Market Research in Indonesia – The Insider View

Recently we met Robby Sustayo, former Managing Director of Synovate Indonesia and currently Chairman of Ipsos Indonesia, in Jakarta. With his vast working experience, for over thirty years on both the client and agency side, he is a ‘real expert’ when it comes to Market Research in Indonesia. He shares his personal views about the recent Synovate/Ipsos merger with us and gives insights on the biggest market in Southeast Asia.

What were the most important influences in your career?

Robby Susatyo: I think, when I started to manage my first business, back in 1990. I realised, how difficult and how challenging this was. I had to change my mind-set from an employee, to a person who is responsible for profit and loss. I had to change my working style, my way of communicating with people, and my entire paradigm.

What do you think are the main benefits for the Synovate/Ipsos business merger in Indonesia?

Robby Susatyo: There’s good synergy. The clients are complementing. And, it’s very difficult to find good people with talent. Through this merger, we have the most number of researchers compared to other ad-hoc customised companies. If we only count customised research by Nielsen, I think we have the most people, the most clients, the biggest revenue combined with the two companies. And that allows us to leverage, that allows us to be more efficient, that allows us to be more cost effective.

How might the benefits in Indonesia be different from other markets in Asia?

Robby Susatyo: Ipsos is not very strong in Asia, relative to Europe, relative to America. So, for Ipsos, Asia is a welcome initiative. It’s a good footprint to have, and Synovate had operations all over Asia. So for Ipsos, suddenly, the contribution increased manifold.

What do you think are the main challenges of integrating Synovate and Ipsos in Indonesia?

Robby Susatyo: Of course, there are some differences in the corporate culture, in the working style, in the leadership style. But both companies are known for being flexible – to the clients, to the demands of clients. So that is a strength that we leverage together.

Market Research Industry in Indonesia

Indonesia is often viewed as the next big thing for the market research industry in Asia. Would you agree? And – why?

Robby Susatyo: I agree very strongly.  Indonesia has a huge population. Every day four million babies are born. The middle class now represents around 50%. People from the bottom of the pyramid become middle class; they can afford electronic gadgets, head phones, entertainment, recreation, and so on. 50%, out of 240 million is really huge.

For marketers, these are big opportunities. In order to market effectively, they need market research. If not, they will be outdone by the competition. The demand for market research is huge, because of the growing population and the growing middle class.

In 2012, a lot more investors are expected. And every new investor must understand the country, must understand the consumer, must understand the competition in Indonesia. It’s a very promising market.

Why have so many international market research firms missed out Indonesia, but always looked at other big markets, such as China or India?

Robby Susatyo: Indonesia has a few constraints. On one hand, it’s an attractive investment destination, but at the same time, there are barriers. It’s very difficult to find qualified people. The handicap of growth is not technology, not the product, not anything but the availability of qualified human resources. The other is the bureaucracy. It is very difficult to get things done, very complicated.

How is market research viewed by Indonesian senior management corporations today?

Robby Susatyo: I cannot generalise. There are some clients, some corporate leaders, who are very appreciative, very knowledgeable about market research. So, if talking about companies that use Market Research properly, these companies know how to design a project, they know how to control quality, and how to follow up the plan of the research. And, there are also people, companies who use research just as a tool, to justify their judgment, to justify their position. The difference between these companies, these corporations are huge. And then there are companies in between, there are people in between.

Are there other challenges in trying to get wider acceptance in market research, to generate more value?

Robby Susatyo: Probably the cost, the cost of research as compared to the size of the business. If the business is very big, like telecom companies or consumer goods companies, then the cost of research is just a fraction of their marketing budget. It would be too risky for these companies to make a decision without research. Middle-sized companies understand and appreciate that research is important, yet they consider that the cost of doing research is still too expensive.

What are your views on typical Indonesian buyers for market research? How do they select their suppliers?

Robby Susatyo: Certain companies are driven by their head office and will follow their lead. Many international companies have that system. There are other companies that look at costs, and choose the lowest. And there are companies in between, of course.

If you think of the supply market in Indonesia, do you think clients are currently underserved?

