Brazil is the ninth-largest marketing research market, after Italy and before Spain, with a turnover of $598 million in 2017, according to the ESOMAR Global Market Research Report 2019. It was also reported that Brazil managed to demonstrate 3.2 percent net growth in research despite still feeling the impact of an economic crisis. This growth is attributed to the role of international companies that operate in the country and the role of online research and social listening. Eighty percent of projects are domestic vs. 20 percent international.

The world is watching how new leadership unfolds for Brazil’s economy

Following a period of major recession between 2015 and 2017, Brazil returned to growth in 2017, showing a 1 percent growth despite the country having been consumed by a massive corruption scandal leading to the incarceration of dozens of business and political leaders, among them the former president. Both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund predict GDP to grow to around 2 percent in 2019 and 2020 then to stabilize as private consumption, supported by improvements in the labor market, increases. The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who took official office in 2019, has created a swing to the right after four elections won by the left. While his policies are certainly polarizing, his focus on anti-corruption, recovering credit and greater policy certainty as his new administration takes office is expected to buttress the economic recovery.

The research population

Brazil is the world’s fifth-largest country by area and the fifth-most populous. The capital is Brasília and the most populated city is São Paulo. The Brazilian population hosts many different cultures and ethnicities, from Native Indian to European, African and Asian. While Brasília is the capital city, much of qualitative research is conducted in São Paulo, a city enriched by literally hundreds of distinct ethnic groups, including the largest communities of people of Japanese descent outside of Japan and of Italian descent outside of Italy. You can also find a significant Middle Eastern community fed primarily by Lebanese and Syrian immigration.

Health care

The Brazil health system comprises public service, health care insurance and private. The public health system, the SUS, offers a health plan for every Brazilian citizen. There are many different insurers and those who can afford the plans have more choice and also remain covered by the SUS. There is also the option to pay for medical care directly to hospitals, doctors or clinics. Brazil counts 452,728 physicians registered as active. Brazil has 291 medical schools and São Paulo is the biggest center of medical schools in Brazil with 36 programs. In Brazil, it is not possible to interview payors at a national level as they are not permitted to participate in market research studies. That said, we do recruit some payors from the private sector. Because of very strict standards, their responses have a very homogeneous nature and it is likely that interviewing one or two should be sufficient. Due to tight payor schedules, I recommend telephone interviews for this target, as travel to a facility is much more challenging and time consuming in Brazil. Despite the size of the country, there are very few private insurance companies; I recommend working with a partner who has relationships with those who are in the Top 10 best-rated plans.

Be realistic about budget

Many times, I am asked by clients why the cost of conducting research in Brazil is so expensive compared to the rest of South America. Simply put, foreign clients typically request projects of significant complexity, thus requiring highly and specially skilled talent. This is compounded by high taxes, benefits and labor costs, which average 30 percent more expensive than those in Mexico, for example. That said, in recent projects, I have noticed a drop in recruitment costs as current economic pressures impact pricing.

Business culture – get in-sync

The nucleus to Brazilian business culture is their relationships. Make a point to understand who it is you are discussing business with and always take time for casual conversation prior to discussing business. Coffee drinking is the “golfing” of Brazil – it is where relationships are built. Lunches are long and business talk should be avoided. Enjoyable topics range from soccer (dare I say “football” to my fellow Americans?) to the beach and family. Avoid discussing politics, poverty and religion. Brazilians by nature are very inquisitive and may even ask directly about your specific abilities or that of your organization. Be direct in your communication and openly state your intentions but balance out the advantages to both parties when discussing decisions.

Keep good company

It is important to align with partners who adhere to international market research codes such as ESOMAR and EphMRA. You may also want to check that your research partner is a member of Brazil’s main research association, Associação Brasileira de Empresas de Pesquisa (ABEP). Similar to other countries, the information collected during research is confidential and materials are destroyed within specific periods of time. No respondent privacy information should ever be shared with clients.

Laws that impact marketing research in Brazil

A new data protection law

In February 2020, Brazil’s first comprehensive general data privacy law, Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados Pessoais (LGPD), comes into force. The purpose of this regulation is not only to protect individual rights but also to boost economic, technological and innovation development by providing greater legal certainty through clear, transparent and comprehensive rules for the adequate use of personal data.

The law’s key provisions emulate the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Although it is much leaner than the GDPR, it is very similar in context, structure and rational. It also includes significant extraterritorial application. As a result, the new rules apply not only to companies established in Brazil but also to entities that process or collect data from citizens in Brazil and to companies that offer or supply goods and services to individuals in Brazil.

Of particular relevance for market researchers:

  1. The law allows for data processing for the conduction of studies by research bodies, provided that anonymity is maintained.
  2. The law mirrors GDPR by creating key figures, such as the controller, the processor and the data protection officer.
  3. The LGPD authorizes the international transfer of data in the following situations:

(1) Transfer to countries that provide a level of protection deemed appropriate by the competent authority.

