A Go To Market Strategy to Conquer Latin America’s Mobile Market

By Johana Leeflang | June 5th, 2015

Last year, we published the Global Mobile Games Landscape and highlighted the true potential of emerging mobile markets. We also dedicated a special series to Asia Pacific, ‘The Asian Beat’, to dig deeper and uncover both similarities and differences within the region and help developers and mobile marketers guide their go to-market strategies.

Most recently, Latin America has been drawing more and more attention, positioning itself in the global mobile marketing spotlight. Among recent changes: improved infrastructures, increased smartphone penetration and the rise of cheap mobile data.

In a recent report, eMarketer highlighted the growth of the mobile landscape in Latin America. In 2014, 20% of the population owned a smartphone on the continent. By the end of 2015, this figure should be 25%, and, by 2018, it will be a full third. Latin America is proving to be a strong contender in the mobile global app opportunity, expanding beyond borders and app verticals.

These important developments led us to put together the top 10 tips on why and how to invest in LatAm. To get a more in-depth understanding, we sat down with two experts in the region:(Patricio D’Amato, CMO of Recarga, as well as our very own VP International Hugo Gersanois), to get a better feel of what makes this region different and why is it worth considering and how you can adapt your go to market strategy. 



Latin America’s mobile internet usage is growing, in large part due to mobile broadband advancement, mobile device adoption, and middle class growth. Most recently, there has been greater investment in infrastructure and an expansion of wifi networks across the region, facilitating mobile consumption. eMarketer expects the number of internet users in Latin America to be among those to see the most rapid growth in the coming years. 


2. Smartphone Penetration Is On the Rise

Mobile phone ownership has spiked in the past decade on the continent, specifically for prepaid phones. For example, in Brazil prepaid phones account for 75% of all mobile phones. In 2014, there were over 400 million devices in the region. In recent years, we have seen a boost in smartphone ownership, in large part due to increased competition amongst (Android) manufactures, which in turn has led to a drop in the price of more hi-end models. 


There are several factors contributing to the growth of smartphone usage. In particular, we can think of the positive effect of economic development and mobile broadband expansion. From the same report, eMarketer predicts that there will be a double digit expansion by 2018, totalling 219.9 and 316.2 million users, for smartphones and feature phones respectively. 

3. Brazil Should Be Your Number One Focus 

If you only had to choose only one country to launch in, opt for Brazil, currently ranked in 4th place for smartphone subscriptions globally

Statistics and insights show a country in a league of its own, with a strong mobile-enabled market, as it has often been a first mover due to a rising economy and large population.  


Brazil leads as the country with the greatest smartphone penetration, economic development as well as in almost all other aspects of the mobile ecosystem, especially in the multiscreen market. Multi-screen users are similar to the ones in the Western markets: they are proficient digital consumers, whose “attention is always one screen away”, constantly shifting between devices.

Understanding this consumer behavior, especially in Brazil, will allow app developers and mobile marketers to better promote, attract and engage with users. 

4. Colombia is Becoming a Strong Contender 

Most recently, Colombia surpassed Argentina to become one of the top three smartphone markets in LatAm, behind Brazil, with 49 million smartphone users, and Mexico, with 34 million. 

In 2014, there were 14.4 million mobile users and this figure is expected to grow to 16 million by the end of this year, meaning that 45% of the population will own a smartphone.

During the same year, Colombia had over 24 million people using mobile internet. This figure represented a 58% increase from 2013 and is still rising. Market success is coming from their large population, stable economy and some new legislations that encourage mobile growth. 

Nation-wide policies are pushing for it, too; the initiative “Vive Digital Colombia” is a government-instilled four-year plan to achieve the “widespread adoption of internet and the development of a nationwide digital ecosystem”. The goal of the program is to quadruple the  number of internet connections, which they will try to achieve via mobile networks as it will be less costly than laying down costly fiber or fixed connections for home Internet. 

5.  The e-Commerce Challenge 

During our talk with Patricio d’Amato, CMO at Recarga (a popular top-up app that is available across LatAm), one of the most surprising differences that came up between the Western markets and LatAm emerged when we touched on the topic of e-Commerce. 


Although the e-Commerce business in Latin America has seen a large increase due to an expanding middle class and a larger selection of goods, the situation becomes more complicated when we take a closer look at shipping and payment options.

Patricio explained the difficulties that lie with payment options. In Brazil for instance,70% of the population do not own a credit card and are often constrained to make payments through a ‘boleto bancário’ or other low-tech means. On the other hand we see that credit card holders and e-commerce savvy users are highly correlated, and that's why 70% of e-commerce transactions are actually paid with credit cards. With the increasing penetration of smartphones, those "new" e-commerce users probably will not own a credit card and the alternative payment methods could get even become more popular.

A ‘boleto bancário’ is a bank slip with a printable bar code provided by EBANX, an e-Commerce payment provider, and which is regulated by FEBRABAN, the Brazilian Federation of Banks. This can make matters more complicated when receiving payments and can influence mobile cart abandonment. In the future however, this issue could fortunately be prevented by having more phones with fingerprint sensors that are connected to bank account information. 


Mexico, the third largest Latin American ecommerce market after Brazil and Argentina, is expected to see an increase in sales of over 150% in the next 3 years and will be valued at $5.5 billion. Similarly to Brazil, it faces issues with payment options, since a large percentage of the Mexican population does not have a bank account and the country suffers from an even lower credit card penetration. Therefore, the most popular payment methods are handled through a cash on delivery system. Before checking out, customers will choose the ‘store payment method’ and later print out the voucher which contains a specific barcode. They will then go to a specific store with the voucher and pay for it in cash in order to validate the purchase. The current leader in this market is Oxxo, a convenience store chain which has over 11.000 points of sales in the country.

