Read the Asia Pacific 2012 conference review by Caz Tebbutt, Anna Thomas, and Jeff Hunter.

Asia Pacific 2012
Asia kaleidoscope
Shanghai / 15-17 April

By Caz Tebbutt
ESOMAR Rep for Fiji and the South Pacific

Asia Kaleidoscope by name, Asia Kaleidoscope by nature! What an amazing conference we enjoyed at APAC Shanghai. A record 332 delegates from 32 countries made it a big event. Read more...
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I’ve been to most of the APACs and have enjoyed them all. But 2012 blew them away. It felt less like a conference and more like an experience. Shanghai was in the room with us – there was no question that we were in China. We snacked on delicious Dragon Beard Candy, freshly made for us. We had our names reproduced in beautiful traditional calligraphy to take home. We souvenired bright red paper happiness symbols, carefully crafted with tiny scissors, right before our eyes. We wowed at the dragon dancing and marvelled at the fire-breathing opera performer with his/her flexibility and ever changing face masks (how did he/she do that?). We watched modern dancers show their strength, rhythm and flexibility. And we didn’t have to leave the conference to do it!

When we did step outside, for the conference dinner, we cruised the Huangpu River admiring the Bund and Pudong, with the old and the new so glorious in its contrast and so strikingly beautiful.

We experienced some wonderful presentations too with all the colours of Asia. We took our shoes off and got up on our chairs, shouting colours at the screen to prove that we can’t cope with a world turned upside down. We drew faces with strangers in silence, and learned to say “yes, and” and to accept and build upon offers to get our clients to listen to us. (Congratulations Lee Ryan, for this best presentation improv session, and well done John Smurthwaite on your new acting career!) We linked arms and swayed in unison. We ate and laughed and had a great time with friends. Some of us found the bar on the 66th floor.

The sobering reality that Asia is driving the new world was right in front of us the whole time, featured in exciting papers, big projects, real innovation and great attempts to reach consumers in this changing world. So when the very last speaker, keynote Chris Jaques, CEO of M&C Saatchi Asia, told us to ‘adapt or die’, we believed him. China is big and getting bigger, he said, driving growth and innovation and reclaiming its rightful place as the world’s leading economy. India is close behind. The Industrial Revolution that drove the economic dominance of USA, Germany, France and other western countries over the last 190 years will soon be over and the world economic ‘pie’ will look more like it used to for the previous 1000 years, with China and then India dominating world trade and growth. We left the conference awakened, and ever mindful that we need to evolve to stay relevant.

But let me take you back to the beginning.

APAC opened with a burst of colour and noise, with a beautiful yellow and red silk dragon dance. Henry Xin and Gloria Jun Zhang, the ESOMAR Reps for China, welcomed us all and reminded us that it is only 24 years since the first MR company opened in China. They talked of rapid growth, dramatically changing consumerism and the explosion of technology, themes that featured throughout the conference. Pravin Shekar reminded us all that we are part of the tremendous social change going on in Asia, and Conference Chair David Richardson then introduced our opening keynote, Mike Chinoy, who was well known to many from CNN.

What a way to start! Chinoy offered up a visual feast of amazing images that only a journalist could, which brought his personal tale of the complexity of modern day China to life. Having worked in the region since 1973, he talked of astonishing transformations and social change, watching China’s leaders lift 400 million people from abject poverty and create 400 million internet users. No other country in history has undergone such quick and fundamental change. Is China the invincible giant about to take over the world? Or is it in the brink of collapse? What should we believe? Chinoy talked us through the US narrative on China, and convinced us we should be more worried about a weak China than a strong one.

This made us think, and we kept thinking for two days. We kept being asked, “do we need to change?” There is a call for new techniques, a new way of doing things. Are we responding? Are we doing enough, fast enough to deal with the digital technology age? Better still, are we still having the same conversation? Vanessa Oshima said that we have been talking about mobiles for 10 years, Jim Sailor said we’ve talked about strategic partnerships for even longer, and Keith Spencer reminded us that we are still trying to fully understand the power of TV after 50-60 years. Darryl Andrew was blunter – giving someone a hammer does not make them a carpenter, he said.

