success among those foreign businesses that have already entered the Brazilian market.

Many businesses take their product or service to Brazil hoping to secure a quick profit, but as one respondent said: “Brazil is not a place to make a quick buck. Doing business in Brazil takes time, understanding and perseverance.”

One of our main tips for overcoming obstacles in Brazil is to be open to new relationships. Brazilians are friendly. Creating personal relationships and taking the time to know the person behind the decision-maker opens up advantages to all those planning a long-term investment and achieving success in the country.

It is also important to learn to appreciate the human element of business from the outset and to be prepared to dedicate time in building relationships.

Brazil has well-qualified professionals. They are highly skilled and adjust well to pressure. The Brazilians are enthusiastic, innovative, flexible and well known for their optimistic disposition. Their ethnic make-up, composed of a mixture of cultures, seems to be a factor that makes them feel comfortable when dealing with foreigners.

Before going to Brazil, research the market, the desire for your product or service and your customer’s expectations from the outset. Brazil requires the same products and services as any other market across the globe but you will have to adapt to local market specifics and may well have to give your brand a Brazilian face.

Choose your location with care. International companies entering the country may be tempted to think that because all Brazilians speak Portuguese, they all think and consume the same. Sometimes, the business approach that works well in one region will not succeed in another.

Just as with any business venture, think ahead and plan well for risks. Minimise your risks by seeking the support of reliable business professionals fully conversant with Brazilian business culture and learn how to use the country’s warm welcome to foreign businesses in your favour. Keep an open mind when looking for the right local partner for your business and seek recommendations from trusted business contacts.

Brazil can be an exciting and potentially lucrative market in which your business can be highly successful – provided you do your homework first.

Iris Griffiths is managing director of Across Research

Four Things you need to Remember about doing Market Research in Latin America

Four Things you need to Remember about doing Market Research in Latin America

isnotjustacountryAs market researchers it’s part of our job to learn about people – to understand, through interaction, surveys, focus groups etc, what they like and dislike, what they need and what they believe.  However, at a recent presentation I gave for the ICG, a membership group of independent, expert market researchers, I explained how, in Latin America and Brazil, learning about the local people and their culture must be the starting point before any market research project even begins.

Latin America is not a Country

One of the issues potentially affecting market research projects in Latin America is the common view that Latin America is one country.  But each country in Latin America is different, with a different culture and a different way of viewing the world.  Conducting a project in exactly the same way in each country, using the same methodology or the same questioning techniques, is not going to work.  Your results will be unreliable and worthless.

Brazilians love for rankings

A prime example.  Brazilians particularly love ranking things and as market researchers that will affect your prompts, annexes and the quality of material collected during the interview.  In the UK, people tend to identify things with letters – so prompts usually follow the A, B, C format.  In Brazil, people respond better to classification or numbers.  Read anything about Brazil and you will see Brazilians describing themselves as the first on this, the sixth on that, the 10th here, the 15th there, and that is how they assess the world.  When showing props or any annex in a research interview with Brazilian respondents, they will still make reference to first, second, third etc even if you insist on using codes with them.  Transcription and analysis then becomes incredibly complicated and confusing.  How much better to work in the way that suits local behaviour and culture in the first place!

Adapt to the local culture to get genuine insight

In terms of how cultural differences may affect specific sectors, let’s use the automotive industry as an example.  In Brazil, a quick reaction whilst driving is essential.  In the large cities traffic is so intense that drivers leave very little space between themselves and the car ahead, in order to prevent another driver pulling in front of them.  Add to this the unofficial motorbike ‘corridors’ and the overall experience is noisy, hectic and at times dangerous.  In Rio de Janeiro, taxi drivers even watch the football or their favourite TV programme on their SatNavs whilst driving!  As a market researcher, if you don’t understand how different things are and remain focused on conducting the same automotive research project in exactly the same way as the one you carried out in the UK, your results are going to provide little genuine insight. It’s our job as market researchers to understand and adapt to local culture, rather than try to impose our own way of doing things, which often results in a lot of wasted of time.  Which leads me nicely onto one more thing…

Time flexibility

You’ve no doubt heard that Latin Americans generally take life at a slower pace than in the UK.  Time keeping is more flexible – you will need to allow enough time to accommodate this.  It is quite common for respondents to arrive late to focus groups because they have been watching the football or a soap opera on TV!

