Editor’s note: Mayra Munguia is project manager at marketing research firm FlexMR, U.K. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Doing it right: How to research Spanish speaking populations (Latino and Hispanic). 

The Spanish or Castilian language (due to its origins in the Castile region of Spain) is the second most spoken language in the world with over 472 million native speakers and 567 million first or second language speakers. Most notably it’s spoken in Spain and across Central and South American countries (Latin America) which were former Spanish colonies, and more recently in the U.S. due to migration from its southern neighbors.

Why is this important for businesses? In terms of global purchasing power, the combined GDP of Spanish-speaking countries totals over $6 trillion, with Mexico and Spain alone commanding $1.68 trillion and $1.43 trillion, respectively. And the economic purchasing power of these countries is set to increase, which is why we have seen global corporations like PepsiCo investing over $5 billion into Mexico recently.

(The map depicts the 21 international countries that use Spanish as their official language by population density.)

Any company, no matter its size, will face some issues in adapting its market research approach for Spanish-speaking people. I have been working in multi-language research for several years now, specializing in Spanish. Based on my experience I have created 10 tips to help you when addressing participants in Spain, Latin America and the Hispanic regions of the U.S. Part 1 will cover the first five.

Understand the microeconomic influences

When conducting marketing research in a foreign country it is important to know the current state of that country. This is even more important should you be researching developing nations (i.e., many Latin America countries). There are two key areas for consideration.

Political status: I am not asking you to embark on a political history lesson here but knowing the country’s political leader, whether they are democratic or communist and whether they are facing a political crisis should all be established ahead of any research initiative.

Let’s look at Venezuela. The ongoing dispute of the Venezuelan population with their government should be understood at the beginning of any Venezuelan marketing research project. As it stands today, project time scales and incentive offerings are most likely to be affected – if the Venezuelans are in protest they will not be able to participate in activities at certain times and in such circumstances of such unrest, a basket of basics (toilet paper, deodorant) will incentivize participation to a much greater degree than an Amazon voucher.

Economic status: Consider the economic status only in the capital but also in the specific city in which you plan to conduct the research. Economic status changes considerably within a county as well as between countries. In Latin American countries you may be surprised at how much it can differ even from one neighborhood to another, and the remarkable impact this has on purchasing power.

Assess Internet connection speeds and access

Fundamental to the success of online research, the difference in Internet connection speeds in Spanish-speaking countries and regions is vast. Be aware of this.

If you are conducting online marketing research in Spain the chances of a good static Internet connection are high but you may experience some difficulties on the go especially when showing stimuli (videos, photos, audio) or requesting audio and visual uploads. Only use or request audio and visual in mobile marketing research studies where necessary and ensure that file sizes are minimized. Look at reflective or live online desktop techniques to complement or fulfil your objectives – showing stimuli and requesting file uploads will not be a problem here.

In Latin America, the circumstances are quite different. The Spanish speakers in these countries will only have access to very basic static Internet speeds – when they can afford to pay for Internet access at all – and their computer software and browsers may be outdated. Many Latin Americans tend toward mobile devices over desktop for Internet use so ensure that online research is optimized accordingly. I would advise doing a target market Internet access feasibility study before you begin.

Internet connection speeds in the U.S. have come on leaps and bounds in recent years. For Hispanic consumer research in this country, both mobile and online studies will be successful in terms of technological capability.

Revise the recruitment screener

In Western marketing research it is common to ask participants for their current occupation to place them into purchasing power brackets. This will not work in Latin America. The minimum wage is lower so occupations equivalent to the Western world will not command the same salary.

Neither can you ask this population how much they earn directly. It is considered quite offensive. The gap between the social classes in Latin American countries is wide and each class is well populated. You will not find a middle-class majority as in many Western cultures.

My advice is to look to their homes, both in terms of size and location. Ask how many bedrooms and bathrooms they have, as well as which neighborhood they live in. By cross referencing this with secondary research in relation to the countries socio-economic situation you will be able to identify the purchasing power of your participants.

Age matters

If you are looking to conduct online marketing research with the more mature Spanish speaking age groups, be aware of the technological adoption lag. While this is also the case in the U.K., in certain Spanish-speaking countries and regions it is much more profound.

If you want them to participate in marketing research, Latin American elders will expect you to provide them with feedback methods that they are comfortable with. They do not expect, nor want to learn a new technology in order to take part. You will struggle for responses if you are trying to reach those over 50 in any Latin American country online. There is a silver lining however in their younger family members. They tend to encourage older counterparts to get involved with technology and support them in doing so. If you are experiencing difficulties, reach out to them. Also consider a face-to-face complement.

In Spain and the U.S. you have more success using online research tools to target those over 50 but the degree of success very much depends on educational status. The more educated the older participants in these countries, the harder they will try to learn the technology. This is another area for pre-study participant research.

Gain trust

When conducting research in any Spanish-speaking region or country mistrust is common and it is highly likely that participants will withhold their personal data post research. This may be related to the state of insecurity in Latin American countries, or to excessive cold calling in countries like Spain and the U.S.

Regardless, if you want reliable participant profile information, it's important to build trust. Repeat several times that you are not looking to sell anything and that you will only contact them if you are running quality checks (when it comes to surveys) or to confirm their participation in a qual activity such as a focus group.

Revealing the name of a brand prior to participation is impossible in certain research circumstances as it will create bias but do cite it after the research activity has been completed and before the personal details are requested. This sense of familiarity, especially where the brand has a big presence in the market, will encourage information sharing.