Collaborating with Consumers in Asia

Online research communities are the new star in market research. These online platforms connect a company with a group of interested and interesting consumers to collaborate with in qualitative research. With the rise of social media, Asian consumers are ready, more than ever, to co-create the future of brands. Are companies, too, ready for it? In this article, we share a couple of tips on how to successfully collaborate with consumers in Asian markets, all illustrated with case examples.

Asian consumers are ready for co-creation

Many brands today are looking at the Asian markets for growth opportunities. According to Bloomberg, 5 of the top 10 emerging economies lie in Asia. China, Indonesia, and India are leading the pack. It is the rising middle class in these regions that causes a huge business potential to arise. For example, the consumer spending in a country like Indonesia is already close to the levels in developed economies (McKinsey Quarterly 2013). With these fast economic developments, also internet adoption rates are rapidly increasing. Today, already 45% of internet users are living in Asia (Internet World Stats, 2013).

When it comes to social media, Asia continues to be of significant interest to marketers, brands, and anyone with an interest in social trends around the globe. Our Social Media Around the World study shows that in Asia, 6 out of 10 social media users are connected with brands and 90% of them want to help brands in co-creation activities. So, consumers not only want to connect with brands, they also want to collaborate with them. 30% of these people prefer to collaborate via a closed online community.  These developments offer great opportunities for online market research, such as Market Research Online Communities (MROCs).

What research communities are

MROCs are defined as: a small group (50-150) of highly engaged people joined together online by a common passion (for a brand or a subject), which are systematically engaged for qualitative market research purposes, especially co-creation or even collaboration (Willems et al, 2013).

One of the key success factors for these communities is that you collaborate with people that are interested & interesting. Successful collaboration needs to involve people that are passionate about the topic or the brand. Based on our research-on-research, we know that the high performers in a community – the ones who participate frequently and share the most interesting insights and ideas – are the ones who show brand and/or topic identification. They are a fan of the brand or the topic the community is dealing with and/or they are more interested in the discussions than the average person. This means that we work with people who are not only interested in what we are going to do, but who are also interesting to listen to. They are the ones who will stimulate our thinking and push things forward.

Where focus groups stop and communities continue

Topic or brand identification is also a factor to achieve that these participants want to stay connected with the brand in the long run. When we compare research communities to the traditional qualitative methods such as a focus group, it is exactly this long-term, asynchronous connection that creates interesting benefits. Where focus groups only give a snapshot of reality, research communities enable participants to think and rethink over time, beyond one’s first reaction.

In order to identify the key benefits of this relatively new method, we use a simple, but very useful framework which enables you to check the method effectiveness on 3 levels: ‘automational’, ‘informational’, and ‘transformational’ benefits (Day 1994; Grover et al. 1996; Mooney et al. 1996):

  1. Communities may bring automational effects because, for example, communities allow quickly tapping into a sample of consumers on a specific topic that presents itself, which makes getting the answer to a specific question more efficient.
  2. The informational value emerges from the fact that the inherent quality of consumer understanding we get is of better quality. Consumer input is multimedia, embedded in people’s life context as well as more reflected and reasoned.
  3. Transformational outcomes of research communities lay in the fact that research communities allow to perform tasks which were previously not possible without the asynchronous technology and engagement over time. We are now able to follow people over a longer period of time and co-create products or services with them from start to finish.

The status of research communities today

There is still a friction between the ability and the desire to conduct research communities in our industry. The status of online research communities today is comparable to teenagers and their first sexual experience. Everyone says they are doing it, everyone wants to do it … but in the end no one really knows how to do it well. This situation is reflected in the Greenbook Research Industry Trends 2013. 45% of researchers indicate they have plans to use online communities in the future (ranking 1st out of 17 emerging technologies), while 40% of clients claim the lack of knowledge is still a limitation for them (GRIT 2013). Hence, there is a need for an overview and some concrete tips on how to run online research communities – and specifically, how to run them in Asia.


3 tips for running MROCs in Asia

In the past few years, we have run a lot of global and local communities in Asian countries like South-Korea, Malaysia, China, Japan, and India. These communities were powered by global brands in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods like Unilever, Heinz, AB Inbev and Heineken, and brands active in the durables category like Philips, IKEA, and Quinny. Based on these cases, we have identified 3 tips for running successful communities in Asia.

1.  Local communities\"Local by default

By default, we conduct these studies in the local language. From meta-research on our communities we know that members participate best if they can write in their own language. Taking part in an English-speaking community for a non-native speaker can be hard. It has a rather negative influence on the intensity of participation and the level of detail and nuance when one is talking. That is why it is preferred to conduct communities in the native language of the participant.

For a global project to dontevaluate the IKEA catalogue for example, we conducted 5 local communities in, among other countries, China. All moderators for these local communities were trained community managers and part of our Global Community Moderator Network. While being in local contact with participants via a local moderator, you still grasp the advantages of having a central/global project team and content overview when ‘connecting the dots’ on a global level.

