Future Featuring – the Asia Research Breakfast Seminar 2012

\"ff\"Asia Research held its second annual breakfast seminar on 13th September at the Regent Hotel, Singapore. This year, we enhanced it as an “extended” breakfast seminar including four papers and more networking sessions.

Compared to other research events that are nearly always dominated by agencies, Asia Research’s sell-out seminars have a far higher representation of market research buyers. Thirty-six clients from financial services, telecoms, hotels, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), technology, and the media sector attended. Agencies and research support companies were represented by another 40 delegates, making this one of 2012’s largest market research events.

In an interesting mix of sponsors and papers, we saw Toluna, Nielsen, Tapestry Works and BDRC Asia coming together and presenting thought leadership pieces on a range of topics that are becoming more pertinent to the market research industry in Asia.

Based on the title/theme Future Featuring, seminar participants explored what are likely to be some of the new practices in market research in Asia, including how companies are using various forms of do-it-yourself (DIY) research. The “internalisation of research” is a growing trend that has been observed over the years. An increasing number of corporations, partly through technological advancements and increasing direct use of panel companies, are doing more of their market research in-house. This is evidenced in Asia Research’s annual research buyer survey. It is further supported by anecdotal evidence of client organisations now relying more on gut instinct in their marketing decisions.

\"ff3\"The first paper from Piers Lee, Managing Director of BDRC Asia, looked at how small and medium enterprises (partly through lack of budget) internalise their research and product development, but through it are implementing some of the most progressive approaches to research and product development, and are processes that larger corporations can learn from.

Three case studies of successful entrepreneurs in Singapore, from the hotels, retail, and technology sectors were presented. All were extracts from the SME Series by BDRC Asia which appears as a regular feature in this publication.

The example from XMI, the producer of the highly successful X-mini speaker, showcased their “Thought-to-Touch” product innovation process that encourages staff to come up with ideas, and helps them see these products become commercialised. The step-by-step product development process starts with an internal dontevaluation exercise within the company, through to a mini-market simulation by soliciting the opinions of XMI’s distributors across the world prior to product launch. This approach is designed to minimise the risk of the product failing in the actual market.

The other case studies including the Wanderlust Hotel and Hair Secrets were more classic examples of maverick entrepreneurs who enter the market led by their gut instincts. These examples were linked to the introduction of BDRC Asia’s paper that showed how high profile maverick CEOs like Sir Richard Branson and the late Steve Jobs rely less on research and more on their instincts or beliefs that they can manipulate consumer needs through creating great or hyped products. The message of the paper, though, was that even maverick entrepreneurs, while sometimes professing to dismiss research, actually are using subtle forms of research.

\"ff5\"The second paper was from our main sponsor, Toluna—a leading online panel company. Titled “Online Consumers, Engaging the Consumer, Engaging the Brand,” the paper provided an overview of the growing trend in the online space towards community panels.

While conference papers from panel companies are often dismissed as sales pitches, Toluna was able to deliver a more engaging paper by presenting with an advocate of community panels—Latitude Insights from Australia. Their presentation showed how the current hot topic, cocreation, can be embodied within community panels: Clients can use their customer bases as sounding boards for the management of the brand, and establish what type of products the brand should be developing going forward. Dianne Gardiner, Managing Director of Latitude Insights, co-presented Toluna’s paper, demonstrating how they had worked with a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company to create a community panel of 4,000 members. This proved to be very cost effective to their clients and provided very fast research turnaround, both of which helped their clients in new areas such as ideation, in-home trails, and even selfethnography.

\"ff2\"Dianne Gardiner’s presentation quoted Jack Welch: “We have only two sources of competitive advantage: the ability to learn more about our customers faster than the competition, and the ability to turn that learning into action faster than the competition.” The message was that speed to market—being the first to commercialise a product—is what corporations are increasingly relying on, and can be facilitated through the application of community panel research.

The third paper was  from Dr Neil Gains,  Managing  Director of training and  sensory consultancy company Tapestry  Works. Gains’ paper explored  the  very fundamentals of market  research. The  basic  issue was the so-called “love affair” that market  research agencies have with the  methods of data  collection  that  have  existed  in the  industry  for over 50  years.  From traditional  in-person interviews  to the  very latest technologies in mobile research, all market research surveys rely on the principle of asking questions and  recording answers.

Gains  explained   that  the  human   mind  has  two  operating systems, the  conscious and  the  sub-conscious, with the  latter having far more processing power than the former. Yet, in most market research surveys, what we rely on is the consumer providing what are considered “more rational” answers stemming from “the more basic operating system”. By virtue of how the human  mind really works, the answer to any question can be changed by simply asking the question in the first place.

\"ff4\"This paper was  one of the best-rated of the event,  and  Gains provided some examples of new  approaches to  research to  get  around  this fundamental issue,  such  as experimentation, non-verbal research, and behavioural  analysis.

The  final paper continued the  informal theme   of “understanding the human  mind better  and  applying this to research”. Kaushal Upadhyay, Nielsen’s  NeuroFocus Leader,  presented on the  topic  “The Changing World of Consumer Neuroscience.” Mirroring Neil Gains’ paper, it demonstrated that  nearly all the information consumers adsorb are processed  subconsciously and  how  conventional research  might therefore   not   be   tapping   the   real  source  of  consumer  decision- making.

Neuro  Insights  is a new and  rapidly developing science of tapping  the human   mind  for  market   research purposes.  Applications   of  Neuro Insights  today  require  consumers to literally be  wired up,  by donning a specially-designed skull cap.  Using this piece  of equipment, various neurological  measures can  be  taken,  including  consumers’ attention (e.g.   measuring  how   well  the   message  or   product  is  attracting attention),  emotion  (e.g. the intensity of emotional  engagement with advertising  and packaging), and memory  (e.g. measuring the formation of connections and  activation of personal relevance).

This enlightening  paper clinched  the  award  for Best  Paper of Future Featuring,   and   was   also  the  main  topic  of  discussion in  the  Q&A session that  followed after all the  presentations had  been completed. Some  of the key issues raised during the Q&A were the extent  to which Neuro  Insights  (which is being  heralded as  “the  next  big thing  since online  research”)   could   really  be   fully commercialised.  One  strong angle  of objection  was  that  Neuro  Insights  requires  market  research to become even more intrusive into consumers’ lives in markets where consumer co-operation in research is already  becoming a major challenge. Furthermore, in an  environment where  clients  want  to pay less  for research, Neuro  Insights  research demands hefty investment by research clients in order  to cover the high costs of supporting equipment and  skilled personnel.

\"ff6\"While acknowledging that  these challenges will no  doubt  remain  for some time to come, Nielsen boasts that their Neuro Insights research is now being applied  in 60 countries worldwide.

It still is the  case however  that  the  love affair between the  research industry  with questions and  answers is not about  to end,  at least  not quite yet. What would you say?  Sorry, what do you think? No… let us wire you up and  find out!