The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

During the first inaugural address on 4 March 1933, the newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt uttered the now famous words “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. At the time, Roosevelt was seeking to calm panic in light of the Great Depression, and went on to talk about “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”.

This phrase can be used to describe how corporations sometimes fail to change in light of fear of the unknown, and was one of the key messages that came out at the MRMW conference in Singapore, almost 82 years to the day after Roosevelt’s speech.

In March 2015, the MRMW Asia Pacific conference from the Merlien Institute featured papers from corporations and supply organisations that demonstrated how technology is being used to implement, analyse, and report on consumer surveys in Asia. In many ways, Asia is ahead of other markets worldwide because of wider technology adoption and, in particular, consumers’ enthusiastic use of mobiles and social media.

Corporations speaking at the MRMW event shared their experiences of using technology in helping their organisations to both understand the consumer and develop their business by engaging consumers through technology.

Ari Fadyl, Head of Digital at AXA Indonesia, has helped their company to implement a range of technology-led initiatives to reach out to a more digitally enabled consumer in their market. Indonesia has some of the most active users of social media, with Jakarta being the world’s leading city for Twitter. But only 2% of consumers in Indonesia have private insurance, and the challenge to AXA was to make insurance more relevant and affordable to consumers.

The best way of engaging with consumers, they argued, is to do it on their terms, which involves using mobiles. Because insurance is often viewed as a bit dull, they had to make the category more fun, and with it they implemented a series of initiatives including Web-enabled gamification and apps that can assess the quality of one’s driving, possibly with implications for how much of a car insurance premium the driver would have to pay! These more innovative approaches to engaging with the consumer have resulted in major pay-offs for AXA in Indonesia and a significant increase in their market share.

Phil Hearn from MRDC reported that while corporations are putting the customer at the centre of their corporate strategy, expenditure on market research is flat despite the wider availability of consumer data. The stagnation of budgets has stemmed partly from senior management not having seen the full value from research because they are not always able to operationalize the research findings. MRDC’s technology solutions help corporations access their customer-centric data at multiple levels in the client organisation; for example, a country manager can view customer-centric KPIs through Web-based dashboards, hence making consumer insight more readily available, transparent, and easy to use.

While many papers discussed how technology can be a facilitator of data collection, it can also be used to uncover the hidden truths of consumers. The paper from Dan Foreman from Borderless Access highlighted the extent to which consumers can lie, and the problems of over-claim and poor recall. Surveys can be validated by hard data that is already known about the consumer, often through the type of phone they conduct their surveys on. It was demonstrated in one survey that 30% of consumers do not tell the truth about the brand of mobile phone they own, yet only 7% misstate the Operating System they use. Here, the brand that people claim to have, can be the brand they aspire to have but cannot afford, and is therefore a blatant lie. Almost 90% of consumers also overstate how much time they spend on their mobile phones. This is not an intentional lie, but it is a recurring problem in all sorts of recall-based surveys.

Jasmeet Sethi, Senior Advisor from Ericsson ConsumerLab, presented a paper titled “When lies come back to haunt you”, which highlighted the problems of consumer cipro 500mg online over-claim in the area of pricing research. Ericsson adopted an innovative approach to pricing research called “Veylinx” through a partner company. Veylinx uses an online auction system that assesses how much people are willing to pay for a product. To make this more fun for consumers, the winning bidder will actually able to buy the product not at the highest price they bid, but the secondhighest.

Veylinx does not take any commission on these auctions but instead uses the bidding data to gain a better understanding of how new products and services are valued by consumers. This new approach to pricing research is also much faster, with projects being turned around within only a week. Ericcson was so impressed with this method that they switched all pricing research to this new incumbent.

Alistair Hill from OnDevice Research gave a general overview of the state of the mobile research business in Asia. Mobile research has been making gains in many parts of Asia and has been shown to deliver more reliable survey results than traditional data collection. For example, survey data on brand usage obtained from brand-tracking research on mobiles has produced a much closer correlation with actual market share based on retail audit data compared to traditional in-person brand tracking. This is partly down to mobile-based surveys being able to reach a wider cross section of consumers, and partly to their ability to eliminate interviewer error, and reduce bias and falsification.

But mobile research is not growing as fast as it might, and Alastair highlighted three main barriers to greater adoption of mobile research. Firstly, corporations are still “addicted” on long questionnaires, (e.g. 20 or even 30 minutes), which are not practical when people are often “on-the-go” or “filling in time” on their mobiles, often for short bursts. Agencies themselves seem unable to change their old habits, too. Long questionnaires can be the legacy of past tracking studies that need to record a range of historic and sometimes outdated brand-tracking metrics. This problem can be resolved quite easily through the application of “chunking”, a process of fusing data sets together from separate surveys that effectively builds up the complete data set required from a study.

Secondly, there are issues about the representativeness of surveys taken by people on mobile devices. While mobiles can reach a wider spectrum of consumers, including those in rural locations not usually covered by in-person research, very few people over 50 take part in surveys through mobile devices, meaning this method cannot usually capture older generations. But this is “horses for courses”; for example, you would not want to use mobile research for a study of retirees, and when you need to survey a population-representative sample, there is always the option of mixed methodologies to capture the required age ranges.

While surveys are best completed on smartphones, mobile research does cater for those using Web-enabled feature phones, although surveys on feature phones need to be very simple and can exclude certain types of surveys (e.g. those requiring visuals). But as Robin de Rooji from SKIM reports, 25% of mobiles in 2014 were smartphones, and this is expected to rise to 80% by 2020. With network coverage increasing all the time, it will facilitate greater usage of mobiles for research in the future.

Finally, and actually the most significant barrier to using mobiles for research, there is fear itself. The fear of change is the biggest barrier to corporations switching over from the traditional data collection methods they have been using for decades. Currently, between a third and a half of market research expenditure covers the cost of data collection. With mobile research costing a fraction of traditional data collection methods, think how much more research we could do if MR expenditure could be switched more to analysis and consulting?

As President Franklin Roosevelt says, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Who dares wins!


Authored by Piers Lee, Deputy Editor of Asia Research and MD of BDRC Asia