18 August 2011


Clearly, I am not a local. Not even a well-travelled tourist, in fact. No, this gringo has barely peered beyond one upscale Lima neighborhood - and yet the place seemed strangely familiar. Upon my second brief visit to Peru, which has just ended, I returned to a market on which I have spent most of my waking hours over the last three months. Tasked with an in-depth assessment of this country's market potential for my client, I've read through countless studies, spent hours surfing websites, crunching numbers and sifting through annual reports. I've studied ownership structures and consumer behaviors, drafted focus group questionnaires and database queries, forecasted revenues and profits.

By and large, however, it happened from afar, with the internet's global reach empowering this quintessential desk researcher (a species closely related to the armchair voyager, bar the romance). So in theory, I knew quite a bit about Peru. And I thought I was well prepared.

Then I walked the streets of Lima. Smelled the exhaust fumes. Heard the noises. Eavesdropped on the local slang. Attended customer panels. Watched people shop at the grocery stores I knew the market shares of, fill up at the gas stations whose corporate mission statements I'd read, haggle at black market stalls which strangely eluded my research. And suddenly, like a genie from a bottle, a real country populated by real people started to emerge from the numbers. Was this a member of the C segment talking on this first pre-paid mobile phone? An A segment head-of-the-household flaunting his premium credit card? And look at these teenagers taking informal, unorganized colectivos back home!

As I sat down for lunch at an oceanfront restaurant (target audience: foreign visitors and urban affluent segment), observing the people strolling by, it became clear that no matter how much you read, how deep you dig, how far you forecast, you'll never be able to fully grasp the potential of a market until you've spoken to the people on the ground. It is they who can help you putting the pieces together and making sense of it all. They align any market potential analysis with real life by providing the crucial color and the essential local flavor.

And as if on cue, my waiter appeared with a wonderful plate of freshly prepared ceviche and an all-Peruvian Pisco Sour. Clearly, Peru has lots of potential.

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