There was a lot of effort made in this conference to give the client a voice, and in a special Key Clients Interview session our clients told us that they see market researchers as people, not as product sales reps. We have evolved from being data providers to advice givers, but now we should become solution providers. Yes, clients want more from us! Better presentations, better insights, better relationships. They are dealing with this new digital world too and need our help to understand it. We have been slow to fill the ever-widening gaps for our industry that the digital revolution has created.

Agency-client papers consistently told us that we need to get closer to the consumer in order to understand them, to tap growth, to improve relevance. Clients want us immersed in consumers’ lives, to go to where they live, whether this might be a rural village or inside their mobile/PC world to their online social media sites. They want to observe them too, to understand how they are using all of this new technology and what this means for a marketer trying to leverage it.

Jacky Cheung even proposed that we get consumers to brainstorm alongside client technical staff. A case study showed how real ideas can emerge from this simple and cost efficient approach that has the consumer at the forefront of innovation. Instead of showing the consumer ideas and getting their reactions, the tables are turned and the consumer gives us the ideas. Simple and brilliant!

The personal nature of relationships featured in the fantastic papers on mobiles, PCs and electronic devices used for capturing research data. We market researchers talk about devices, but consumers say “my mobile” or “my computer”. Heidi Lau states that so much social connectivity is now through mobiles it is no wonder the consumer has an increasingly emotional relationship with these devices. Masao Kakihara says we market researchers are good at counting how many mobiles there are, but lacking when it comes to understanding how people keep using them in smarter ways. What about developing an app that enables you to understand exactly what consumers are doing with their mobile phones? Or in their daily lives? Have James Fergusson and Fiona Buchanan really found a research nirvana that enables real time monitoring of what consumers are doing? This is completely passive research for the consumer, but rich for the researcher.

If we think more about the respondent, should we make the whole experience of collecting information unique and fun? This is precisely what Jon Puleston proposed with his gamification paper, showing us how to use gaming concepts to improve our questionnaires. It is a great idea – make it more pleasant for the respondent and they will spend longer doing it, and give you better data. Congratulations Jon for winning the conference best paper award!

Alastair Gordon and Eric Gu say you can’t hide your emotions, and watching an ad on your computer while a webcam determines your facial expressions might just be the future. It is simpler for the respondent than those tedious attribute batteries with 7-point likert scales. Or maybe we should consider removing the respondent from participation altogether and use ‘digividuals’ – robots that search the internet and social media for key words and return the content to its own blog ready for review and analysis. Richard Shaw and Anna af Hallstrom showcased this approach but warned of the challenges of scale. What do we do with too much information?

What if we could follow the trail of people’s conversations on Facebook and analyse those? Lars Groeger and Scott Taylor have persisted with a technique to do just that, and shared their failures and successes with us. So to the kaleidoscope that is Asia. While the APAC region has some of the greatest technology advances, it also boasts large populations that are being lifted from poverty who are buying more basic new products and services too. Bicycles, tiny cars, whitegoods and branded FMCGs are all in demand. Shobna Prasad explained what makes brands successful, and showed that even the poorest among us want to be less poor than their poor neighbours.

Getting out of the office and into the villages helps to unlock value, like Sunita Venkataraman and Radhecka Roy did in Indonesia. We heard about the rise of the rural rich in India from Sandeep Dutta, and learned that buying a fridge and offering cold beer to your friends can make you the most popular man in your village.

