By John Smurthwaite
Many marketing and research professionals believe that the use of SES (socio economic status) as an issue should be dead and buried. With the growing number of segmentation models being generated via digital path to purchase, social media, analytics and more direct niche targeting through an array of smart digital mobile devices, many will say that SES may seem an anachronism from the analogue past. So why are we reviving this topic once more?
The reality is that as the concept of SES still has strong support from many marketing professionals in developing parts of Asia Pacific, the concept still deserves some respect.
SES was introduced as a useful segmentation tool of broad socio-economic status and in its early days was fairly simple to calculate and very useful as a marketing discriminator providing added direction to basic demographics. The base census data, from which most SES classifications are derived, allowed for broad quantification of these socio-economic groupings.
In the pre-digital/pre-mobile age, marketers needed more than basic demographics to help target consumers. Personal or household income was (and still is) a critical segmentation discriminator for targeting and choosing effective media channels. Income data collection through surveys has always been fraught. Under/over reporting and non-response on income have always been issues that have limited the effectiveness of this important element.
SES was seen as a way around income data collection issues as SES was seen as a good proxy for income segmentation. Two simple questions to collect “education levels” and “occupation levels” combined provided a range of usually socio-economic points which greatly assisted marketers in targeting geographically and in media buying – especially mainstream media (TV, radio and print).
But as we know, in many countries the traditional approach died some time ago as education levels improved and occupations not only moved towards the service industry but became more complicated to measure. This meant that SEC was no longer quite as predictive and therefore became less useful for media targeting.
Also responses from surveys endeavouring to measure income levels continued to fall, meaning that marketers had poorer quality targeting options available than previously. This meant that neither the Income nor SES classification was as useful as needed for targeting consumers adequately.
Obtaining better quality income data has not improved. Responses on income declined for a number of reasons but primarily for security concerns. SES classifications needed to be revisited to find more useful segmentation guides.
Across APAC, countries more or less divide into two groups on this issue. One group of countries claims to be classless and hence say that SES is of little use although they may contradict their argument by collecting income data! In this first group are Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Australia plus socialist countries such as China.
If you’re an ESOMAR member you can read the full article in MyESOMAR in the digital copy of Research World. If you are not a member of ESOMAR you can join and receive a free copy of Research World 6 times a year or alternatively you can sign up for a subscription of the magazine in our publications store.
I am a very lucky man. For reasons that defy logic the ESOMAR team have asked me to help edit Research World Connect for a few months. Lucky because I really don’t deserve a chance like this to pontificate my interests. And I am afraid I will.
So start .. the dreaded “c” word. Being an Australian I am known and prone to using the odd swear word on stage, in meetings and other inappropriate places, so fair warning if you ever invite me to speak at an event. But there is one world that I really try to avoid. A bastardised term that has plagued the marketing world and it’s research gurus for near two decades. And that is the incorrect use of ‘consumer’ as a catch all for, well, ‘people’.
It may seem pedantic but I am huge believer that the word consumer should only be used about people in the actual act of consumption. Personally I have averaged four full bodied, never those terrible diet or zero versions, every day for near forty years. There is no more long term lover of the product and the brand. Am I a Coke consumer. Not as a write this. There is no Coke near my desk. I was a Coke consumer 2 hours ago. No doubt I will be one at dinner tonight. But right now? No. I am just a person who may consume again. What is the point ?? Well the bad habit of marketers, their advertising agencies and their researchers of looking at people in way too narrow a fashion by limiting them to being “consumers”.
As a researcher I am always more interested in finding out about people and what they are doing, interested in, afraid of etc and then looking at how that might help or hinder an effort to get them to consumer or re-consume. And to be hones it just seems more honest to treat people as just that. Afterall we have all seen those spoof videos on Youtube of a person complaining about a marketer treating them as an anonymous consumer. We laugh at them. Then in our next meeting we again start using that “c” word. Disgusting.
So that was the rant. As guest editor that comes with the territory. It also means getting to focus some of the content of RWC on subjects I find interesting.
So here are three topics that I would personally like to see more discussion of within the industry. I have asked a few colleagues, some of the regular RWC bloggers and a couple of industry outsiders to feed through thoughts around them, and welcome contributions from anyone with a point of view, some experiences and industry examples:
AGING : or rather the aged. Which I mean in no derogatory way. For over a quarter a century I have been studing the implications of aging societies starting in my home country of Australia and more extensively while I have lived in Asia. By circumstance I have lived a decade in the oldest demographic profiled country, Japan, many years in Hong Kong which also ranks among the five oldest countries, five years in Thailand, by some measures over the last decade the fastest aging society and many, many days, weeks and months in the regions other “old” societies like Korea, Taiwan, China. I have worked with many of the great global brands and many large local ones. All acknowledge that aging societies are happening but little happens. Because it is “ too hard ”, “ tomorrows problem ” or “ well they don’t buy anything or try anything new so why bother ”. In the next issue of Research World I have an article that will start to challenge some of this. So the challenge : can we dig deeper into world of the 65-90 year old and perhaps re-look at the myths about them as people, as potential consumers, as mis-understood by marketers and researchers?
