Erika Harriford-McLaren

The dragon is a key symbol of China and in ancient times was regarded as a sacred animal and stood as the ultimate symbol of happiness and good fortune. It was the symbol of the Emperors and with traditional colours including red, gold, green and yellow, never ceasing to grab the attention of those around it.

Following the soft chimes of a bell, and a blast of traditional Chinese music, ESOMAR Asia Pacific 2012, opened it’s conference doors and introduced it’s own promise of good fortune for the 300 + delegates, in the form of a traditional dragon dance.

The conference was opened by Representatives Henry Xi and Gloria Jun Zhang from ESOMAR, who took the audience through a warm and personal journey of the beauty of old China and the dynamism of the new and growing country that it is. They were then followed by Pravin Shekar, ESOMAR Council member, who stood in for President Dieter Korzcak, who was unable to attend.Noting the growth of Asia in general and China in particular, Pravin, in humourous fashion, praised our hosts and host country – noting that “coming from the elephant to the dragon – this is a direct comment!”

Programme Chair and Managing Director, Ipsos Asia Pacific, David Richardson, then introduced the 2-day programme and renowned Asia Pacific journalist and conference opening keynote, Mike Chinoy.

Mike Chinoy: China – Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

Mike Chinoy, opening keynote and former CNN reporter and Bureau Chief, brought a true socio and geo-political review of China and the impact of it’s expansive growth on the world.

Known in the region as “the voice of Asia” – Chinoy led the delegates through the intricacies of Chinese politics and how the region has dramatically changed since he first came to the country in 1973, during the Mao revolution.  Fastforward to 2012 – and the explosive rate of economic growth combined with political and social expansion  – is somewhat staggering.  Some current statistics show the economy growing at an astonishing rate of 10%.

So what does this mean for the world and for researchers, marketers and brand managers? According to Chinoy, China is a market of enormous potential and the transformation and process of change will likely continue at almost warp speed.  With an insider’s knowledge and a journalist’s storytelling ability – Chinoy outlined why China, although seen as a threat by many in the West, and particularly, the United States, is really just becoming a true global player. A weaker, versus stronger China is much more of a threat in his opinion.

For researchers this presents really unique opportunities. In recent times, over 400 million people have been lifted from abject poverty to remarkable wealth. Both local and global brands are embraced, 400 million use internet and over half of the population use mobile phones.

These numbers, combined with the rise of social media such as Weibo and renren, present unique opportunities for the future. But this must be coupled with a real knowledge of the region – not just economically, but politically. Countries, and businesses, are experiencing a real paradox – being torn between wanting to keep good commercial, political and social relationships with the West, particularly the US market, and with expanding and becoming a market leader in an emerging, and likely highly profitable, Chinese market.

There is no doubt that wealth in China is growing and with this and changing demographics with growing urban populations, China may indeed be the place for new research and business development.  As Chinoy noted, the net worth of the richest 70 members of the Chinese legislature are worth more than combined net worth of Congress, president and US Supreme Court. Additionally, there is a rising middle class and flashes of market style economic development and reforms.

So whether the glass of opportunity in China is half full or empty, is up to you. For researchers it seems that a good analysis of social, economic and geo-political is required for entry into China. Chinoy’s son, who works and lives in China, summed it up pretty well by noting that– “one can really only truly say that there is water in the glass. “ So it seems, how you approach the glass, is up to you


This session interestingly covered the China of the future – in both time and with the global diaspora of its youth. Lihau Li and Wenkan Liao of McKinsey, introduced some interesting data on the 2020 Chinese consumer – noting that the combination of continued urbanisation, increased media ages and income and a growing ageing population  – will change China for the future cementing it’s ground as a true global competitor. According to McKinsey, by 2020, 60% of Chinese populations will reside in urban areas and will account for over 60% of the GDP. If you want to look into China for business, some things that they advise are looking into driving your global growth from China and be sure you decentralise decision making to capture local nuances.

Joseph Chen of Unilever and Robin Brown of Environics Research Group then explored how Global Asian culture – particularly Chinese and Indian youth are shaping the world through their online and cultural sharing and connections. Noting that 250 million people in the world currently live in a country that they were not born in (a 50%) increase since 1990) – the role that diasporas are playing in defining our future and identities is growing. Exploring cross-cultural and regional Asian influence through things like explosion of Bollywood and the recent Linsanity, over rising Chinese-American basketball star, Jason Lin, Chen and Brown found that global brand conversations are happening right under our noses – on Facebook and other social sites when youth share not just posts but stories, articles and more – extending the reach of advertising and local and regional products. Instead of just listening to what they are saying, we should also be looking at what they are sharing and recognising that cultures, styles and languages have crossed ethnic borders and integrated themselves into everyday life.

Lastly, Shobha Prasad, of Drshti Strategic Research Services took us through the importance of segmented brand positioning, with the interesting idea that although we categorise people in certain social or economic streams, that person may not see themselves in the same role as we do.  A rich man only feels rich until he sees someone richer than himself. We must keep this in mind, these “aspirational” ideas of people and reposition our brands to allow people to feel that they are achieving a new level – even if it is a low cost good. Using the Tata Nano as a case, she noted that no one wants to buy the “poor mans” car, but would reconsider the same vehicle if it demonstrated how it could allow them to live just a bit better. By highlighting a more urban appeal, more technology and emphasis on features – this car doesn’t just appeal on price alone, but on how it will make the driver feel and what it offers them. An interesting idea to think about when looking at different tiers for your brands.