What of the future? We met the 2020 Chinese consumers with Wenkan Liao and Lihua Li, and learned that individuality and brand loyalty are on the rise at the expense of pragmatism. Global Asian youth culture was explored using Linsanity – the sudden rise of Jeremy Lin – and Manny Pacquiao – the famous Filipino boxer - as examples of why the word diaspora could be more appropriate than immigrant, with social networks facilitating global discourse among the young diaspora and making them proud to be Asian. Joseph Chen and Robin Brown challenged us to consider the influence of Asia in a global sense, suggesting that even more people will be living in a country other than that of their birth than the current 215 million. ‘Acculturation’ must feature in our thinking about consumers and how we reach them.

When Finn Raben closed the conference and farewelled us we all knew one thing for sure - it is an exciting time to be in the market research industry in Asia-Pacific.

In my final hours in Shanghai I wandered leisurely through the French Concession then went in search of the famous, world renowned delicacy of this city. I headed to Yu Yuan and fought the queues at Old Town, then climbed the stairs higher and higher in Nanxiang restaurant. I sat with my Melbourne-Shanghai friend, and chatted about how the world really is changing. As I finally lifted that delicious steamed vegetable dumpling with my chopsticks, dipped it in vinegar and had that first taste, I smiled. I am glad I came to Shanghai. Thank you ESOMAR and the conference committee, for something truly wonderful!

By Anna Thomas

Shanghai was buzzing with energy, style and culture. It was Fashion Week, China Grand Prix, and the French Film Festival, but most importantly, it was ESOMAR’s Asia Pacific conference, aptly named ‘Asia Kaleidoscope’. Read more...
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It was Fashion Week, China Grand Prix, and the French Film Festival, but most importantly, it was ESOMAR’s Asia Pacific conference, aptly named ‘Asia Kaleidoscope’.

From the information packs, I could see at least five pages of countries represented, but I knew most delegates would have multi-country interests. At the Welcome Drinks, a greater kaleidoscope of hopes for the conference emerged:

  • We were keen to theorise on the future. But we also wanted immediate commercial relevance.
  • We were sourcing trustworthy suppliers, but – because of the size of this region - we had to fast-track working links in only three days.
  • We hoped to uncover the next big, strategic steps for our businesses. But we all desperately needed the event to be re-energising, engaging, uplifting.

A brief for ESOMAR to touch our hearts and heads. We were to be rewarded.

Clever, creative, charming

The Programme Committee (chaired by David Richardson, Ipsos Korea) designed a remarkable catwalk of papers. The Organising Committee showcased the collection perfectly.

Each day started with a traditional Asian performance – dragon dancing, masks, fire-breathing. Energy was high. The room sat forward.

Throughout the event, content was streamed live to remote delegates. A side point, perhaps, but for me, this evidenced ESOMAR’s understanding of the marketplace. Asia Pacific is vast. It’s also a region of global brands and interests. Travel here isn’t always possible; creative broadcasting should be a basic industry standard.

Our keynote speaker loved the cameras. Mike Chinoy was CNN’s Asia correspondent for thirty years. Now a Senior Fellow at USC’s US-China Institute, Mike emphasised the complexity of Asia Pacific. He included black-and-white photos of his early reporting years, and his opinions of the previous days’ “satellite” launch from North Korea. His focus was naturally China, and he reminded us just how rapidly that country is transitioning. From the Great Wall to Cultural Revolution to designer handbags and French cosmetics... as we sat in the ballroom of the Shanghai le Meridien, his message was self-evident: Asia Pacific is morphing. We need to keep up.

Against this historical backdrop, Gloria Jun Zhang (Horizon Research, China) neatly guided us through the first session.

McKinsey & Company filled in the demographic detail of China’s current and future consumer base. Although not a hugely creative paper, this was one of the most referred-to in subsequent conversations. Consumers will be more numerous, more urban, more affluent and more spending-oriented – an opportunity and a challenge for brands.

