Online Market Research the Japanese Way

Online research comes of age

From my start in the industry in the mid-2000s, I have seen online research grow in popularity and acceptance in Japan. Over time, I have seen inherent resistance towards online drop as Japanese companies have come to rely more and more on online research tools as a cost efficient and quick means of custom data collection.

At the same time, traditional forms of customized research data collection remain alive and well in Japan. Japanese companies typically order research data to measure marketing events, such as product launches and campaigns. They choose the methodology that can allow interviews to be gathered from a representative audience in the city or region where the events are taking place. The efficiency and cost of collecting the data, generally come next. However, there is also a growing recognition that simply relying on customized research data, no matter the channel of its collection, is no longer totally sufficient. Data resources available for business decision making has changed and has come to include online data generated “passively” from social media and other online activity, including mobile. This is data that demands to be dontdontevaluated because it represents influential consumer opinions and market researchers in Japan are now rethinking strategies toward data collection to take it into account.

So, what’s in store for Japan’s market researchers?

Market researchers in Japan are at an intersection point. They are having to dontdontevaluate ways to increase the value of insights through the combination of various types of data including social media generated big data, syndicated data and customized research. The theme of this year’s Japan Marketing Research Association (JMRA) conference, which I attended, was “Imagining Tomorrow from a Zero Base”. This theme more than hints at the idea that Japan’s market research industry sees itself at a crossroads, in need of fresh thinking.

So what does this mean? For one thing, it means there is recognition in Japan that advanced techniques for producing robust “triangulated insights” need to be integrated into current market research methodologies. The theme of the JMRA, and the content of some of the presentations made at the conference indicate that market research firms here are working on the means for doing this. For example, data from syndicated tracking studies, that tracks consumer purchasing behavior as well as loyalty and intent towards brands in a particular product or service category, can be used to “alert” marketers of a critical change of sentiment within an observed user demographic. Customized research can then be conducted to have an in-depth look at the reasons behind the trends found by syndicated research, that are relevant to the decision making needs of a company.

Researching the “Inbound Visitors Market”

A major topic of attention in Japan right now, is the growth in so-called “inbound business”, demand created by short-term visitors to the country. At the time Tokyo was awarded the right to host the 2020 Summer Olympics 2 years ago, a target of 20 million visitors a year by 2020 was set. At the time, it seemed ambitious.  However, growth has been beyond expectation and the original target for 2020 has nearly been reached five years early, in 2015. Not a day goes by in the Japanese business media these days, where some new service or product has been quickly developed for the “inbound” market, is introduced. For example, yesterday the big news was about multilingual interactive monitors installed on beverage vending machines, so foreign visitors can understand the unfamiliar variety of drink selections that these machines dispense.

This is a market that went barely noticed only two years ago. Now, with very little prior knowledge available, the scramble for insight to meet the opportunities clearly presented is on.   The implication for my industry is that we are seeing a rise in requests for online surveys to discover the motivations and preferences of experienced visitors to Japan as well as potential future visitors. The requests come from tourism organizations and travel agencies, local government, the media, and various companies determined to tailor products and services to address the growing and diversifying market for “inbound” visitors.

I believe there is an interesting compatibility between the new and sudden demand for market research into the until recently unknown market segment, of “inbound visitors”. The fact that there is a lack of legacy research data on the market to abide, frees this this segment to become a testing ground for new methodologies, as discussed at the JMRA Conference, with its “Zero Start” theme.

The objective of much of the “inbound” research is to segment different visitor types by their needs and motivations, in order to support the development of products and services in order to meet those needs. The good news is that market research companies have a rich resources for utilizing multi-channels. There are strong syndicated offerings on travel behavior in the market place. Also, there is a great deal of passive data from the visitor’s experiences posted on the forums of travel ratings sites and other social media platforms. It is all available for the taking by those with the ability to analyze it.

“Inbound Visitor” research can be a model case for combining analyzed observations of social media, syndicated data that tracks travel behaviors, with customized research, including online survey research, for deep probes into attitudes, concept dontdontevaluation and the asking of targeted and timely questions that need to be answered to guide business action. Other sectors, take notice!

By Mark Shepard, Director, Toluna Japan