Next week, on February 28, I will speak at the  ESOMAR Insights Conference in Brussels on 'The Evolving Online Consumer' and I'm currently organizing my thoughts around this topic. Looking at the uptake of the Internet globally, the numbers are impressive: In the past five years, the global Internet population has grown from about 1 billion to 1.6 billion, and this growth isn't about to stop any time soon. The Internet population will increase in every country in the world over the next five years, but emerging markets will grow at a faster pace. In 2014, one-third of Internet users will come from Brazil, Russia, India, or China (the so-called BRIC countries).

Companies that want to capture this growing number of online users — and their growing funds spent online — will need to look beyond the markets of North America and Europe and approach their online strategies much more globally. But emerging markets don’t just offer a lot of opportunities; there are also many challenges to consider. On top of the needs and wants of the consumers in the different countries, their online behaviors, and the way they are being influenced (and are influencing others) in their purchase decisions, companies need to understand the social and economic business environments.

The challenge for market insights professionals is to analyze all this information, distill what matters versus what's irrelevant, and help companies understand the opportunities within each market. And with more and more data being made available, this process only gets harder: Because there's so much information available, it's easy to overlook the real opportunities and challenges. Market insights professionals need to analyze all the data in a cultural context, have the ability to step out of their comfort zone, and invite a broader audience to help them understand the findings. Only then will they find pearls of wisdom, probably where they would least expect them.

To hear me talk about this, please listen to a podcast recorded by ESOMAR:

I hope you can make it to Brussels. If you do, please reach out via the blog, Twitter or by email, I'd love to connect in person. if not, hope this preview has given you something to think about.