That being said, there can be good reasons to opt for a multi-national English-speaking community: non-native executives of the company who want to follow the discussion, limited budgets or the fact that one is in search for global consensus on a given subject rather than an understanding of local buy flomax coupon differences. An example of the latter is our global ‘Shape-It’ community for ketchup giant Heinz. The goal of this project was to come up with a new and uniform design for the shape of the next-generation ketchup bottle. Participants in more than 10 countries, among others China and Japan, took part in the same community to reach global consensus.

2.  Participate anytime, a\"Participatenywhere through mobile

In order to facilitate the community members at best, the technology needs to fit the daily routines of the target group. For example, we launched a global community for the stroller manufacturer Quinny. The goal of the community was to immerse with 120 ‘urban parents’ during 3 weeks and explore their daily routines when moving within the city (one of the Asian cities in the study was Kuala Lumpur). In order to capture their experiences on the go, we needed to facilitate them with a mobile solution. This mobile application helped them to better participate, stay in touch with the community and share rich and contextual information, resulting in over 650 photos.

When designing your community, it is important to take the technology differences within the Asian markets into account. For example, when we look at Indonesia, the internet population is mostly mobile (est. 55%). In the scenario of mobile-only communities, we need to work more task-based and ask more questions that can be answered in a short and convenient way. Wisely rethinking the mix of research tools and adapting them to the small screen is a must

3. Adapt the framework of conversations

Next to technology, the native moderator also helps us adapt the framework of conversations. A different culture also means different attitudes and values, leading to a different way of reacting to questions, tasks and challenges. Comparing the Asian countries with European and American countries, we have learned that the community members tend to perform better in feedback exercises instead of co-creative tasks. They are less used to taking initiative compared to European and American participants. Also, community members are more comfortable talking about the group instead of sharing a lot of details about themselves and their lives. One of the techniques we use for talking in a more indirect way is what we call the ‘co-researcher’ technique.


This technique was used in a recent study we conducted for Philips, where we set up a 3-week insight shaping community about sleeping problems with 50 Chinese consumers. To account for the sensitivity of this medical topic, we invited 10 of our participants as co-researchers, to deepen our research conclusions and help identify the underlying values.

After analysing the community outtakes, our findings were presented to these co-researchers and they were asked to challenge them. One example of a ‘challenged conclusion’ was about the meaning and importance of well-being. Our conclusion initially was that Chinese consumers value ‘well-being’. However, they explained that for them it is more about being healthy in order to work hard, earn more money and ultimately improve life status. The co-researcher technique helped us identify the real reason why Chinese consumers need good sleep and this goes beyond what participants explicitly shared in the open discussion.

By means of qualitative coding of co-researcher discussions, we found that in 14% of the co-researchers’ posts, the conclusions were challenged (nuanced or even rejected). So, working with co-researchers has created truly unique insights which we, as researchers and marketers, would never have uncovered from an online distance (Schillewaert et al, 2012).

The future is now

While a research community method is already mainstream in the West, the method is still in its infancy in the East. The interest in this flexible way of working, however, is increasing rapidly. The fast adoption rates of smartphones, the increase of Wi-Fi and the improved access to local Internet cafés enable consumers to participate in online and mobile-enabled communities. The time is now to start collaborating with your consumers in a structural way.

Let’s explore this new method and discover fresh insights!




About the authors:

Anouk Willems | Research Innovation Manager

With an education in marketing and a passion for co-creation, Anouk connects brands with consumers through online research communities. After managing communities for global clients like Unilever, Heinz, and eBay, she’s now part of the ForwaR&D lab of InSites Consulting. In her current role, she focuses on innovating the community solutions and exploring new opportunities in the mobile domain using co-researcher techniques. She specialises in consumer immersion solutions and branding & activation projects. Besides working at InSites, she founded an online platform on DIY ‘Klusopedia’ (Dutch) 4 years ago and has great affinity with online marketing & social media.

Anouk is a frequent speaker at research and marketing conferences like Esomar 3D, Esomar CEE forum, Merlien’s Insights Valley Europe and Asia. She was nominated with her work by ESOMAR (“Research Effectiveness Award 2011” – ‘Bringing consumers alive within Unilever R&D\’) and awarded with the Best Presentation Award (ESOMAR 3D Digital Dimensions 2012 – “Research in the mobile mindset”).

Tom De Ruyck | Head of Research Communities

Tom is in charge of InSites Consulting’s global activities in terms of community research: thought leadership, steering innovation, and business development. He has given more than 200 speeches around the world at major international marketing, research, and technology conferences. Tom published several white papers as well as articles in academic journals, business books and trade magazines. Besides, he is an influential blogger/tweeter on social media, industry trends and research communities. He was awarded for his work by the American Marketing Association (4 under 40: Emerging Leader of the Industry Award 2010), the MRS (ResearchLive Tweeter of the Year 2011) and the CMO Council USA & Asia (Leadership Award for Contribution to Market Research 2012). Next to his work at InSites Consulting, Tom is Adjunct Professor at IESEG School of Management (Lille, France) & EHSAL Management School (Brussels, Belgium). He is also co-founder & President of the Belgian research association BAQMaR.