ESOMAR APAC 2017: Discoveries

By Chris Wallbridge

Few places exemplify a fast pace of change quite like Shanghai. Things continue to change at a lightning speed, with new technology and use-cases over a matter of months disrupting and re-inventing business models for entire industries – business models that have been around for decades, and in some cases hundreds of years. Research and insights here do not stay as research and insights; companies take them, quickly, and they change – and try to anticipate future change.

This is not limited to China. This nimble and agile mindset spans much of APAC. In many of these markets there is simply too much opportunity businesses stand to gain if they anticipate and ride the crest of a new trend (or indeed the new normal) and too much at stake to lose if they do not evolve. This gets talked about constantly but it isn’t until you actually come and live, and immerse yourself, in one of these countries that you really appreciate and believe the scale of this fact; I know I did not quite grasp this before I moved to Shanghai.

ESOMAR, as always, delivered superbly on logistics and venue as those of us fortunate to have attended multiple conferences have come to expect and enjoy. They also did a first-class job of recruiting speakers that were both:

  • Diverse: the selection of speakers ranged from countries across APAC and industries, with a strong mix from client and agency side.
  • Forward-thinking: ESOMAR was able to attract those that are living, breathing, and embracing the aforementioned pace of change; innovating and delivering research and insights their businesses demand to stay ahead of the field.

We were treated to ground-breaking methods (truly, some of which I had never heard nor dreamt of) and case studies of the real impact that followed.

I will not make an attempt to describe all or even any of the presentations; (hopefully this will encourage even more of you to live-stream in the future), instead, here are 3 big takeaways I gathered from the conference.

Made Right Here, for Right Here

We all know that sometimes global client HQs and global agencies may try the ‘square peg, round hole’ approach; trying to retro (or force) fit approaches that work in other (read Western) markets to those in APAC. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, even when we do our best to ‘localize’.

This still misses a layer of detail, however: what works in one market in APAC is far from guaranteed to work in another. This is obvious when we reflect on it, but often overlooked amongst those not living or conducting a substantial amount of work in APAC countries. At the conference, we enjoyed presentations from agencies and clients from across the region, and one fundamental message was clear across the board: the need to build an approach from the ground up specific to that one market.

This is one clear catalyst for the strength of research method innovation presented at the conference: methods from even neighbouring countries should not be optimized for the home market; this spurs a need, and then a habit, for not only really looking carefully at the fine details of how to optimize an approach, but also tearing up the rule book and designing something hyper-bespoke.

Faster > Better > Cheaper

Regardless of where we work in the industry, we all know and have experience with the amount of incremental effort and time it takes to get something 100% perfect and finished. Going from 90% of the way there to 100% certainly takes more than one-tenth the effort and resources!

What became clear, particularly when hearing directly from clients on stage, is that time here is even more of a precious resource than elsewhere. There is a demand for getting a good result quicker. That’s not to say that the integrity of the research could ever be compromised; rather, it speaks to the confidence in quality work done at pace, and the ability that Insight teams here have to impact their businesses. Client businesses demand results that they can use to change agilely; this same agility that they must to respond to in rapid consumer and technological shifts is also expected of their Insight professionals, and in turn their agencies. This is actually a trust-builder between clients and agencies, as there isn’t the time for second-guessing of results. It is also why here even more than elsewhere we see very strong, long-term partnerships between one client and a very small number of agencies.

It bodes well for the future of automation in research methods as well, which can help remove human error as well as cut down timelines; though a word of caution on this – automation should not come at  the cost of customization; it will likely relate more to automation of an existing method made bespoke for that category and market, which will multiply the pace of such results. Automation aside, the clear message was that here in APAC speed is a highly sought-after commodity.

Just Get On and Do It

And the final observation: beyond the end product of a bespoke method that all have confidence in, and the quest for getting rapid results; make a difference. This conference was full of speakers who had not only delivered great research, great insights, great recommendations (and this is where sometimes the process ends, unfortunately); but they also took the next step –client and/or agency – they then got on and implemented.

Again, this is testament to the strength that Insight has within organizations here. When our speakers had made their recommendations to their businesses, not only did the business listen but they then acted, at speed and without compromise. It was truly satisfying to see, consistently via the case studies, the role that Research and Insight should play the world over, but often does not and is halted or diluted by organizational matrices and a tendency to ‘play it safe’. Not here: the price of inaction and being cautious is too high.


All-in-all, I thoroughly enjoyed ESOMAR APAC 2017 and came away inspired and rejuvenated. I would strongly encourage my peers to attend next year (Bangkok, 13-15 May 2018); and if this simply isn’t possible then do live-stream the event – there is something for everyone to learn, regardless of which country in the world you’re based.


Chris Wallbridge is Business Director, Research Department at Labbrand Shanghai