I am back from beautiful Cartagena, Colombia where the ESOMAR Latin American 2010 conference was held. In addition, last week, I met with media and advertising professionals focusing on the Latin American market in Miami at the annual Portada Panregional Advertising and Media Summit. At both conferences, a consistent theme resonated throughout all the talks — the Internet is a powerful vehicle for Latin American consumers to connect with peers and even companies; however, the digital divide still persists in Latin America.

We find that, on average, 56% of metropolitan consumers in Brazil and Mexico are not online. Therefore, companies are still unable to reach a significant number of consumers through social media tools. Does that mean that if you have identified that the majority of your target audience is not connected that you are on the sidelines and unable to harness the “power” of social media? I think the answer is no.

Companies with a presence in Latin America need to incorporate cell phones into their media allocation mix. With more than 75% of metropolitan Brazilians and Mexicans owning a cell phone, there is huge potential to connect with the majority of one’s target audience. However, the challenge lies in finding the right applications and tools that are a fit for this market. Only 5% of mobile phone owners in Latin America go on the mobile Internet at least monthly or more, and only 8% of them own a smarpthone. If your tool is sophisticated and/or requires the Internet, you will still hit only a small part of the market. I’ve come across one company so far that can help marketers overcome this challenge: Bubble Motion. The company offers a voice-based Twitter-like service called Bubbly,and it works on all types of cell phones. In a market that we know is interested in social, Bubbly is an innovative way to harness the power of social media through a device that most consumers have. And, it isn’t limited by the uptake of the mobile Internet.

Even though the digital divide does exist and will remain a significant barrier for some time, cell phones are an integral part of a Latin American’s life and can be a platform that companies can successfully use to connect with their target audience. I would love to hear your thoughts on how critical a role you think cell phones play in Latin America. Are there other options out there that provide similarly compelling solutions?