SOFTPOWER : or rather the tracking of softpower and it’s implications on Asian brands. Asian because that is where I live and have worked for twenty years. Asian because the most common question I get when ever I speak at any event is “ when will we see more Asian brands? ”. The latter I question I find incredible and more about the bias of the audience. Try walking through any market in Africa, the Middle East, Asia without noticing the dominance of Asian brands. The question that has fascinated me though has been the lack of research that tracks the impact of softpower on a brands success or failure. The challenge : two years ago at the ESOMAR Asia Pacific conference I asked how could we develop tools to include softpower influences in brand tracking and the effect it could have on Asian brands development, any ideas ?
LITERACY : or rather the changes that are going on suggesting new practices will be needed. In a world where there are good arguments that literacy in terms of “reading and writing” are on the decline but where literacy of graphic forms, from manga and graphic novels, to video gaming, to the booming of more graphic forms of social media like LINE, there has to be a debate as to what this means for MR, and marketing communications. Not just in the now well worn areas of gaming and mobile app development. There is a bigger issue. How do we create surveys, hold on-line panels and discussions, do deep dive qualitative work with populations for whom a “texted” message is made up of icons. The challenge : How can we develop new tools and process to analyse messaging through these new forms of literacy and what they are telling us about brands, social movements and people’s hopes and feelings?
So you may or not agree that these are key issues for the industry and we will welcome articles and thoughts on any issue of interest, but if they spark an idea and you would like to contribute then please let me know.
David McCaughan is the current guest editor of RWC.
Research is undoubtedly in a dramatic stage of unrest. Market forces like ‘generation flux’ and the advent of the ’sharing economy’ are challenging traditional customer research to evolve. While uncomfortable and complicated for researchers to do, it is also an incredible opportunity to improve the industry’s overall reputation and importance.
From talking to customers across the Asia Pacific region every day, I believe that the marketplace requires our solutions more than ever, and we need to be ready. Businesses are demanding a robust understanding of why their customers are doing the things they do over time so that they can make more informed, and better business decisions.
As technology across the globe, continues to enable customer understanding, while also changing the dynamics of researchers, it’s clear that in order to be more effective and impactful to business, researchers have to become technologists too. By getting on board, we can lead the business conversation, be more valued and valuable.
Many of the themes discussed throughout the Asia Pacific region this year (i.e. enhanced customer engagement, the empowered customer, the importance of closing the loop and embracing the potential of conversation within community, fostering long term customer relationships and more) were echoed at a recent global customer event I was lucky enough to attend in New York last month. The key takeaways from this event can be found here:The Top-10 takeaways from our 2014 Global Summit.
As our profession strives towards greater customer understanding and business impact, I am excited that the team at Greenbook and AMSRS are hosting the first ever Asia Pacific Insight Innovation eXchange event in Sydney on December 4-5, 2014. As many of you know, the IIeX series of events includes two days of jam-packed new thinking, new solutions and innovative technology that are advancing the business value of customer insight. For companies and professionals who recognise customers for who they truly are – the single most important element of a company and see the customer relationship as a real competitive advantage–will benefit from attending this exciting event.
The line up is impressive with over 70 speakers from across the region including Pravin Shekar (Krea), Dave McCaughan (McCann WorldGroup) and Annie Pettit (Peanut Labs). There will be a strong brand presence with speakers such as Suz Allen (Campbell Arnotts), John Batistich (Scentre Group) and Dr. Con Menictas (Qantas).
In my opinion, the implications of these themes for the marketing and research professions are enormous just as they are for any business trying to establish a closer customer connection and understanding. The marketing and research function of any business can no longer operate in a bubble. Understanding technology both from a customer perspective and how it can help us be more effective business professionals is vital. No longer is the technology silo’d or to be leveraged upon request. Today, we are all technologists. We need to understand and put technology into the heart of what we do.
Elevating the customer within your organisation is proving to be a real business advantage in Asia Pacific and technology is the key ingredient.
Peter Harris is Managing Director of Vision Critical APAC
Last month ESOMAR held the annual APAC event in Jakarta, Indonesia. Here Caz Tebbutt, ESOMAR representative for Fiji and the South Pacific, shares her take-outs of the event and tells us why Indonesia was a timely choice.