In a couple of weeks, the second edition of ESOMAR’s Central and Eastern European Research Forum is taking place in Prague. Although I am not originally from the CEE region, over the last year, I have spent a lot of time in Romania. Romania is, like many countries in this region, in full transition. However, I was curious if changes are also taking place in our industry. To find out, I talked to industry representatives from both client, supplier as agency side.
Online research at its tipping point?
Romania is in the top 5 countries with the fastest internet connection in the world. Nevertheless, face-to-face and CATI are still the most popular data collection methods in Romania. But the industry is optimistic that things are about to change. “Online research is gaining grounds in Romania recently and clients are more open to it due to the evident advantages. The internet penetration in Romania in now 61% in urban areas according to our latest press release, so we are ready for online research” says Traian Nastase, Online Project Manager at GfK Romania.
According to Alina Serbanica, ESOMAR’s representative in Romania and Senior Vice President at Ipsos, the Romanian consumer will force us to change: “The CEE consumption patterns will follow the western trends. People will have less time available for ‘in person’ interviews, preferring to take control on ‘when’ and how’ to take part in market research. At the same time, people are becoming more addicted to the online world, regardless if it is about online socialising or online services. Therefore, the Romanian researchers must adapt to the new trends and macroeconomic changes.”
Experimentation with online qualitative research
Research communities and online ethnography are the buzz words that are dominating the western market research industry. But how do they resonate across the Romanian border?
There is definitely some initial uptake of online qualitative research. All players in the market indicate that they applied online focus groups and research communities. However, we are only at the start. Oana Popa Rengle from Anamnesis, a research agency specialising in online qualitative research, testifies: “the buzz is out there and it has been for years, there is a need to revise the methodologies, to not ask everything in focus groups, but focus groups remain the supreme qualitative method in Romania.”
At the client side, there is nevertheless enthusiasm and openness for innovation on the level of methodology. Oana Mirila and Andreea Coca, both working at the qualitative department of GfK explain: “Online qualitative research had noticeable advantages to our clients, in some industries such as healthcare and telecom. It allowed us to gain access to targets otherwise hard to reach like medical professionals, youth and digital natives who are more open to the online environment, as well as generate rich visual output.” It seems that clients are also inspired by their colleagues in the west. As I personally experienced myself at InSites Consulting, there is an increased interest in replicating success stories locally, something that I have experienced myself as well.
So what is stopping the rise of online qualitative research? It seems like the level of expertise is still lacking behind. Since most companies are still in the experimentation stage, the lack of authority is still making things stagnate or move slowly. Oana Popa Rengle: “ I think that when the level of expertise will hit a ‘critical mass’, we will see a real take-off.”
Are we ready for mobile research?
At the Best of ESOMAR last year in Bucharest, I hosted a panel debate on trends in research. One of the most striking conclusions for me was the pessimism about the mobile research in Romania. So, have we changed our minds? Alina Serbanica definitely sees the potential on the consumer side: “Mobile devices are becoming very popular. Especially in the urban areas and in the 15 to 40 year old target groups, mobile penetration is very high”. On top of this, the accessibility of wifi technology is very high. Surfing on the trend of the mobile consumer, some agencies already start exploring different mobile data collection techniques. Nevertheless, despite the optimism on mobile in the west, it seems like we are not quite ready for the mobile wave in Romania. Traian Nastase explains: “the clients just got used to online research and we don’t consider yet mobile research as the big research tendency in Romania. It will still need time to getting familiar with platforms available in this respect and educate the target to step into this type of cooperation.”
The industry in transition
With market research moving forward, one can wonder how our profession is comparing with related industries like consultancy, advertising, business intelligence and other disciplines. It is clear that different professions are converging towards each other. There is however no consensus on whether this is a blessing or a curse. On one hand, consulting agencies have a higher need for trustful data during uncertain economic times. In that perspective the partnership between consultancy and market researcher holds great potential. Others however, spot more competition than convergence. Oana Popa Rengle clarifies: “Research is some sort of ‘Cinderella’ and has difficulties claiming and getting the due respect. I think one of the reasons this happens is the “popular culture discourse” on research, that still identifies it with focus groups.”
One thing is for sure, research is in transition and the online way forward is to embrace all the new possibilities that are available today. Consumers seem to be more ready than ever to participate in new style research. We should build up our knowledge by more experimentation. And moreover we should claim our spot between consultancy and advertising by showing our innovative nature!
Annelies Verhaeghe is Head of Research Innovation at Insites Consulting, Romania and is on the Programme Committee for ESOMAR’s CEE Research Forum 2013.
This blog post is the first in a series of three pieces looking at the market research industry in Romania and the CEE region. Keep an eye on future posts to learn more about client needs and future talent in region. Still hungry on more knowledge on conducting research in Central and Eastern Europe? Join us in Prague for ESOMAR’s CEE Research Forum.