Robby Susatyo: Clients may complain and say that they are underserved. But if you are on the supply side, and you are handling more than a hundred projects at the same time, then the story is different. Sometimes clients buy one thing, then ask for some things that are not included in the terms of reference. And we cannot always entertain them, because we have a limited number of people.

What are your views on independent research firms here in Indonesia? Where do they have strengths, and where are their weaknesses?

Robby Susatyo: I think they can drive the cost down – because they don’t need to pay a sort of royalty. Big players have that cost component. In Synovate we called it ‘shared resources’. And that is a sort of royalty for paying people in the head office. And we have to adhere to the standard, for instance, paying for software and hardware. That’s the cost the independent companies don’t really need to absorb. So, on the cost side, they have the advantage.

On the other hand, if you are a multinational and you want to do research in 30 countries, these independent companies don’t have the network, the capacity, the experience, the speed that you can create around the globe. With Synovate or with Ipsos, you talk to one person, and we have the system in place to make it happen in a very, very short time. The quality, the standard of quality will be the same. The data format will be the same. So you will get something that is uniform and that is comparable from one country to another.

What do you think will have an impact and probably change the market research industry in Indonesia, in the next three to five years?

Robby Susatyo: If you’re asking about the next five years, then number one: the data collection methodology will change – from face-to-face probably to online, without the step of collecting data via the phone in between. Now the computer penetration is very low, the cost of internet connection is still very high, but it will change soon. The data processing and data analysis will also change. To collect data in Indonesia is very time-consuming.

As an example, if you collect data all over Indonesia, like we did at Synovate, on-going, in 69 cities we decentralised. We have centres in every province: Medan, Bandung, Jabotabek, Bali, Surabaya, Makassar, and a few others.

You need information today, you must decide tomorrow. If you have to wait for data collection, data processing, data analysis, then by the time you make a decision, the situation has changed! The landscape has changed!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to set up a market research company in Indonesia today?

Robby Susatyo: This is a good time. I have observed in the past decade some very successful new setups, and some that have failed. I think some people underestimate the difficulty of doing proper research. Some people underestimate the degree of complexity that is required to set up a research agency. But as I said, this is a good time. This is the right time for people who understand how to do market research, for people who have the resources to do it.

How would you see the importance of the cultural background in Indonesia to do market research?

Robby Susatyo: It depends on what type of study. If we investigate, let’s say attitude vis-à-vis product testing, customer satisfaction, or distribution research, the relevance is less important. This is quite standard, worldwide.

But, if you’re trying to understand the psychology of the consumer, if you are trying to find niches, if you are trying to find consumer niches that are not available in the market, it is different. You need in-depth understanding of the culture, you need in-depth understanding of the trends, of the consumer trends, and you need an understanding of what can happen in the future.

If you think of people you have met during your career…

… what characteristics would describe the most successful people?

Robby Susatyo: I think of two common traits: first is the character and second is the competence. By character I mean, you lead by example, you “walk the talk”, and you show a good example. You uphold high ethical standards. That’s important, because no matter how brilliant, no matter how smart you are – if you don’t “walk the talk”, if you have flaws in your character, then your colleagues won’t follow you, won’t respect you, won’t trust you. And trust is very, very important.

And the second is competence. If you don’t have competence, if you don’t know what you are talking about, if you don’t have a broad horizon, if you don’t know the battlefield you are in, if you don’t know the competitive landscape, then it’s a weakness. So, both character and competence must go hand in hand.

…what characteristics would describe the happiest people?

Robby Susatyo: One, they enjoy their profession. They have a passion for what they do. In my view, people who are happy are purpose-driven, not money-driven. And the purpose could be anything. It could be helping others, could be contributing to a good cause, whatever. And, probably what I call self-consciousness – meaning, you know your strengths and weaknesses, you are a realistic person.

Please finish the following phrases…

In three years, the market research industry in Indonesia will be… more competitive.

In five years, Indonesia will be… an advanced country, where everyone will be looking [to] closely.

In five years, I will be… retired from full-time employment and doing more charity work.

Thank you for this interview.