More creatively, Joseph Chen (Unilever, Canada) and Robin Brown (Environics, Canada) traced the level of overlaps in youth social networks (which regularly include ‘home-resident’ and ‘immigrant’ teens from China, India and North America). They showed how permeable the boundaries of geography are on cultural references and product recommendations. Teens’ daily photo/text/video exchanges mean Brand A may also be advertising in Montreal when it advertises in Mumbai. Their lovely ‘Lux’ case study showed the importance of ignoring physical geography and retaining a pan-cultural perspective. For me, it put paid to the phrase “home-grown”, made me wonder how reach could be measured and (fleetingly) got me imagining new opportunities to target global audiences.

But there was no time to muse, and not all boundaries have melted away. Shobha Prasad, (Drshti, India) followed the fascinating story of the ‘Tata Nano’. The ‘world’s cheapest car’ had to be re-positioned after targeting “economy” consumers in a particular social class instead of “premium” sectors of the class below. The ‘A’ in APAC stands for “Aspirational”.

Then to the question of whether the market research industry has really gotten to grips with mobile research. As the Chair, Vanessa Oshima, (The Coca-Cola Company, Japan) remarked, “We’ve been discussing this for more than a decade”. It wasn’t clear from the papers whether the potential of mobile has been tapped and my sense was that we have a way to go. However, Masao Kakihara (Google, Japan) reminded me how ‘mobile’ the Asia Pacific region is in terms of telecoms, migration and fashion. He also made me remember that the region’s discourse, dominated by China, must also encompass the diversity of Japan, Thailand and New Zealand.

Requirements from Insight Suppliers may not be the same everywhere, but the conference recognised the need for stronger strategic partnerships with clients throughout the region. A candid question to Lihua Li (McKinsey) made me grin but showed how relaxed we were with each other at this point: ‘How does McKinsey get clients to pay such high fees?’

Li’s rapid answer? “Show them the return on their investment”.

It was a reasonable reply but I sensed some delegates struggling to know how to demonstrate ROI. The questioner might have liked a working example but time was against us.

Questions from the floor spilled through the presentation by Andy Zhao (China Market Research Agency) and into the TNS-sponsored dinner boat along the Huangpi River. Against the neon-lit shoreline, we continued to share and learn from experiences, to exchange business cards (with both hands!) and to open up new professional networks.

Exciting and Intelligent

Next morning, delegates were eager for more new perspectives. And they came at speed.

We wanted to hear what more a client-side customer officer (Maryan Broadbent, AIA Insurance, Hong Kong) will require from an insight consultant (David Smith, DVL Smith, UK). The implications for new skill-sets and mindsets were carefully outlined. We realised that as the insight supplier’s role changes, there will be knock-on effects on the client-side - but that it is ultimately the consumer who defines the partnership.

Swiftly we moved on to a practical paper (Keith Spencer, Ipsos Australia). I was just digesting Keith’s sound evidence for planning media to maximise advertising effectiveness when Sandeep Dutta (TNS) launched a fascinating account of the emergence of the Indian ‘Rural Rich’. Sandeep reminded us that the future, to its core, will be substantially different. Researchers must not lean on old assumptions. Our survival will be in our flexible thinking.

Every delegate could agree!

After such rich food for thought, the tone of the next session was a delight. Light relief came in a playful paper from Lee Ryan, Raspberry, on basic improvisation techniques. NPD processes (for table salt) fell out of a creative paper from Jacky Cheung, Hong Kong. Then a row of clients, seated on barstools like a chatshow gave us an insight into their worldview. Questions from the floor indicated that delegates were again grappling for a Golden Rule to building closer strategic partnerships. Wellington Chu of Volvo Car, China advised us to “Challenge the brief...But not every brief...Pick the ones to challenge...”

The session wasn’t easy. The conclusion was possibly that there’s no way to commoditise the place of an insight supplier. We begin a partnership with our clients; like all relationships, it works or doesn’t work, based on our ability to deliver to their commercial realities. If we’re not genuinely interested in the business, in the layers above and beyond ‘our client’, then we remain narrowly attached and project-focused. Our responsibility must be to develop as experts in our field and to hone our skills in the commercial arena.

