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I love my job / I hate my job... as an Asian researcher
From the November 2005 MRWho

I Love My Job... as a market researcher in Asia

Asia is where the growth is and it's currently the focus for all the multinational research agencies. Online research is catching on like wildfire: you can't compare it to the US, but use of online research is certainly ahead of Europe - at least in places like Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. Asian agencies are also spending more on R&D, doing more thought leadership work, and developing local leaders.

Researchers are quite sought after in Asia, and we're not only wooed by headhunters but also by senior people from other agencies. Crosscountry mobility is the order of the day: it seems that, to move up a company hierarchy, a stint in Asia - especially China (including Hong Kong) and India - really helps.

In a number of Asian countries, the researchers are mostly ex-pats from Europe and US, but this is changing, and they are fast being replaced by Indians, Australians and Singaporeans.

I really enjoy the variety of the region. I conduct both qualitative and quantitative international research, and get to see neighbouring countries' culture and people at first hand when I travel. There's always something new to learn. Each Asian market is very different - from the very advanced economies of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and Korea, to the less advanced ones such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Then of course there are the key markets that everyone wants a piece of - China and India. Depending on the industry, reporting can be a breeze (lots of differences to talk about) or a nightmare (LOTS of differences to talk about...)

Travelling on fieldwork also offers a great opportunity to escape the office. And something interesting almost always happens on a trip - for example doing groups in the back of beyond where the temperature is a little over half the boiling point of water, or when a fist fight breaks out among respondents during a conflict group on rum.

And, of course, there are those regional in-house training programs that are usually held in Thailand, Malaysia, or Vietnam - all wonderful places to spend the weekend!

Probably the most rewarding aspect of the job is the indescribable rush when your insights actually work in the market. Does this compensate for the lack of social life and the poverty? Well, that's debatable, but it's true to say that in career terms I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing or anywhere I'd rather be doing it.

I Hate My Job... as a market researcher in Asia

What do you say to a client who wants a U&A questionnaire of 199 pages? Well, in Asia you say: 'Thank you and we are glad to do business with you.' The clients are mostly completely unreasonable, and want to load each and every study with all kind of questions.

Most know as much about research as I know about pinkbacked pelicans. A few are absolutely brilliant - they brainstorm with you, teach you, motivate you and push you to do better. But these are rare.

Very often, the client's MR Manager is some fresh from school, wet-behind-the-ears graduate or some flunky who was absolutely incompetent at all his previous assignments and was transferred by HR to the research department as a last resort.

New-to-MR clients and some very young economies mean the majority of research conducted is very basic. Advanced analytics and techniques are rarely used so we don't get a chance to stretch ourselves.

Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of clients' office politics. A couple of times, we've been put on the spot during a presentation to give our feedback about a highly political in-house issue. Not pleasant!

Market research is still a very new industry in Asia. Local clients, as opposed to the standard multinational clients, are not familiar with research and frequently do not know how to use it. When the results are different from what they expect, they automatically assume that the data is wrong.

And, because they don't truly see the value that research brings, they're constantly trying to get the cheapest agency and then try to squeeze as much out of them as possible.

Competition is so intense that prices for research have been coming down steadily. The motto is to get business at any cost. Asia - with the exception of Japan - has traditionally been a much cheaper place to do research and, with costs actually going down and targets increasing, the industry is almost in a tailspin.

Getting people - never mind good people - is a nightmare. The staff turnover in some agencies runs at 50% every year so people have no time to learn. More and more people have no idea about what their company does. Just educating people about your tools is no mean feat. And to top it all, the higher I climb the corporate ladder the harder I work. I remember when I was a JRE, my ex-boss had mastered the art of looking busy while doing nothing. When am I going to have that in my job description?

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