Want to do research across Asia? Jump ship to Singapore, where many global firms set up their hubs because they know they can attract employees and their families from all over the world, who want to live and work in Asia, but still want the comforts of the West. Not to mention that it is much easier to fly to China, India or Japan than from New York City! As a "hub" for many multi-national companies it is also a haven for doing research across Asia.
And why not? It is safe, clean, culturally rich and full of great schools. Often referred to as "Asia-lite" - it offers cultural heritage and access to the rest of Asia but still offers the Western conveniences, as well as a diverse group of people from all over the world.
A little over a year ago, I had my reasons for deciding to up and leave a very comfortable and pleasurable existence working for Harris Interactive in my comfort zone and hometown of Washington DC. (This is besides the benefits of living in a place where I can wear flip flops to the beach year round.) Having been in the market research and consulting industry for most of my 15-year career, I had gotten quite comfortable, having a great portfolio of clients, established expertise in the online space, and the ability to run "global" projects with ease.
But comfort is overrated. And I couldn't ignore the magnetic pull of what was going on in Asia. New markets and frontiers from huge markets like China and India to the newer emerging markets of Thailand and the Philippines meant clients here were actively pursuing new strategies, products and advertising to penetrate these markets.
This kind of optimism and strategic planning, of course, is music to a researcher's ears - especially one who has sales targets! But business development is not the only untapped territory that has the potential to be explored and leveraged.
"Global" research out of our US-based clients historically meant the US, one or two Western European countries, BRIC and possibly Japan. While these countries were quite different, convergence on demographics in things like income, education, urban populations, and technology penetration often meant that we could use one methodology across markets and still be fairly representative.
Needless to say, Asian markets are vast and heterogeneous which means you cant use a one-size-fits-all approach. As just one example, rural populations account for 80% of the population in Indonesia. Internet penetration is only high among the urban areas (the other 20%), which means that if you want to target the non-urban populations, you need to be creative and reach them multiple ways, whether that be going door-to-door or some other method. And then you see the increased proliferation of mobile phones in various pockets where even the fruit seller in New Delhi has one and you realize that are new ways to reach people that you never imagined.
And the game plan continues to evolve. Just when you think you've got it figured out, a local Asian government introduces plans for expanding high-speed Internet, making it much more accessible than ever before. In countries with large Muslim populations, online research has opened up countless ways to reach women. Among the younger consumer segments targets for many of our clients we continue to see jumps in social media engagement, convergence of media device & usage, and Internet penetration even among the older segments of the population.
This kind of change presents new opportunities for creative players in the market research industry to foster innovation and develop new thought leadership. We are trying to keep up by bringing tools to the market where we can actually just sit and listen to what is being said in social networking sites. Online communities allow us to engage in a two-way dialogue where advertising is no longer about a one-way conversation.
Again, we are learning that no tool is a one-size-fits-all approach - we must combine these tools with smart thinking for clients that are as diverse as our markets.
In short, this kind of change is enough to keep researchers on their toes. But again, for some of us, comfort is overrated!!