What Makes a Research Enterprise in Asia?


Asia Research interviews the heads of some of our sponsor research agencies to understand what is needed to ‘make’ a research enterprise in Asia. We look at the success factors, the challenges, and the opportunities for other enterprises.

Q. Tell us more about SKIM the company.

SKIM is a privately held global insights agency with a heritage of over 40 years, helping leading companies thrive by understanding decision-making. To stay ahead today, it’s critical to know how decisions are made and how the changing environment influences decisions for consumers, healthcare and B2B professionals.

By adapting sophisticated research techniques and developing innovations to address this new reality, we provide our clients with practical recommendations in the areas of brand communications, revenue management, product innovation, e-commerce, and advanced analytics. Anything they can use to propel their business forward, online, and offline.

What sets SKIM apart is our decision behaviour expertise + analytical and choice-modelling roots + a thorough understanding of the marketing challenges brands face. This unique combination, along with our creative thinking, is the reason why strategy consultants and leading companies, from Fortune 500 to digital disruptors, continue to partner with us for decades. Our clients and industry peers recognised SKIM as one of the top 10 most innovative market research agencies in 2021 (Greenbook GRIT Report).

Our growing Singapore team works in close collaboration with 200+ enthusiastic SKIMmers from across our other offices in Europe, the US, and Latin America. This enables us to provide local market expertise on a global scale for leading brands with multi-country operations.

Q. How long has SKIM operated in Singapore, and what was your reason for setting up in Singapore in the first place?

We opened the office in Singapore in January 2015. We saw increasing demand from our existing multinational clients who were – and still are – seeking to uncover market opportunities in Asia’s high-growth economies through advanced research. Singapore gave us a truly global presence (time zone-wise), as we already had offices in Europe, the US, and Latin America.

This way we could offer global support across time zones and build regional expertise internally. We often still work directly with the teams in other offices when a client in Singapore is interested in conducting research there, and vice versa.

SKIM is a highly networked company with all team members routinely working on projects and initiatives across geographies. We have seen our Singapore office contribute globally to development of SKIM’s innovations and thought leadership in Brand Communication (e.g., SKIM’s Psychological Distance Framework) and Customer Decision Journey Mapping.

Q. What were some of your key challenges in entering the Singapore market? Was anything unexpected?

Certainly, it’s been challenging! Every client wants you to show them that you have specific case study examples of their exact business questions, in their industry, in their country. Although we had a lot of relevant experiences and can apply our tools and methods to many of the same business problems, in our first years we found a lot of clients here were more risk averse, and hesitant to start with another partner if we couldn’t show a very specific set of experiences. Nowadays we have a deep pool of local experiences to draw from, including in frontier markets like Myanmar and Cambodia!

In addition, we were faced with competition from local players who can be physically present more easily and more frequently. This meant a lot of travel in the pre- pandemic days! SKIM has always had a flexible work environment, so transitioning to a work-from-home environment after the pandemic wasn’t difficult for us. We’ve been able to stay connected with our clients through digital channels (Google Meet, WeChat, Zoom, etc).

Q. How would you describe your success factors in Singapore? How did you develop your business in what is one of the most competitive research markets?

One of our key success factors was SKIM´s global network. Through connecting with multinational clients that we work with globally, we were able to have a decent base and have been able to build on that. We also adapted our offer to include quicker yet usable and robust products that don’t break the bank for clients in the region, e.g. the more cost-effective SKIM Price Explorer™ tool. Also, unlike some of the larger agencies, we have highly technical analysts handling studies end to end, ensuring quality and key senior leadership involved in projects, providing consultancy and added value. For example, the global SKIM practice lead for communications is based out here and our clients benefit from his expertise on a first-hand basis.

Q. How have you been impacted by COVID-19? What are your plans for the recovery market or longer term?

Globally and within the Singapore office at SKIM we actually have had strong growth during the pandemic period. In Singapore, we grew our team of SKIMmers by 33%! In these uncertain times, we experienced even more how our clients are looking for that trusted partner they can rely on for the high impact and strategic business questions they are facing.

We have also been pioneers in e-commerce and decision journey research, which saw strong growth as the consumer behaviour changed in this period. We are in a strong position for continued growth.

Q. What advice would you give a start-up research/ consumer insight firm in Singapore today?

Take care of your people, take care of your clients and the world! We are proud to be a company which really takes care of its employees, work–life balance and this has resulted in loyal employees. New companies should adapt to the new way of working post–pandemic. This means empowering employees to work in way that best suits them – at home, in the office, or in a hybrid set-up. Internally, we call this the NEO workspace. Clients are hungry for consultancy and deep insights in the region and it’s a very networked space. If you provide excellent value, clients will beat a path to your door!

Finally, remember that no matter the size of your firm, you can make a positive impact outside of your own space. At SKIM, we have ambitious goals to help our local communities, become a carbon-positive company, and help accelerate the circular economy. We call this SKIMpact. Locally in Singapore, for example, we are helping 16- to 17-year-old students, many of whom have just graduated and may be applying for internships and jobs, to acquire Excel skills.