Patricio went on to mention another typical challenge across Latin America: poor product quality and unreliable delivery. For these reasons, many local companies have very flexible return policies as well as provide their own shipping services to ensure customer satisfaction. 

6. 80% of LatAm Consumers Are On Prepaid 

Another important point raised by Patricio was the fact that the majority of the population of LatAm countries use prepaid. Device and data plan costs remain an obstacle to many consumers in Latin America but there are several techniques, policies and apps to tackle this. 

Most recently, data plans have become more affordable, offering more value to users with more flexible plans catered to the people’s specific needs and usage. There are also new initiatives to expand wifi networks (see below) and innovative apps such as Opera Max, which allow users to get the most of their data plan by downsizing videos, pictures and text across almost every data-hungry app (only on Android).   


7. Mobile Data Traffic Expansion

With improvements in infrastructure and initiatives such as “Vive Digital Colombia”, there should be an expansion of wifi networks, improvements in mobile network connections as well as data speed in the near future. We can already see some of the positive effects as, in 2014, almost 194 million people in LatAm (equal to ⅓ of the total population) went online on their mobile phones at least once a month. This represents a 25% increase from 2013 and is significantly higher in specific countries such as Brazil and Mexico. 

A report from Cisco, which evaluates the Global Mobile Data Traffic, shows a clear improvement in all aspects, with a total growth in traffic of 87% last year. Currently, Latin America’s share of smart devices and connections out of the total number of devices and connections is 20% (the world average is 26%), but this figure is expected to grow to 61% by 2019. In 2014, on an average, a smart device generated 22 times more traffic than a non-smart device.

In the next 4 years, mobile network speeds are also expected to grow by 16%. In line with this, there is an emerging trend to get online through WIFI (in cafés, etc.). As most smartphone users in the region are young, urban users who frequent social networks, there is a growing need to be constantly connected, while at the same time avoid costly data plans. According to a comScore report, on average 80% of users prefer to connect to their smartphone via WIFI, 65% via 3G and 23% via 4G.

8. LatAm Is Not Made Up Of Just One Consumer 

Now that you understand the full potential of the LatAm market, it is important to take the next steps in market expansion carefully. While it might seem obvious that submitting an application into a foreign app store requires localization, one must keep in mind that this goes beyond mere translation.  

Speaking with Hugo Gersanois, AppLift’s own VP International, who has ample experience working in the region, we got to understand how crucial it was to localize apps while taking into account cultural differences, languages, currencies and even state legislation. Hugo explained that one of the most exciting aspects of the region is also what makes it so challenging: the fact that it has a large and dynamic population.

It is vital to understand your consumers in order to be able to adapt the app and market accordingly across different countries. Hugo advises to start off with Brazil, as it is the country with the highest amount of smartphone users. This will allow you to get a better understanding of the consumers, before following on to Argentina, Mexico and/or Colombia.  


9. Invest In Android First

The next important decision after app localization is deciding in which app store to be present. A recent study by comScore and Internet Media Services (IMS) discovered that Android is currently dominating the region, claiming 78 percent of the market. A presence on Google Play is therefore a must. 


The same study also revealed that the regional average of downloading applications is 98%, with 18 app per android device, while 35% say they have more than 20 apps installed. In the LatAm tablet market, Android has 68% market share, followed by the iOS (iPad with 27%), Windows 8 (6%) and Kindle Fire (3%).

Patricio also explained that it was not an option to submit your app to the Google Play Store, but a requirement. He also revealed that the Windows Store was nearly as popular as the iOS App Store and that, in order to gain maximum exposure, presence across all three stores was a winning formula.  

10. Get To Know Your Consumers Mobile Habits 

To get a better understanding of what the market is like, it is important to take a closer look at users. Below, we included a couple of screenshots which depict the current state in the Google Play Store: a side by side comparison between the US, UK, Brazil & Colombia (Source: App Annie).





We can see that there are several overlaps regarding which social apps are most popular (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) as well as which games are top ranking (Clash of Clans, Monument Valley and Candy Crush). While not all titles are the same, we can see several similarities. 

When speaking with the experts, both Hugo and Patricio explained that, while several of the mainstream social and gaming apps were the same, the differences lie in those related to entertainment, travel and utility. These specific app verticals are dominated by local players as they are the ones that users know and trust the most. Popular local apps in LatAm include Recarga, OLX, Mercado Livre, Psafe and Despegar.

Summing it all up. 

Taking into account all the pros and cons of entering the market, the LatAm market can be extremely lucrative in spite of its challenges. 

Make sure to follow the following 3 steps: 

  1. Ensure localization, beyond translation.
  2. Be present in all app stores, and make sure Android comes first.
  3. Depending on your monetization strategy, consider income levels and methods of payment.

What is your experience with the mobile market in LatAm? Let us know in the comments!

PS: To get a comprehensive overview of the mobile app economy in Latin America review the full report by GSMA.

Johana Leeflang
Johana Leeflang is Leading EMEA Events and Community at AppLift. Johana writes about mobile marketing trends and in-depth market analysis. When she is not digging deep into mobile marketing, Johana enjoys dancing salsa, listening to old-school R&B and hip-hop and traveling; her favorite holiday destination is Milos, Greece for its beautiful beaches and lovely people. Connect with her on LinkedIn here