Greg Clayton

For companies operating on a global level, understanding how their products are perceived in each region is vital to continued success. Comprehensive research into local trends, attitudes and opinions is needed to ensure that products remain relevant, reputable and – crucially – a more attractive prospect than those of their competitors in each specific market.

Although global operations bring obvious commercial benefits and economies of scale, successful running of a multinational corporation (MNC) also requires the ability to understand customers across the world and synthesise their various requirements into a cohesive strategy – a daunting task for any organisation. With so many regional variations to consider, including cultural and economic differences, setting up a single research model is short sighted, not to mention impractical. In order to gain relevant and meaningful insight, a tailored approach is vital to produce successful results.

The Challenges
Delving into the minds of customers across Asia – one of the most culturally diverse areas in the world – can be incredibly challenging due to the dynamics of the region and the individual cultures of each community.  Some of these challenges include:

  • Identifying the sample. The initial task to identify suitable respondents can often be complex, particularly for SME studies. In some smaller Asian countries it can be a real challenge to source a sample size that meets the project’s requirements due to the lack of available published data and relatively underdeveloped economies.
  • Engaging respondents. Interaction with each audience to generate reliable results is often dictated by which methods are culturally acceptable. In Pakistan for instance, face-to-face interviews are favoured by respondents over other techniques, whilst in some East Asian markets such as Japan and Korea, conducting focus groups – such a mainstay of qualitative research in the West – is made more challenging by the reluctance of strangers to open up in front of each other. Although theoretical understanding of market idiosyncrasies is good to ensure that a research project is undertaken efficiently and effectively, it can also be over exaggerated. Having a presence and recent experience of practically executing research studies in individual Asian countries has therefore become increasingly important to obtaining reliable results as cost effectively as possible.
  • Project Administration. Another main challenge to all international research, but particularly important in Asia due to geography and cultural diversity, is the administration of the project. Languages, time zones and team members scattered across the entire continent, requires meticulous planning, with daily if not hourly micro-management as well as a constant high-level view of the project progress at all times. The work required to monitor and coordinate such projects, therefore, should not be underestimated.

The Research
When undertaking any customer satisfaction studies, it is important to establish the standard metrics that will be used to track loyalty, levels of satisfaction, recommendation and purchasing rates. Using a mixture of face-to-face and telephone interviews (depending on region) respondents are asked for their opinion of the product / service in each category based on their experience with the brand.

The process is also repeated for competitor offerings and requires appropriate secondary research as the competitors of each Asian market will differ considerably. The number of respondents also depends on the location, from 100 in the smaller areas to around 300 in more densely populated regions such as India, again, key factors that will impact the study and the results generated.

All these variables need to be taken into consideration when implementing the survey and analysing the results to ensure accurate data is generated and shared with the client, who is ultimately looking for an overarching regional picture as well as country-specific data.

The Results
Within the recent study undertaken by Kadence for a high-profile Asian consumer technology company, the collation of the results offered a snapshot country-by-country, but we needed to find techniques that enabled the client to draw direct comparisons and make strategic decisions on a market or regional basis.

The ‘Net Promoter Score’ – an easily comparable and simple-to-understand customer loyalty metric for companies looking to the long term – was adopted. Compared to more complicated customer satisfaction models, Net Promoter is especially useful for large studies due to its simple approach that requires respondents to provide a score of between one and ten in response to each question, reflecting consumer opinions at a moment in time. This is then weighted to account for different market propensity to score high/low and repeated year-on-year to monitor and track the evolution of customer thoughts on a brand and its competitors over time.

The technique, however, does little to diagnose the specific strengths and weaknesses of each company. In order to fill in the blanks, an in-depth report for each individual country clearly highlighting the ‘score’ of the brand compared with its competitors was delivered. This was complemented with a more wide-ranging analysis providing deep-dive analysis of each component attribute as well as a summary of the findings synthesised into market-specific overviews. Combined, the documents provided a clear view of the brand and its’ strengths in each different market.

The Recommendations
It is at this stage of the study that a market research agency’s insight expertise comes into play. Where once quantitative studies stopped at presenting the results, today’s market researchers excel at interpreting data to ensure that the numbers come to life and actionable conclusions are delivered to our clients.

In multi-market studies, the challenge lies in telling a convincing business story across each market and indeed the region as a whole. To effectively communicate the nuances of the results, a researcher will aim to identify the constants throughout the study where customer desires are aligned, whilst also highlighting the market and segment-specific nuances. This allows clients to develop a pan-regional strategy based on research findings, but also crucially to hone tactical executions and create the highest value propositions for each market/segment. In the case of Kadence’s recent study, the reliability of a technology product was confirmed as the most critical factor during the purchasing process. This part of the product offering will continue to be central within research and development advancements, as well as be emphasised within the client’s advertising and marketing strategy.

During this process, we were also able to highlight prioritised recommendations on where its client may want to invest in the future in each individual country to ensure that, year-on-year, its satisfaction metrics increase allowing them to maintain and further secure their market leading position.

The Outcome
With the Asian economy and culture evolving at a fast pace, customer satisfaction market research only provides a ‘snapshot’ of the views and opinions at any given time. A true picture can only be established when research is committed to and carried longitudinally across the region, whilst always including the flexibility to modernise the approach to account for changing technological, economic and social environments. Processes, methodology, and even objectives are therefore continually re-appraised throughout tracking studies to ensure that the research retains and indeed grows its relevance and appeal within the client organisation.

One of the mechanisms that Kadence used to facilitate this review, was the SWOT analysis which allowed the consumer technology provider not only to understand its competitive position, but also ensure that the study maintains its relevance.

Reflecting on the study…
When a study involves several thousand respondents over 14 countries, the emphasis needs to be placed on understanding the subtle distinctions that make the business landscapes in each region and market so unique. Flexibility, local knowledge of the different cultures, a clear grasp of the strategic and tactical objectives of the study and appropriate project management processes are all equally valuable to ensuring that objectives are achieved cost-effective. Asia is definitely not a one-size-fits-all market.

Greg Clayton is the Insight Director at Kadence International in Singapore