The last session’s Chair, Pravin Shekar, lifted up a tired audience with gentle humour.

One by one, we were introduced to four really good papers.

The analysis of social conversations on Facebook by the impressive Lars Groeger, Macquarie Grad School, Australia was used by Scott Taylor, Soup, Australia to deliver a “value” to word of mouth outcomes of campaign activity. This paper was generous and valuable.

I also loved the work presented by Alastair Gordon, New Zealand, showing how micro- muscle work on faces in psychology labs has been transformed into a tool of real value for monitoring and measuring advertising effects. My hopes for an intelligent research future - where “qual” and “quant” are finally blended – really rocketed.

BrainJuicer’s work on social media research, and GMI’s engaging questionnaire design, confirmed that many of us are on the same lines. Insight – even in this changing region – seems still possible.

Chris Jaques, CEO, M&C Saatchi Asia, issued a keynote call to arms: ‘Adapt or Die’. Everyone loved the drama: how inexorably APAC is rising to commercial dominance, how inevitably Eastern working practice will overturn West, how seismic will be the changes in our working lifetimes.

It was brilliantly delivered.

Jaques received roaring applause, and delegates’ adrenalin peaked. An APAC-dominated world was both likely - and imminent.

Finn Raben (ESOMAR’s Director General) ended the conference with the perfect tone. He reminded us ESOMAR remains after 65 years and that it’s a powerful resource for connecting with other researchers.

Undoubtedly, there are challenges ahead. Trends, needs, demands, technology; everything switches like a kid’s toy kaleidoscope.

But we clearly have some great thinkers here and I was grateful for the chance to gather with my peers.

ESOMAR’s mission is to “encourage, advance and elevate our industry. In the face of such a complex future, who couldn’t use a little of that?

By Jeff Hunter

Personal Reflections on The ESOMAR Asia Pacific Conference
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A bit of personal background is probably in order. I studied East Asian languages at University, and then lived for a few years in different parts of Asia. This was, however, over thirty years ago. In the intervening years, I traveled for holiday and business to many other parts of the world – but I had not been back to the Asia Pacific region.

Given this background, I welcomed the opportunity to attend the 2012 ESOMAR Asia Pacific conference, held in Shanghai. It would be give me the opportunity to see the changes to the landscape, to hear what experts think the future portends, and to assess the business and research issues facing the region. I wondered how different the research approaches might be to things that I had seen in other parts of the world.

I will not dwell on the changed economic landscape, since most of the conference attendees are more familiar with this than I - and may well be weary of the commentary. I would be personally remiss, however, if I did not speak briefly to my sense of wonder.

I was struck by many things as I took tours inside and outside the city of Shanghai, but will limit my commentary to my tour of Pudong. The pictures below are worth a thousand words. The top half of the picture is Pudong (and the Bund) in 1990. The bottom half of the picture shows the same part of the city in 2010. In this period of time, agricultural fields became a global center of international finance and a large city with a few million or more people. Amazing.

So, what did the conference get me thinking about?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in some form, is still relevant.

To paraphrase, the hierarchy looks something like this, with higher order needs/wants being pursued only after basic and essential needs/wants are met.

  1. Physiological
  2. Safety
  3. Love/Belonging
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-actualization

I have been surprised in recent years at the relevancy of the construct. I went through most of my career in a developed market that did not experience significant economic change. In virtually every Asia Pacific market, however, there has been and is great economic change with rising household incomes everywhere. McKinsey projects that the number of mainstream households in China, with incomes of $16,000 to $34,000, will increase from 13.7MM to 166.6MM between 2010 and 2020. The number of affluent households in China, with incomes greater than $34,000, will increase from 5MM to 20MM in this same time frame.

