Gallup divided Latin American consumers into eight segments to help marketers avoid the ethnic, cultural and economic differences of each country, and allow companies to target consumers by disposable income across national borders.
"The approach is vital for strategic thinking," said Gabriel Gonzalez Molina, president of Gallup's Latin American Division in Miami. "As a marketer, I won't look at countries anymore. I look at these metro areas [surveyed], and that's where I'm going to allocate my resources."
Gallup's Socio-Economic Allocator of Latin American Consumers, or SEA, randomly surveyed 17,564 people 14 years and older in 15 metropolitan areas in April and May. The survey questioned participants on income, education, occupation, type of home, and automobile and durable goods ownership.
The resulting eight categories, defined by economic and psychographic profiles, are the emerging professional elite (accounting for 14% of the total surveyed); traditional elite (11%); progressive upper middle class (13%); self-made middle class (11%); skilled middle class (9%); self-skilled lower middle class (13%); industrial working class (14%); and struggling working class (15%).
In an admitted weakness, the survey ignored rural markets, being conducted only in metro areas of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. Also, it ignores the lowest economic stratum, or 17% of workers, under the assumption they lack disposable income and have no access to public services and media.
Mr. Gonzalez said that by targeting large metro centers and excluding rural areas, marketers will get the highest return on investment made using the results.
Using the study, marketers can determine current and potential customers, where they live and what their interests are.
For example, a Latin American regional manager for a package-goods company traditionally must use macroeconomic research data on a nation's gross domestic product, per-capita growth and income projections to gauge a national-as opposed to regional-market. Using the SEA, the company can break down market share not by country but by socioeconomic segments.
Such a breakdown could show that while a brand has a strong regional penetration, the product may be stronger in the elite class than in the industrial class, Mr. Gonzalez said.
"Which may show me that I have need to consolidate that brand in the elite and possibly introduce a new brand for the lower economic segment, therefore to grow through a multiplicity of brands," he said.
The survey has a margin of error of less than 1 percentage point. It will be updated annually.
Gallup is also creating SEA software that clients can use to gauge market and customer response to product usage, Mr. Gonzalez said. Users of the program will ask existing and potential customers 10 questions. Then the program will create a classification model and shift participants into an appropriate group.
Each time a marketer using the software calls on a customer, it will be able to expand its information database. The marketer can then target the customer for future sales events, focus groups or other research.
"They leapfrog from not having a list to having a list-building mechanism," Mr. Gonzalez said. "From not having even the slightest idea of how they can do direct marketing, they have a tool to convert information into marketing communications."
The software will be customized to each client and will be available in January.