The challenge for MR in Asia is also the opportunity

There is no shortage of statistics on the importance of Asia for Western brands as a driver for global growth. Asia represents enormous opportunity for Western brands to expand their business, whichever way you cut the data and irrespective of the category in which the brand operates. So how do we best support the global brand managers who are continually faced with making trade-offs, as their budget bucket is not limitless – and we find highly sought after markets and segments becoming prioritized?

It’s the role and function of the MR industry in Asia to guide the decision making of these global brand managers – to evolve both our thinking and our offer, to synthesise our local knowledge and expertise with the increasing demands being placed on the global brand manager in this era of big data, and to be controversial and hopefully inspirational. I would suggest we still have a long way to go as an industry in meeting these demands.

The reality of Asia is that it is both complex and complicated, it’s an amorphous region exhibiting behaviours of both burgeoning developed markets through to the emerging “tiger cub” nations. There are the economic powerhouses of China and India (which exhibit their own complexity and extremes), alongside the homogeneity of the hi-tech markets of Japan and South Korea, through to markets such as Indonesia which are evolving on their very own trajectory.

So how do we make sense of this apparent chaos? What are the predominant themes or forces that stitch Asia together? Whilst the list below is not extensive, I believe there are four overarching observations that provide the greatest opportunity for global brands when it comes to understanding Asia and ultimately “cracking” it in Asia:

  • The influence of connectivity. The digital world is reducing the disparity in Asian opinions and expectations. Asia’s value sets are becoming more aligned than ever before and this is likely to continue exponentially, as mobile devices creep into every facet of their lives.
  • Tapping into cultural legacy. Whilst connectivity pushes Asian markets toward convergence and similarities in mindset, there is also a feeling of loss of tradition and cultural values. This paradox between connectivity and cultural legacy clearly provides fertile ground for branding opportunities.
  • Personalisation provides an enormous opportunity and challenge. How do brands have a meaningful dialogue at the hyper local or individual level, and indeed how do global brands navigate the myriad of Asian languages?
  • Governance. The diversity of Asia is also matched by its diversity in governments and their respective views towards the West. The global brand now more than ever before needs to consider the implications of local rules and regulations – e.g. privacy policies, trade restrictions and avoiding controversy.

These observations can be overwhelming to our Western global brand managers, who will in turn often oversimplify things to make sense of the Asia situation … Asia is changing and changing fast and overgeneralization is a perilous path to take. The internet/smartphone/tablet has made Asia into a diverse set of markets that now have more in common than ever before. The connected Asian consumer is starting to access the same types of information, which in turn is changing their outlook, wants and views/opinions to become more aligned.

This is an extremely exciting time, and presents tremendous opportunity for Western brands. Opportunity is present in the sense that as these markets become more similar in their mindsets, expectations, desires and potential loss of traditional identity, the door to having a homogenous brand strategy for Asia is fast becoming a reality.

Whilst the Asian consumer is evolving (fast), demands being placed on the global brand manager are also growing, thus as an industry we need to advance our offering to match the pace of change. Based on my personal experiences and interactions, I have noticed five interconnected challenges that hold the key to the MR industry in Asia in delivering value to global/regional brand managers. These challenges are:

  1. Consumer understanding. Segmentation has historically been the domain of the MR industry. However in the era of big data, we have relinquished our leadership grasp in this area. Faster, more nimble “sister” industries have stolen the momentum when it comes to real time consumer understanding. MR has become a bystander to the programmatic and data fusion landscape.
  2. Stepping into CRM. This is an incredibly important area of investment within the client’s arsenal for winning in Asia. MR has such a vital role to play, but we’re not. When was the last time a client side researcher was asked by CRM developers which data fields they want to incorporate in the company’s CRM system? Understanding attribution remains largely untapped.
  3. Media measurement. Asia is a fertile ground for the European and US media measurement experts. However, in most of Asia there is a disparate collection of media measurement companies, with differing currencies and approaches. Being able to holistically measure cross media exposure and piping in actual purchasing behaviors remains an area for continued focus and investment in Asia.
  4. Panel fatigue and bias. We create “walled gardens” or panels to bypass issues around data privacy and convenience. However, panels can often be misused (or worse not enumerated accurately), creating panelists who are fundamentally different from the consumer on the street. How should we transparently be allowing for these skews, how do we inject “average” consumer behaviours and attitudes into our panels?
  5. The consumer journey. This term is the MR industry’s shiny new object, as clients have lost visibility of the path to purchase in the digital age. Terms like “showrooming” and ”webrooming” are now common amongst brand marketers … however in Asia we still do not have an effective and cost efficient way to measure the consumer’s path to purchase.

My question to the MR practitioners who are reading this article is whether Western brands are failing to effectively understand Asia, or are we as practitioners in Asia failing our Western client brands?

For the 16th ESOMAR Asia Pacific conference, the focus is on the business value of insights with a sharp lens on the new.

Asia means business – so what’s new?

The event is structured around seven areas over two days:

On May 18

  • What’s new, what’s needed, what’s next?
  • Innovasian
  • What’s new in Asian research, Part 1
  • Asia means business

On May 19

  • The new Asian normal
  • What’s new in Asian research, Part 2
  • Masterclass: Behaviourial economics
  • Agile Asia

Don’t miss the opportunity to hear from clients like Yahoo, SingTel, Coca Cola, Cisco, and PepsiCo, etc. There are also a lot of talented people in our industry, many of whom you will get the chance to meet, see and hear at ESOMAR Asia Pacific 2015. See you there!

Francis Che is Chairman of the Programme Committee, Head of Insights Strategy & Research APAC, Yahoo!, Taiwan.