Attendant to this rise in disposable incomes are significant changes to the type of products and services that are sought by consumers. Importantly for researchers, the motivations for acquiring these products and services will become ever more complex. McKinsey forecasts an increase in “aspirational trading up”, with greater consumer focus on improving “themselves, the way they live, and their perceived social standing”. Other conference papers spoke to the importance of this aspirational trading up in India and Indonesia.

Finally, there may be an opportunity to revise this hierarchy of needs, to better reflect the impact that culture has on aspiration. “Esteem” and “Self-actualization” seem very “western” in their focus on the individual. What exactly do “Esteem” and “Self-actualization” mean in a country such as Indonesia, where there is greater focus on community and the well-being of the group?

There are relationships between Value, Aspiration and Brand, and there is opportunity when these are considered carefully.

When I arrived at the hotel for the conference, I took a walk around the neighborhood. I noticed four coffee shops; one in the hotel, Starbuck’s, Costa Coffee, and a local establishment titled “Comfy Café”. They all offered cappuccino, in the same quantity, but at very different prices; 48 yuan, 28, 20, and 8. I won’t speak to differences in quality, because I would not want to antagonize anyone, but there were customers in each establishment. This provides one example of segmentation in which convenience, brand and price all play a part.

A number of the papers presented at the conference elaborate on Value/Aspiration/Brand segmentation in important ways.

Brands and product categories act as “markers” of social class, and become aspirational in developing markets where large numbers of households work hard to advance their social and economic standing. In this world “brand” is a symbol of belonging. In this world, there is something beyond “good/better/best”, and it becomes paramount to understand the intersection between what is aspirational and what the consumer perceives to be reasonably attainable. Brand management faces unique challenges in this liquid environment, because brands will be anchored in certain economic and social strata, but the populations will be shifting across strata. Knowing where your brand can go, and managing new brands and sub-brands become critical.

In developing markets, and in lower social and economic levels of society, where brands and product categories may be unfamiliar, value is realized through experience. In many cases, the consideration and purchase decisions are not merely about questions of aspiration, but become questions of priority. What is worth more – a personal computer or a refrigerator? In rural areas, and especially for more expensive items, marketing must travel to the audience and create these experiences. This is especially effective when there is an understanding of the broader set of consumer “values” and these can be linked to the “new” good; for example, Filipino’s are passionate about singing, and demonstrating the role of a PC to support that passion makes the PC more valuable.

The pace of technical and technique innovation in our industry is amazing and daunting.

I am re-reading the papers to ensure that I truly understand the implications of all the new thinking presented at the conference. The breadth of innovative research thinking is amazing to me. There is an example of a new (to me, anyway) approach to ethnography, which is described as “The Culture School” and leverages PRA – Participatory Rural Appraisal. It seemed a great way to get meaningful understanding and insight in rural areas that are also developing socially and economically in many countries. “Improv” implies a lack of structure, but despite this “The Role of Improv in the Emerging New World of Innovation Practice” provided what looked to be a structured and useful addition to the new product innovation toolkit. There were great examples of Social Network Analysis that provided clear understanding of the analytic challenges, as well as good case studies where text analysis was used to help an e-commerce site better understand target and positioning. There was a really wonderful paper that brought together webcams and facial recognition for copy testing purposes.

If I have any pause in all this, it is that we seem sometimes to lack a clear linkage between what we can do, and how that ultimately benefits the client.

The satisfaction gap between clients and agencies remains.

There were a number of papers presented at the Asia Pacific Conference that I thought did an excellent job of addressing the changing world and linking insights to business implication (and I spent twenty-five years on the client side before retiring).

Despite this, the feedback from clients at the Conference was only moderately positive – a 6 or a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 would wonderful.

This has been a constant point of friction over the past few years, and progress seems hard to come by.

My own thought in the moment is simply that the pace of change and the hyper-competition between firms has created an environment in which skill sets cannot evolve fast enough. I wonder what Darwin would say.

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