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issue: March 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

The Open Door
Understanding the Brazilian Market

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by Julio E. Bertola, director of Electrolux Design Center, Curitiba, Brazil

Appliance designers must address unique consumer habits that stem from the socio-demographic differences between Latin American countries - while appealing to other key Latin values and cultural traits that are very similar.

Julio E. Bertola is the director of the Electrolux Design Center located in Curitiba, Brazil. He has a Master’s degree in Business and Marketing and has 25 years of professional experience in the furniture, computer, and home appliance industries. He is also a professor of product design and CAD design at several Brazilian universities.

Within the Latin America region, there are strong socio-demographic differences between countries that influence consumer habits. Some of them are very basic, such as population and family size, which vary from country to country. Some others are more complex like literacy levels and integration in the global economy. Even so, the key Latin values and cultural traits—family, food, and music, for instance—are very similar. This means designers have to develop products that attend to specific needs, but they also have to appeal to the heart and mind of the Latin American consumer.

The Brazilian population as it is known today does not only have a root, but rather a combination of diverse cultures that have contributed to forming the country’s society. This has been occurring ever since the Brazilian Indians were colonized by the Portuguese, who later brought in the African natives and their culture. By the end of the 19th century, a considerable variety of immigrants came into the country in order to work on large plantations. They were Italian, Polish, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic, among others.

This was quintessential to establishing a society that welcomes all the cultures and external influences, and, nowadays, immediately acts to creatively adapt worldwide changes into its personal and commercial reality.

As with any region, however, a global company that produces and sells home appliances in Brazil needs to be focused on understanding customers’ needs and wants in order to offer them the best product. This understanding, allied to local aesthetical and socio-cultural values, makes it clear that design is one of the main means of adding value to products and brands.

Recent market research has shown major changes in Brazilian social structures, specifically in women’s behavior. It has been shown that, in general, a married Brazilian woman carries out about 50 different activities daily, such as taking care of the family, working, either doing or supervising the housekeeping, and in a large number of situations, continuing her education. Such findings have indicated how utterly important it is for women to efficiently carry out each of the above mentioned activities so that they are under a small amount of stress and, therefore, are more able to enjoy their free time with their families or take care of themselves.

Refining our market research both through observation and focus groups, we have found that Brazilian women reject complexity and consider high-performance products those that free them to do more interesting and satisfying activities. In other words, Brazilian women consider simplicity superior and more modern.

Needless to say, this requires new approaches to product development processes that reconsider the concepts of innovation and modernity. Innovation should not be seen as a consequence of technological evolution, but rather a tool to solving modern domestic issues.

Brazilian women also take pleasure in buying new appliances, not only for the product’s usefulness, but because it shows she is a modern consumer. New shapes and finishes are instantly identified as modern, regardless of the latest electronic devices, so design alone is seen as a modernizing factor. We have also found that a product’s design conveys emotion. So much so that one can state that “form follows function” and that “form follows emotion.”

However, simplicity must prevail. Within this context, quality becomes more evident the simpler the product is. Fortunately enough, production technologies have been developing along with consumer demand for higher quality. Attending to such demands implies investing in computerized project development technologies or ad hoc prototyping and structural analysis. Besides offering better quality, such technologies often allow a reduction in the number of parts needed to assemble goods, which leads to a reduction in complexity and costs.

The latter is by large our designers’ major objective, as the balance between quality and cost is extremely fragile, especially for home appliances manufactured in Latin America, where there are high raw material costs, excessive taxation, and limited shopping power. Investments are also bound to low return and, therefore, have to be well measured before the project starts.

And while it is true that Latin American consumers tend to expend less money, companies must also realize that they still play an important part in the marketplace. Contrary to general thinking, that does not mean they are always looking for lower prices. In fact, compared to other continents, proportionally to their income, they actually buy more domestic goods. Latino consumers prefer to save on essential food and domestic supplies in order to pay more for intermediate and leading brands in other product categories.

Brazilian design, therefore, has to combine customer understanding and highly creative features, as well as low costs and productivity, all tailored to the special mix of cultural diversity in the Brazilian population.


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