Eighteen years of market research in Asia: What lies ahead?

Asian mother and child

Company birthdays always trigger a little nostalgia. With InsightAsia embarking on our 18th year conducting market research in Asia, we’re reflecting on how our business has changed and how it will continue to evolve.

So before we raise a toast, here are some of our observations on the key changes impacting the research industry in Asia today and looking ahead.

Same same, but different

With the international buzz around the impact of digital methods and big data analytics on our industry, it’s easy to overlook the fact that traditional research methods remain indispensable across developing Asia.

Access panel coverage for online surveying is still patchy, in some instances non-existent, and internet access can still be erratic in the increasingly important secondary town and rural contexts.

With relationships being such a critical factor in Confucian and more communal cultures, face-to-face meetings remain an effective way to source opinions from hard to reach Asian opinion leaders, high-earners and rural villagers.

So while a lot of what we do remains the same, the increasing pace of human and infrastructural development means we anticipate more seismic shifts over the next five to ten years than we’ve seen in the past 18!

Asian businesswoman

More of Everything

Looking back, market research was underpinned by methodology, but now the magic lies in transferring those methods to a digital format. The last ten years have given us more. More of everything. More tools, more points of contact, more flexibility in how we connect with customers and plenty of data sources.

When we tackle a research brief today we have so many more ways to design the research. Should we go offline or online for this target? Would social monitoring and listening be helpful? Can we capture some real in-the-moment insights via mobile apps harnessing photos and video?

These days there are storytellers who look at information and convert all of this into an inspiring narrative, then there are the hard-headed traditionalists who approach everything with a tight focus on methodology. Clients love story tellers, but in this era of fast samples and wild digital experimentation, we believe a healthy dose of scepticism, without getting lost in the details, remains critical.

Also can

When InsightAsia first opened there were just a few big global research players and a handful of local companies doing research in Asia. Today there is an abundance of regional and local independent players, solopreneurs and freelancers, as well as an increasing number of European players taking a punt at APAC from Singapore. This highly competitive context is a fabulous impetus for improved industry standards, innovation and talent development.

With the array of suppliers to choose from, feisty procurement teams have been playing a pivotal role in research supplier choice. Fortunately, savvy clients seeking only the best research talent recognise what a passion killer this can be. We’re starting to see more customer insight leaders craving the real working partnership and collaboration they used to have and wrestling back control of the research buying process.

The industry is increasingly led by local researchers. Following on their heels is a new generation of ambitious, business-orientated and digitally capable research talent. Looking ahead, we predict the skewed ratio of expatriate to local researchers to even out significantly.

While there will always be a need for imported specialists with advanced knowledge of digital techniques, it’s exciting to see this expertise increasingly found within the local region. This gives us authentically global solutions to distinctly Asian issues.

Asian photographer

Insights to action plans

We’ve also seen a dramatic shift in those we work with. It’s about immediacy; clients want answers they can take to market straight away rather than just ‘something to think about.’ Information needs to stand up to rigorous examination. It’s not just about how we package the data; it needs to be a compelling story with real substance to stand up to scrutiny.

Clients are coming to recognise the assets they’ve been sitting on all along and adapting their practices to get the most out of them. Brands which have a continual digital link to their customers are effectively mining their own data 24/7 and can harness this in order to better understand their customers.

Some industries lend themselves better to this than others. Banks, retailers, telecom companies and supermarkets get a head start by using online community panels which encourage customers to be in regular digital contact.

Chinese ecommerce giants, Alibaba, find themselves in possession of intimidating amounts of data. Other areas, the fast-moving consumer goods industry for example, find themselves lagging behind and looking for ways to engage in this powerful ongoing dialogue.

However fast things have moved in recent years, we’re bracing ourselves for them to get faster. Penetration of mobile technology in Asia is snowballing; the future of our profession lies in constant, real-time feedback. It’s no longer good enough to know what’s going on; we need to become fortune-tellers, able to spot consumer trends before they happen.

Asian marketplace

The future of market research

So what can market researchers in Asia do to help clients enhance the way they’re collecting data and better analyse it to connect with their customers? At InsightAsia, we’ve partnered with Verve UK, an international expert in online community panels to make sure we’re staying ahead in this area. Our 3Sixty app has also been developed for mobile surveys and capturing in-the-moment data.

To make sense of it all we have Synapse, our consulting team specialising in Big Data advanced analytics and predictive modelling. Having proven themselves in the USA, we’re looking forward to seeing how Synapse handle the increasing demand for these services in Asia.

While our methods and tools are set to change and keep changing, our principles remain the same. It’s about finding the real human stories behind ever-increasing tides of data. Even if the whole world is toting a smartphone around, we’ll still need smart people to understand them.

On that score, we hope to stay ahead of the curve for another eighteen prosperous years and invite you to join us for our birthday toast, cheers!