Asia Research held its second annual breakfast seminar on 13th September at the Regent Hotel, Singapore. This year, we enhanced it as an “extended” breakfast seminar including four papers and more networking sessions.
Compared to other research events that are nearly always dominated by agencies, Asia Research’s sell-out seminars have a far higher representation of market research buyers. Thirty-six clients from financial services, telecoms, hotels, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), technology, and the media sector attended. Agencies and research support companies were represented by another 40 delegates, making this one of 2012’s largest market research events.
In an interesting mix of sponsors and papers, we saw Toluna, Nielsen, Tapestry Works and BDRC Asia coming together and presenting thought leadership pieces on a range of topics that are becoming more pertinent to the market research industry in Asia.
Based on the title/theme Future Featuring, seminar participants explored what are likely to be some of the new practices in market research in Asia, including how companies are using various forms of do-it-yourself (DIY) research. The “internalisation of research” is a growing trend that has been observed over the years. An increasing number of corporations, partly through technological advancements and increasing direct use of panel companies, are doing more of their market research in-house. This is evidenced in Asia Research’s annual research buyer survey. It is further supported by anecdotal evidence of client organisations now relying more on gut instinct in their marketing decisions.
The first paper from Piers Lee, Managing Director of BDRC Asia, looked at how small and medium enterprises (partly through lack of budget) internalise their research and product development, but through it are implementing some of the most progressive approaches to research and product development, and are processes that larger corporations can learn from.
Three case studies of successful entrepreneurs in Singapore, from the hotels, retail, and technology sectors were presented. All were extracts from the SME Series by BDRC Asia which appears as a regular feature in this publication.
The example from XMI, the producer of the highly successful X-mini speaker, showcased their “Thought-to-Touch” product innovation process that encourages staff to come up with ideas, and helps them see these products become commercialised. The step-by-step product development process starts with an internal dontevaluation exercise within the company, through to a mini-market simulation by soliciting the opinions of XMI’s distributors across the world prior to product launch. This approach is designed to minimise the risk of the product failing in the actual market.
The other case studies including the Wanderlust Hotel and Hair Secrets were more classic examples of maverick entrepreneurs who enter the market led by their gut instincts. These examples were linked to the introduction of BDRC Asia’s paper that showed how high profile maverick CEOs like Sir Richard Branson and the late Steve Jobs rely less on research and more on their instincts or beliefs that they can manipulate consumer needs through creating great or hyped products. The message of the paper, though, was that even maverick entrepreneurs, while sometimes professing to dismiss research, actually are using subtle forms of research.
The second paper was from our main sponsor, Toluna—a leading online panel company. Titled “Online Consumers, Engaging the Consumer, Engaging the Brand,” the paper provided an overview of the growing trend in the online space towards community panels.
While conference papers from panel companies are often dismissed as sales pitches, Toluna was able to deliver a more engaging paper by presenting with an advocate of community panels—Latitude Insights from Australia. Their presentation showed how the current hot topic, cocreation, can be embodied within community panels: Clients can use their customer bases as sounding boards for the management of the brand, and establish what type of products the brand should be developing going forward. Dianne Gardiner, Managing Director of Latitude Insights, co-presented Toluna’s paper, demonstrating how they had worked with a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company to create a community panel of 4,000 members. This Celebrex proved to be very cost effective to their clients and provided very fast research turnaround, both of which helped their clients in new areas such as ideation, in-home trails, and even selfethnography.
Dianne Gardiner’s presentation quoted Jack Welch: “We have only two sources of competitive advantage: the ability to learn more about our customers faster than the competition, and the ability to turn that learning into action faster than the competition.” The message was that speed to market—being the first to commercialise a product—is what corporations are increasingly relying on, and can be facilitated through the application of community panel research.
The third paper was from Dr Neil Gains, Managing Director of training and sensory consultancy company Tapestry Works. Gains’ paper explored the very fundamentals of market research. The basic issue was the so-called “love affair” that market research agencies have with the methods of data collection that have existed in the industry for over 50 years. From traditional in-person interviews to the very latest technologies in mobile research, all market research surveys rely on the principle of asking questions and recording answers.
Gains explained that the human mind has two operating systems, the conscious and the sub-conscious, with the latter having far more processing power than the former. Yet, in most market research surveys, what we rely on is the consumer providing what are considered “more rational” answers stemming from “the more basic operating system”. By virtue of how the human mind really works, the answer to any question can be changed by simply asking the question in the ﬁrst place.
This paper was one of the best-rated of the event, and Gains provided some examples of new approaches to research to get around this fundamental issue, such as experimentation, non-verbal research, and behavioural analysis.
The ﬁnal paper continued the informal theme of “understanding the human mind better and applying this to research”. Kaushal Upadhyay, Nielsen’s NeuroFocus Leader, presented on the topic “The Changing World of Consumer Neuroscience.” Mirroring Neil Gains’ paper, it demonstrated that nearly all the information consumers adsorb are processed subconsciously and how conventional research might therefore not be tapping the real source of consumer decision- making.
Neuro Insights is a new and rapidly developing science of tapping the human mind for market research purposes. Applications of Neuro Insights today require consumers to literally be wired up, by donning a specially-designed skull cap. Using this piece of equipment, various neurological measures can be taken, including consumers’ attention (e.g. measuring how well the message or product is attracting attention), emotion (e.g. the intensity of emotional engagement with advertising and packaging), and memory (e.g. measuring the formation of connections and activation of personal relevance).
This enlightening paper clinched the award for Best Paper of Future Featuring, and was also the main topic of discussion in the Q&A session that followed after all the presentations had been completed. Some of the key issues raised during the Q&A were the extent to which Neuro Insights (which is being heralded as “the next big thing since online research”) could really be fully commercialised. One strong angle of objection was that Neuro Insights requires market research to become even more intrusive into consumers’ lives in markets where consumer co-operation in research is already becoming a major challenge. Furthermore, in an environment where clients want to pay less for research, Neuro Insights research demands hefty investment by research clients in order to cover the high costs of supporting equipment and skilled personnel.
While acknowledging that these challenges will no doubt remain for some time to come, Nielsen boasts that their Neuro Insights research is now being applied in 60 countries worldwide.
It still is the case however that the love affair between the research industry with questions and answers is not about to end, at least not quite yet. What would you say? Sorry, what do you think? No… let us wire you up and ﬁnd out!