After a wonderful night of networking and basking in the amazing city views from the Chill Sky bar (thanks Epinion!),  a wonderful performance with traditional Vietnamese costumes and drums marked the opening of ESOMAR Asia Pacific 2013 …

Opened by new President Dan Foreman, the event marks ESOMAR’s 14th edition of this regional event. With over 270 delegates from 30 countries, this conference is set to show not only how Asia is on the move – but why this is the case and how research can stay ahead of the pack in finding new opportunities through the diverse regional challenges. Noting that Asia has a population that is 12 times the size of the US, with over 50% being under 26 and over 3 billion mobile users – Dan highlighted just how great the opportunities can be in market and social research not only for the region, but also globally.

Ralf Mattheus, ESOMAR Representative for Vietnam, then provided a great visual overview of what Vietnam has to offer and why, as a market and country it has been resilient over time and found a way to rise again. There is a great sense of pride that exudes from those in Vietnam and this seems only seems to bolster the reasons behind the fact that it is a top emerging country and one of the Next Eleven (N-11).

Maryan Broadbent, programme chair then gave a wonderfully detailed overview of the programme and diversity of not only the speakers but also of the presentations ranging from the questioning of cultural identity through the gender lens (from male as well as female perspectives) to semiotics in Asia and the impact of digital.

Keynote Madame Ninh

While Vietnam has a long and ancient culture, it’s streets today are vibrant and reflect the youthfulness of it’s current population. However, this may not be the case for long. Demographic studies show that in 50 years Vietnam will go the way of Japan – ageing fast.  This golden time of opportunity may not last long in this country, so we must seize it while we can. So what does this mean for MR and how can this affect how talent in recruited in the region?

As President of Tri Vet Institute for International Studies, Madame Ninh provided a unique perspective into how the market research industry can contribute to helping young talent in Vietnam, but also in Asia, for increasing the understanding of what career in this industry can offer to the up and coming students from the region. According to Madam Ninh, this involves a short and long-term alignment between the MR industry and education providers.

Vietnamese schools are geared more towards traditional teaching and learning with little incentive towards questions, spirit of inquiry and critical thinking.  Therefore there is a need to teach students to  how to learn in the ways that are needed for our industry. The region has fast learners who are yearning to excel – so research investment should be looking into young talent as well as commercial opportunities. So how can we do this? We need to be clear on the specific resources needed for market research and this in turn needs to be shared with higher education leaders and training.  There is a growing awareness of skills training (critical thinking, problem solving, comms and interpersonal skills). With this in mind, market research can actually set the pace for learning of those skills by building up the right understanding of the value of our industry and professionalism it requires. While this can ( and should) be applied globally, it is extremely important in Asia, where the cultural differences of the region may give different views of objectivity, acceptable social interaction and professional development.

Richard Burrage, Programme Committee member, then introduced the next session – New Opportunities and Human Dimensions to Growth.

The last frontier of Asia…

First up was Chris Riquier of TNS Singapore and Ron Gailey, of The Coca-Cola Company in Thailand, who took us on a journey on how to find our inner Indiana Jones and explore the last frontier of Asia – Myanmar. Both Chris and Ron, believe that market research has the potential to drive both economic and social development in Myanmar – now that sanctions have lifted and their presentation was a very good example of how to do so.

From the Coca -Cola perspective it was a truly unique opportunity. Once the sanctions lifted and the doors to the country opened for Western investment, the company began to investigate the country itself – through pure qualitative studies of 11,000 people.  TNS and Coca-Cola went into the homes of the Myanmar people to gain an understanding of their core values, their beliefs and their behaviours – for example, what brands do they like and how do they feel about them. They connected with them face-to-face and on a truly personal level – ethnography of the best kind as Ron noted.

Myanmar has deep foundation of Buddhism and, as a bit of a surprise, TNS and Coca-Cola found that every man they interviewed had been a monk – a true rite of passage. – as religion is not an add on, but part of life and  fully integrated. Your interviews may stop for religious ceremonies, so be prepared and respectful.

Community is essential and a source of daily connection. Close family ties and education is critical as it is seen as an investment – making it very similar to it’s other regional counterparts. About 25% of students in Myanmar go on to university.

