Five Kiasu Things to Know When Conducting Research in Singapore

According to the Singlish Dictionary, kiasu means “one who is afraid to lose out to someone else, an over-cautious person” but to Dr Leong Chan-Hoong of the Institute of Policy Studies (Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy), being kiasu is a “manifestation” of Singaporeans’ value of “achievement-orientation”, as quoted in The Straits Times.

As experts have pointed out, being kiasu has its benefits – it has made Singaporeans constantly strive for the best, developing an economy that sits among the top three countries with the highest GDP per capita in the world.

To take this vigour of kiasuism to a whole new level, here are some key trends and some practical guidelines for successful online research in Singapore:

How big of a research market is Singapore and what are the most common types of research being conducted in the country?

As we all know, Singapore has a highly developed market economy, so it’s not surprising to see how its research market has consistently expanded its position since 2009 to become the 7th largest research market in Asia. With an estimated size of 151 million US dollars, up 94% since 2010 according to ESOMAR’s 2015 industry report, this vibrant, cosmopolitan city state also positions itself as a research hub for the Asia Pacific region, attributing 45% of its total sales to projects that are subcontracted to foreign countries. The Singapore government plays a relatively significant role in the industry, accounting for around a fifth of the market spend through its agencies, statutory boards and government linked companies (GLCs).

While traditional research methodologies remain dominant, online research in Singapore has also been growing, making up 30% of all the types of research being done in the country. And with Singapore known to be one of the most innovative, competitive and business-friendly economies, it also doesn’t come as a big surprise that Singapore is now among the top eight countries carrying out the highest proportion of online research.

Can you set the scene for us in terms of geography and demographics – in which demographic groups do researchers usually set quotas?

Singapore is an island city state in Southeast Asia. To give you a better picture, Singapore is slightly bigger than Jakarta city, Indonesia, and is around half the size of Bangkok, Thailand. The entire island of Singapore actually operates as a single metropolitan area, where the city centre is surrounded by satellite towns, parks, reservoirs and industrial estates. All of these estates are connected to the centre and to each other by a network of roads, expressways and metro railway lines, though small, is subdivided into five planning areas (as demarcated by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore) that are: North, East, Northeast, West and Central.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Singapore is the diverse nature of its population. Singapore’s historical roots as a trading settlement gave rise to an influx of foreign traders, who brought with them their own cultures, languages, customs and festivals. Through intermarriage and integration, Singapore is now a multi-racial and multicultural society, with the Chinese, Malays, and Indians as its major ethnic groups.

Ethnicity, along with age and gender, are the usual demographic groups that we use to set quotas for most of our general population and consumer online research studies. However, depending on the category the client is in as well as the proposed research methodology, other demographics such as monthly household income, house type, region or location are also being used.

What language should I use for my research?

There are four official languages in the country – English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil which basically correspond with the major ethnic groups. While English is commonly used in most surveys, translations are essential, especially when dealing with older age groups.

Are there any research topics that should be avoided in Singapore?

With Singapore being a very diverse and young country, Singaporeans are quite open to almost any topic. However, we try to avoid sensitive topics on specific occasions. One good example of this is when we need to conduct surveys with illustrations of food and beverages; this would be quite offensive when shown to Malay Muslims during the month of fasting. Of course it is always good practice to check the legal situation of any country before asking questions about potentially contentious topics. Singapore is no different in this respect. We should never ask people about things that are illegal or that can simply get them into trouble. An interesting thing to note is that there are bans on certain products in Singapore that can commonly be found in other countries, e.g. chewing gum, shisha, and e-cigarettes.

What else do researchers need to consider when conducting research in Singapore?

With a population of approximately 5.5 million, Singapore is also home to many expatriates from all over the globe. Based on the latest stats, citizens account for 61%, permanent residents (PRs) 10% and non-residents 28%. What this means is that if we are to realistically carry out a general population or consumption study, we really must include non-citizens. PRs are likely to be higher spenders than citizens, while non-residents are likely to be low income and low-end consumers. So depending on the client’s category, the scope of their targeting needs to take these factors into consideration.

A recent report conducted by Nielsen indicates how sophisticated a market Singapore truly is, showing the highest smartphone penetration in Asia Pacific at 87% and a significant growth in tablet ownership at 47%.

The country’s advanced infrastructures, skilled workforce, and strategic location undeniably make Singapore the easiest place in the world to do business, as the World Bank itself has said, and indeed Singapore is today one of the mature research markets that is driving the industry’s growth on a global scale.