I am a very lucky man. For reasons that defy logic the ESOMAR team have asked me to help edit Research World Connect for a few months. Lucky because I really don’t deserve a chance like this to pontificate my interests. And I am afraid I will.
So start .. the dreaded “c” word. Being an Australian I am known and prone to using the odd swear word on stage, in meetings and other inappropriate places, so fair warning if you ever invite me to speak at an event. But there is one world that I really try to avoid. A bastardised term that has plagued the marketing world and it’s research gurus for near two decades. And that is the incorrect use of ‘consumer’ as a catch all for, well, ‘people’.
It may seem pedantic but I am huge believer that the word consumer should only be used about people in the actual act of consumption. Personally I have averaged four full bodied, never those terrible diet or zero versions, every day for near forty years. There is no more long term lover of the product and the brand. Am I a Coke consumer. Not as a write this. There is no Coke near my desk. I was a Coke consumer 2 hours ago. No doubt I will be one at dinner tonight. But right now? No. I am just a person who may consume again. What is the point ?? Well the bad habit of marketers, their advertising agencies and their researchers of looking at people in way too narrow a fashion by limiting them to being “consumers”.
As a researcher I am always more interested in finding out about people and what they are doing, interested in, afraid of etc and then looking at how that might help or hinder an effort to get them to consumer or re-consume. And to be hones it just seems more honest to treat people as just that. Afterall we have all seen those spoof videos on Youtube of a person complaining about a marketer treating them as an anonymous consumer. We laugh at them. Then in our next meeting we again start using that “c” word. Disgusting.
So that was the rant. As guest editor that comes with the territory. It also means getting to focus some of the content of RWC on subjects I find interesting.
So here are three topics that I would personally like to see more discussion of within the industry. I have asked a few colleagues, some of the regular RWC bloggers and a couple of industry outsiders to feed through thoughts around them, and welcome contributions from anyone with a point of view, some experiences and industry examples:
AGING : or rather the aged. Which I mean in no derogatory way. For over a quarter a century I have been studing the implications of aging societies starting in my home country of Australia and more extensively while I have lived in Asia. By circumstance I have lived a decade in the oldest demographic profiled country, Japan, many years in Hong Kong which also ranks among the five oldest countries, five years in Thailand, by some measures over the last decade the fastest aging society and many, many days, weeks and months in the regions other “old” societies like Korea, Taiwan, China. I have worked with many of the great global brands and many large local ones. All acknowledge that aging societies are happening but little happens. Because it is “ too hard ”, “ tomorrows problem ” or “ well they don’t buy anything or try anything new so why bother ”. In the next issue of Research World I have an article that will start to challenge some of this. So the challenge : can we dig deeper into world of the 65-90 year old and perhaps re-look at the myths about them as people, as potential consumers, as mis-understood by marketers and researchers?
SOFTPOWER : or rather the tracking of softpower and it’s implications on Asian brands. Asian because that is where I live and have worked for twenty years. Asian because the most common question I get when ever I speak at any event is “ when will we see more Asian brands? ”. The latter I question I find incredible and more about the bias of the audience. Try walking through any market in Africa, the Middle East, Asia without noticing the dominance of Asian brands. The question that has fascinated me though has been the lack of research that tracks the impact of softpower on a brands success or failure. The challenge : two years ago at the ESOMAR Asia Pacific conference I asked how could we develop tools to include softpower influences in brand tracking and the effect it could have on Asian brands development, any ideas ?
LITERACY : or rather the changes that are going on suggesting new practices will be needed. In a world where there are good arguments that literacy in terms of “reading and writing” are on the decline but where literacy of graphic forms, from manga and graphic novels, to video gaming, to the booming of more graphic forms of social media like LINE, there has to be a debate as to what this means for MR, and marketing communications. Not just in the now well worn areas of gaming and mobile app development. There is a bigger issue. How do we create surveys, hold on-line panels and discussions, do deep dive qualitative work with populations for whom a “texted” message is made up of icons. The challenge : How can we develop new tools and process to analyse messaging through these new forms of literacy and what they are telling us about brands, social movements and people’s hopes and feelings?

So you may or not agree that these are key issues for the industry and we will welcome articles and thoughts on any issue of interest, but if they spark an idea and you would like to contribute then please let me know.

David McCaughan is the current guest editor of RWC.

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