I recently had the pleasure of visiting a friend in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, staying in the non-touristy Itapua on the outskirts of Salvador. One of the benefits of staying with a local was that I got to see a part of Brazil few tourists really get to experience, including visiting his family in the nearby favela. Needless to say it was a truly amazing experience and I felt very lucky to be there, to be welcomed into their homes and to get to appreciate some amazing home cooked Brazilian food. I am now a solid convert to Brazilian cuisine – and the passion fruit cocktails – totally amazing!
I have to admit that I had a few preconceptions about the favela and was really surprised to find high speed internet in the family’s flat, and that they all had smart phones. I had presumed that given that the favela were very poor neighbourhoods that internet would be limited and I certainly did not expect to see people with the lastest Samsung or iPhones. This was further compounded when I found out how expensive smartphones actually are in Brazil! Then again I also had not expected to be welcomed into a lovely, flat on the 2nd floor of a solid construction with a pleasant balcony overlooking the favela streets. Whilst the flat was basic it was very clean and had the “basics” including a television and the said internet. And did I mention the amazing food and cocktails?
As I was out and about locally I also spotted people on Instagram and Facebook. I know of course that Brazil is one of the top countries in terms of social media penetration and use, including on the big platforms like Facebook and Instagram and I also expected to see this is the more prosperous part of town. What did surprise me though was just how ubiquitous the internet, smart phones and social networks were in all parts of Salvador – from the high end part of town right down to the favela. Everyone had phones and everyone appeared to have internet access. This to me is something that we do not always consider when looking outside of our comfort zones in the US and Europe. There is sometimes still the misconception that in “developing” countries they are still “developing” internet and mobile access. Whilst Brazil is certainly not a “developing” country, parts of it are so poor and with such poor infrastructure that one could be tempted to bundle these parts into that somewhat derogatory term.
My lesson learnt was that even in the poorest, less well developed parts of the world, the internet has embedded itself, and often jumping straight to mobile connection. Smartphones are now no longer just for the rich or middle classes. Internet access, and increasingly mobile access, are starting to be a given – almost a basic requirement. As we look at developing our global strategies we need to stop thinking about splitting the world into tiers, such as “developing” but start splitting the world into customer groups. A Brazilian teenager in the favela probably has more in common with a Portuguese teenager than a Brazilian 40-something year old in terms of internet usage. When we look at the online world we have to remember that our offline geographic boundaries do not exist in the same way. Behaviour is a key driver, split by language, not geography.
Yet when I look at the pharmaceutical companies I have been working for, their structure, due to the regulatory environment, is clearly defined by geography. The shift in thinking to meet the new boundry-less world is still a long way away, and we still see Portugal and Brazil doing their own, often very different, online activities, even though their customers do not behave in this way. There is currently a duplication of budget and effort where synergies actually exist with the customer groups. The continued focus internally, rather than externally and around customers, continues to persist in too many companies and this is clearly a redundant way of thinking in today’s global digital age. In order to meet our customer’s expectations we need to understand them – and part of this is to break down our pre- and mis-conceptions about the big wide world of digital. We all need to get out of our comfort zones, go visit a favela and appreciate the ubiquity as well as the diversity that exists out there.
PS: All photos courtesy of Nokia or Samsung (sadly not my Samsung as I left my darling S6 behind to bring a cheap replaceable Nokia with a pretty poor camera)