Iris Griffiths
Across Research

How Brazilians See The World

How Brazilians See The World

8 ways to make Brazilians raise their eyebrows

image1When blowing your nose

Surprisingly a practice that Brazilians find particularly distasteful is blowing one’s nose in public. Visitors to Brazil might be a bit flabbergasted when they sense a thinly veiled disgust when they blow their nose in front of others, particularly in business meetings or at the dining table. If you absolutely must do it, be discreet and avoid emitting trumpet-like sounds in the process.

image2Showering and having a clean appearance

Good personal appearance and hygiene is very important to Brazilians. In a country where temperatures soar, it’s important to have very good grooming routines as the heat will unmask you if you do not. Brazilians tend not to be discreet when body odour is over-powering and hygiene practices come into question.    In business circles, it is recommended to be clean-shaven when meeting a Brazilian contact. However, if you have been lovingly nurturing your beard or moustache a tip would be to ensure it’s always well groomed.

image3 Wrinkle free clothing

The search for a neat personal appearance knows no bounds when it comes to a Brazilian’s need for outward personal perfection.  Brazilians tend to pay attention to small often missed detail. Some may even draw a parallel between how a person treats their clothes and how they treat their business relationships!  As obvious as it may sound, one way to show that you are very attentive and organised is to ensure clothes are always pristine and wrinkle free when going to a business meeting.  By the same token, a clean and shiny pair of shoes goes a long way to show how you present yourself to world.

image4 Nail It

Brazilian women take great pride in varnishing their nails – it is the icing on the cake when it comes to dressing.  Wearing nail polish is so common (and expected) that both men and women in Brazil will notice if a woman has not varnished her nails. An easy way to build rapport with the Brazilian women you may meet is to compliment their choice of nail colour.  This obsession applies to men too.  You will even see that many Brazilian men pay special attention to their hands and nails and include regular manicures as part of their grooming regimes. Some men are even opting for a natural polish finish. In a business environment, it is not uncommon to hear men and women complimenting each other on their choice of nail colour or the quality of their manicure.

image5Removing female body hairs

Women tend to have a hard time in Brazil when it comes to body hair. Unlike in Europe the sight of hair on the legs or underarms is considered to be unhygienic and can lead to swift judgement and negative feelings about the hirsute person. Therefore, if you are a business woman travelling to Brazil you may consider removing visible body hair (legs and underarms mainly) just to prevent your business partners being distracted from the business in hand.

image6Brushing your teeth after lunch

Brazilians tend to consider it unhygienic not to brush their teeth after mealtimes– even after lunch or brunch.  So if you go to lunch with Brazilians, don’t be surprised if you observe guests s excusing themselves to go to the bathroom at the end of the meal to brush their teeth.  So if you have recently moved to an office environment in Brazil, one can leave a great positive first impression by joining Brazilians in this ritual.

image7Finger food etiquette

Brazilians tend to be quite obsessive about not touching snacks with their hands so it is considered good practice to only touch snacks with a napkin, not your fingers in social situations.  It might seem a bit quirky but this information might come in handy when you hit the Brazilian networking circuit.   You could, unknowingly, leave a bad mark against your name if you distractedly reach for food with your hands.  We would even go as far as to say that the very good impression you might have made up to that point in a conversation will be tarnished by napkin-less hands.

image8 Not talking about Bodily functions

 Talking about bodily functions with Brazilians is a social taboo.  Brazilians are very friendly and open and their apparent ease may mistakenly lead you to feel you can share a risqué joke about bodily functions. However, even if your colleagues or guests laugh politely, they will certainly consider it to be in poor taste. Idle chat about your digestive system, even if it is in a joke, will be held against you.

   * Please note that we are not claiming that every Brazilian behaves or thinks in the way we describe above. Rather we are saying that these are very common cultural behaviour traits amongst some Brazilians.

 COMING SOON:  In our next article we share with you insights into “How the world sees Brazilians“.

If you can’t wait till then, email us at and you can get a sneak peek before we publish.