(2) Through the means of standard contract clauses, in which the controller guarantees compliance with the law.

Some differences, however, make the law unique, such as the inclusion of anonymous data used for profiling purposes, a provision within the scope of the law that it is in the heart of behavior analysis business models.

In passing this law, Brazil has significantly increased its data protection regime and joins the list of over 120 countries that may be considered as having an adequate level of protection of personal data. Yet Brazil appears to be looking to demonstrate its adequacy under the EU standard for data transfers. This would make Brazil one of the few countries to provide comparable data privacy protections as those offered to EU residents.

When choosing a field partner for research studies in 2020 and beyond, ensure your partner can demonstrate how they have prepared for LGPD and how they might help guide you through the legal terrain to understand who is the controller and who is the processor for your particular project then support your compliance responsibilities.

Select methods that suit a country’s infrastructure

Online/mobile surveys

Brazil is the largest Internet market in Latin America and the fourth-largest in the world by number of users. However, given the expanse of terrain, this means that online respondents remain clustered around main urban hubs – this is in line with location of spending power.

Brazil is a Web 2.0 population which never experienced Web 1.0, so there is little tolerance for old-fashioned survey designs. Connection speeds are reasonable for surveys and the Internet improvements have helped a lot but there is little patience for waiting time for downloads. That said, the good news is that Internet speed in Brazil improved around 30 percent in 2017 and again by 27 percent in 2018.

Mobile Internet, especially smartphone Internet, has proven to be a viable alternative to traditional fixed-line online connections in Brazil. In 2018, the average mobile download speed in Brazil was 18.50 Mbps, an increase of 27 percent from the year prior and the average upload speed of 7.5 Mbps was up 27 percent. In 2016, there were 81 million mobile phone Internet users in Brazil, which accounted for nearly 40 percent of the population. By 2021, these figures are forecast to increase to 113 million and 52 percent, respectively. It is essential that online surveys are designed to be mobile friendly.


According to the ESOMAR report, qualitative research represents 27 percent of research methods (vs. 70 percent quantitative). Only a few years ago, we mostly recommended in-person or telephone interviews as the safe qualitative methods in Brazil. Now, given the recent Internet and mobile improvements, qualitative methodologies of all types can be conducted. We successfully conduct online qualitative in-depth interviews with the respondent including screen sharing, moderator, simultaneous interpreter and clients all joining the session. Online focus groups are also now much more possible than just a few years ago.

The improvement quality does depend on the region, however. Large urban centers are providing increased opportunities but there are still considerations for Web-sharing or Web-enabled telephone interviews, in some regions where the Internet can be slower and less reliable for such technology.

Gaining insights

Building trust with Brazilian respondents is very important and should form part of the recruitment strategy. Brazilians tend to not share opinions before a relationship has been established. This is particularly the case for street intercepts. Once trust is in place and they understand why their contribution is important your typical Brazilian will open up and share experiences and opinions that may deliver the richest insights.


Whenever possible, physicians should also be interviewed in a one-on-one setting. Focus groups with consumers work very well but keep in mind that given the palpable discontent around great disparity between the rich and poor, mixing social levels within the same group should be avoided.

Taboo subjects vary but a few are religion, suicide, sexuality and illegal drugs. Check on a case-by-case basis with your recruitment partner regarding feasibility and recommended methodological approach.

Language? Go native

Bypass attempting interviews in English. Leveraging local language moderators allows for respondents to feel more comfortable and at ease. People communicate differently and open up more, allowing for a richness of feedback and insights that you would not otherwise gather.

But what if my client or partner insists on English? Your client needs to understand the impact such a demand may have on their study experience, cost and data. A shortage of English speakers in key sectors including tourism, transportation and hospitality has come into the spotlight in recent years with events such as the World Cup and the Olympics. Brazilian surveys reflect this issue, showing low levels of English knowledge at all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum.

A Catho survey from 2012 found that only 11 percent of Brazilian job candidates could communicate well in English and only 3.4 percent of all candidates could speak fluent English. A 2009 Catho study found that 24 percent of Brazilian professionals speak fluent English and that only 8 percent of Brazilian executives speak English fluently. These figures dramatically impact recruitment feasibility when you take into account that these small percent of English speakers also need to fit the criteria and be open and available to participate. All things being equal, only about 1 percent of Americans speak Portuguese.

Don’t get lost in translation

Conducting market research in any foreign language can present risks around translation and interpretation of your research questions. The safest approach is translation-retranslation – prepare your question in your language then have it translated. Have a second translator return the question back into the original language. This technique can often help highlight potential miscommunication.