Happy to Serve

The Asia Research annual review of the online research industry in Asia

The 2013 Asia Research buyer survey showed that 44% of clients in Singapore are now going direct to online panel companies for the survey needs. When you include clients’ own proprietary panels and DIY research (e.g. Survey Monkey), the direct use of online research rises to 60%. Of course, when clients engage external agencies to undertake their research, a significant proportion of quantitative surveys, at least in the more mature markets, are also conducted online.

So it is clear that online research is now the central pillar of research in Asia’s mature markets, and is steadily increasing in many of the emerging generic priligy markets.

With this, the online research supply market is becoming more sophisticated. The panel companies are now slick, well-oiled machines that have geared up to a larger market with rising client expectations.

James Rogers, Managing Director of Toluna, comments that while many panel companies (including aggregators) can boast large access panels, today client servicing is becoming one of the key differentiators of the panellists. Toluna now operates on virtually a 24-7 basis, employing staff in shifts across the Asia–Pacific region to service out-of-hour client requirements and late launches.

Standing-of-panel-companies_medPanel companies have responded to clients approaching them direct by providing a fuller proposition; for example, giving advice on questionnaire design. With requirements for more end-to-end solutions, panel companies are hiring more personnel from mainstream agencies who are aware of project management issues and who are experienced in dealing with the requirements. They are even hiring Research Directors even though, as panel companies often claim, “we are not in the business of delivering insight”.

Mr Tsuneo Orito, MD of GMO Research, supports this view. Research agencies provide the consultancy-related analysis and reporting, but panel companies (beyond the data collection and community platforms) are increasingly providing data tabulation and analysis tools.

Chris Fanning, CEO of SSI, another of Asia’s leading panel companies, comments that panel companies are differentiating themselves on their sampling expertise. SSI has “Knowledge Teams” around its global network to advise on panel building methodologies including ‘the blending of panels to ensure better representativeness’. With panel companies increasingly advising in areas of sampling, questionnaire design and project management, the research firms need to demonstrate their added value to the interpretation and the communication of research findings to the end clients.

What’s new?

In last year’s article, we reported that the main developments in the online research business in Asia were the growing importance of mobile research, the emergence of community panels and the opportunities with social media. Since 2012, community panels (panels developed for specific clients using their own customer database) have seen a lot of growth. In Singapore, for example, one-in-five clients claim to be using community panels. While this might be an exaggerated figure (e.g. through some misunderstanding of the term), there is no lack of interest in the community panel concept.

James Rogers from Toluna says that clients have discovered how such platforms can be used to create stickiness with their consumers, and even to take respondents offline for more in-depth research. The implications are that community panels themselves could develop into a medium for recruitment to conventional research.

Mobile research is not new, but with the importance of emerging markets for research, and with higher levels of mobile ownership over PCs, clients and their agencies could opt for mobile-based research in these markets, leapfrogging PC-based online research. Chris Fanning from SSI comments that new markets with little market research infrastructure in place could benefit from seeing research go straight to mobile-based surveys, which, in part, is the rationale for SSI’s significant investment and global deployment of its mobile app QuickThoughts. A good example here is Myanmar, where few research firms operate, but which is opening itself up to the world and where many brands are keen to establish themselves.

type-of-MR-supplier-Singapore_medIn ‘semi-mature’ markets, panel companies observe demand for greater reach and depth within markets. China is a good example of where research companies need to really drill down into second-and third-tier cities, and the panel companies will need to provide coverage of these areas. Mr Tsuneo Orito, MD of GMO Research, sees scope for more panel building in emerging markets, and again mobile-based surveys could lead the way. James Rogers from Toluna agrees and sees growth in Thailand and Malaysia, the company is also building panels in Indonesia and the Philippines. Some see opportunities in social media in markets such as Indonesia and the Philippines; however, Asia Research observes that in this year’s review of the online research business there is less ‘chatter’ about social media research, and some panel companies see limited potential in this area compared to mobile research and community panels where more information on the respondents can be captured and better used for analytical purposes.

And finally, no review of the online research business would be complete without mentioning B2B panels. Most panel providers claim they can access B2B audiences by segmenting their panels according to the occupations of their panellists, but the level of granularity sometimes required for B2B surveys can be challenging. The panel companies often work with each other to scrape together enough ‘production engineers’ to complete a technical B2B survey – who says the leading panel companies don’t aggregate!

E-rewards have often been cited as the leading B2B panel provider in the US, and has successfully tapped the databases of frequent fliers to undertake B2B surveys. However, one should always remember that not all business decision-makers fly!

Strategic partnerships with publications are also a way of tapping B2B audiences, and indeed most of the leading business publications (e.g. the Economist) have built their own ‘online advisory panels’ among business decision-makers.

Conclusions:

Asia Research has been reviewing the online research industry for the last six years. We conclude that the biggest development in 2013 has been in the adoption of community panels, and their use will no doubt continue to rise as clients see the range of applications for this technique and the ability of these panels to become CRM tools in their own right.

Things to look out for in 2014 will be how far panels and mobile research can reach into emerging markets, and the extent to which these techniques can replace traditional data collection infrastructure. And in our 2014 buyer survey, we would expect to see, for the first time, most clients going direct to panel providers.