On the practical side of things –  entering into the market is a challenge with a lot of legal restrictions – so be sure to go slow and use caution.  You must know about the legal system and political landscape before jumping in. And be prepared for some unique bureaucracy – special forms on special paper that can only be used with a specific type of typewriter… Planning is key

Ron advises that as an industry we need to cooperate to get the local MR industry moving. We need to invest in setting up proper resources for good data collection as well as for  training for the the local industry, in-coming clients and even more so for the people of Myanmar itself.  Coca-cola worked with multiple agencies, who in turn worked together to get the qualitative work done in the short time allotted to do it. Coca-Cola is now in business and believes there is opportunity and that if companies work together more can happen to increase potential opportunities  in social and market research in Myanmar. The people in Myanmar are ambitious about long-term opportunities and are open to western influences coming in… are you ready for it?

Baring it all…

What are the issues that modern women are facing now in Asia Pacific? Bing Natividad of Unilever, Singapore and Maria Christina Inocentes of Ipsos Singapore dove into the subject in their presentation Baring it All – Exploration of Modern Women in Asia Pacific

Women in Asia will outnumber men in 2015, so don’t discount them and their perspectives and impact on the future of Asian economies. While often the identities of Asian women are shaped by their traditional beliefs and values, the pull of the modern needs and lifestyles has created a new and emerging blend of Asian female. To find success in the future, your brand must show that it understands her and how she lives within this paradox.

While there are similarities running across Asia for women, such as the growing need for empowerment and liberation, there are some fundamental regional differences.  Indonesian women may be more oriented to blending in and not standing out, while Vietnamese women take pride in themselves but think about family impact and create self-boundaries and South Korean women strive for balance, diversity and perfection.

So what is the point of exploring this…? We need need to see more similarities across markets for more efficiency. Unilever wanted to do this study to be able to better connect the dots and make a bigger impact with their brands. Similarities make brand essence relevant on a regional and local level, so be sure to have strong communication context and development, brand positioning and portfolio management taking these aspects into account and product and concept development reflecting this new emerging Asian women – and soon to be your dominate (numbers-wise) gender in the region. Remember to continuously try to understand her. It is an ongoing process…as the world changes so will she…

Masculinity in Urban India Today

Satyam Viswanathan, from the Third-Eye in India, then took us through a historical journey of Indian Masculinity. Over time the masculinity of Indian men has gone through various redefinitions, altering how both men and women are perceived in society. Historically, there were single prescriptions for how a man should lead his life, but as time has moved on and different India’s have emerged (Vedas, Mughal and British Empires)  and post-colonial globalised India saw for the first time men had no one certain path to success of validation and no clear role models to follow. Hard work can take a slum boy to the cricket field to idol and this new idea and acceptance of it has caused a split between what Indians perceive as masculinity.

This has caused anxiety and conflict in the INdian male identity and in many ways has manifested itself in a reversion to familiar codes of the more conservative and austerity of the past – i.e outbreaks of moral policing and villainy masquerading as virtuousness.  On the other side a more understated acceptance of what masculinity means has allowed for a growing shift in how women perceive themselves – in both confidence and sexuality and this in turns is causing the dynamics of society to change rapidly in urban areas.

Which tract of masculinity will be the defining avatar of the Indian male.  After review of 5000 years of history for this presentation and multiple political and ethnic influences, it seems that only time will tell us where Indian masculinity will head int the future.

The Modern Nomad in Asia

How many of you currently live in place that is not your home country?  With that question, Stephanie Herold of Clear Singapore, saw half the audience raise their hands.  Using her “new home country” of Singpore as her example, Stephanie explained that expats, who make up 28% of the Singaporean population, are in many terms a forgotten people in terms of MR.

While these modern nomads share a commonality of the experience of moving and setting up from scratch – the actual impact of acculturation, the feeling of belonging and identity, various greatly amongst ex-pat communities affecting the relationship between cultural identity and consumption, potentially creating new brand strategies for our clients.

As researchers,  one should look at daily touchpoints of habits and consumption of these nomads.  When they eat, what brands do they eat, what clothing brands do they choose to wear and what news channels do they watch? For the nomads in this study, when asked what home brands they missed,  food was the top category (no real surprise) but also included fashion, personal care and media were common areas where brands could make a local impact with these nomad communities.

How can we link categories to cultural backgrounds?  Do we need a separate brand strategy and how do we shape?  We need to capture the new dynamic of these people on the move – need to understand this cultural identity. On a people level, take into account their levels of acculturation – in this studies Philippinos were more linked to their food back home versus British who tended to embrace the local food more.  It is important to pay attention to is the importance of ethnicity and their feeling of belonging. On a business level keep in mind the relevancy of the category, the size of the opportunity and of course, the competitive situation.