Following lunch was a discussion panel on Mobile featuring two very interesting Presentations from James Fergusson and Fiona Buchanon of TNS and Maso Kakihara of Google Japan.

Fergusson and Buchanon gave an entertaining presentation on why the mobile is becoming Asia Pacific’s most prolific digital tool.  For business and researchers, it is good to remember that in many emerging markets, mobile is the only way to get connectivity. Combine this with the fact that, as Buchanon noted, many consumers see mobiles as a bit of an umbilical cord – connecting them with their lives – and you can see how brands, with the proper presence, can easily become a part of this relationship.

Often even when internet penetration is low in Asia, mobile use for accessing it is still high. Certain factors like improved user interfaces, unlimited data plans and increased accessibility (low cost) make this appealing for people. Add in convienience, independence of movement and transparency – do you bank online? – and it’s easy to see why mobile is a winner.

Mobile is a bit of a market research nirvana – with agencies like TNS, using mobile as a real information tool  through apps which use passive measurement on the mobile device.  Apps, which has no real impact on the consumer’s device (no battery drainage or costs), and gives a real indication of when (time of day and How (what apps they like and how they use their phones daily), will give researchers an extra tool to make real impact on the shopper experience and allow the adaption needed for mobile to help them keep up with the Jones’ in marketing and consultancy. This may be the biggest challenge our industry has had.

Masao Kakihara opened with the explanation that Google is new to the MR industry – a media company and research vendor  – the words all of you wanted to hear I‘m sure.  With a focus on reality, Google is exploring how they can find ways to pinpoint smarter ways of using mobile phones, in a world where the mobile is getting smarter and smarter itself.

The use of mobile is everwhere all the time. How often is everyone in your home watching TV while on a smart device? Do you use your phone to check the weather throughout the day or to scan a product specificication in a store?

Google thinks the MR industry has not been effectively leveraging the power of mobile. This may explain their entry in to the market.  The biggest problems they think the industry faces include methodological inertia and technical difficulties tracking mobile behavior, and of course, privacy concerns.

Google engaged in a smart phone study and made it public on their “Our Mobile Planet” website.  They found that in Japan, use of smart phone in-home usage is higher than outside and when looking at how they use the online mobile   – news and information services are accessed very heavily  (esp.  between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.). This probably doesn’t differs much from many other countries and many of us can probably identify with this.

Google also is looking into mobile eye tracking comparing cognitive behaviour on desktop and mobile screens.  Although mobile users swipe through fast, they actually see the ads and they found that a smart phone ad can perform as good as a desktop ad. As Kikihara said – Make the web work for you.


The final session of the day explored a topic that is interesting to all the agencies present – how do we and should we look at becoming strategic partners with our clients?

The first presentation by Radhecka Roy of Ipsos, and client Sunita Venkataraman of Intel, took on this challenge and explored the other side of the digital divide. By working together they helped Intel overcome the key challenge of encouraging traditionally non-pc owners to purchase desktop systems.  What they discovered was that it was not that the product was undesirable or unaffordable, but that it was not a priority when they had mobile access and other things to spend money on.  By creating unique technologies, such as music mixers, photo and film software for pcs only  – this allowed people to go where no PC had gone before – into emerging markets.  Ipsos helped the client understand that making language simple and not technical and focusing on local ideas of collectivism and ascription – Intel made their mark and developed a deep relationship with their agency. A good role model for us all…

Imran Saeed of Absolut Data outlined how their agency and Kraft foods – used business analytics to create an award winning approach to using data driven decisions. By providing a true framework for a structured conversation, they helped Kraft to achieve the holy grail of growth with constrained investments.

Wen Fan and Yao Shi of Horizon Research introduced delegates to the world of Chinese NGOs and how they helped a new NGO, New Change, build a brand in a public welfare sphere that was in it’s embryonic stages, post the 2008 earthquake. With their help they helped to spread the concept of public welfare to the public, engaging corporations, who were the largest donors, to participate more and more.  They also employed innovation workshops for government and corporate leaders – a novel idea in China – instilling the learnings and messaging in a practical environment.  A great example of how research makes a difference in the public sector and how techniques that are often regarded as standard in the West, can provide a novel approach in emerging markets.

The final sessions of the day were from Amit Gupta of Cross Tab Marketing and Hamsini Shivaumar of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting and Sharmila Das of Purple Audacity. These presentations explored a new way of thinking and working for agencies in this competitive world.

Micro-multinationals are not just a new breed of market research companies – they may well in fact be the future of our industry, especially in emerging markets according to Amit Gupta. This entrepreneurship is changing the way MR business is done and because these organisations are global from the start, collaborative and use technology as a driver, they are bringing a new and at times more affordable research opportunity. This combination of quick response, agile business structures and, of course, the internet, creates companies that fit well within the needs of the Asia Pacific region and as we may soon discover, in other parts of the world.

This idea was underscored by Shivaumar and Das in their presentation on Challenger companies and consortiums. Taking the idea of creating a culture of collaboration, they highlighted how cooperative approaches can enable agencies to get further reach and offer more enlightened and focused insights.  The advantages of being local allow them to present unique perspectives and to share true best practice, making the consortium as a collective group a real knowledge centre.  This is a really inspirational approach to research and if used in conjunction with larger agencies as well, could deliver a new way of working that benefits the emerging markets in tremendous ways.