How to promote research in Asia?

In May 2014, ESOMAR held its Asia Pacific conference in Jakarta, Indonesia. With the fourth-largest population in the world, increasing political stability, and an economy driven by increasing consumerism, Indonesia is becoming an important research market for the region.

Asia Research interviewed the Director General of ESOMAR, Finn Raben, to discuss the importance of Asia to ESOMAR and what the organization is doing to further promote research in the region.

Asia Research: Why did ESOMAR become the global authority for the market research industry?

Finn Raben: ESOMAR has long been a “home” for market research where some of the most senior people in the industry have come together to talk about issues relevant to different markets, and to develop answers, solutions, and guidelines. Its global status is more a result of the support it has received from the leaders of the companies that operate internationally.

That said, the secret of ESOMAR’s success is that its members have a fundamental love of the industry, and ESOMAR members include the researcher, the buyer, and the procurement agent. Our primary and collective wish is that the industry develop and do all the great things it can.Finn Raben

Asia Research: As a self-regulating industry, how far will you go to police the industry?

Finn Raben: As a self-regulating industry, we have been allowed somewhat more freedom to innovate and develop new products and services. With new laws and legislation (e.g. on privacy), there is an increasing trend towards prescribing the way we must behave as a profession. If we allow that to continue, it will ultimately limit our ability to innovate, quite considerably. On the other hand, if we want to keep (and promote) the image of the profession and defend it against further commoditization, we will have to be more diligent in our self-regulating elements.

Asia Research: How important is Asia to ESOMAR and Indonesia itself?

Finn Raben: Asia is incredibly important to ESOMAR. It is the first region where we have deployed a full-time ambassador, whom we put in place three years ago. Asia is and will be the engine for world economic growth, and it has to be an area of focus for us. FMCG companies have decamped from traditional hubs such as Hong Kong and Singapore, and put substantial operations in local markets like Indonesia. With a population of about 250 million, we know it is a market with great potential globally. I don’t think Indonesia is the “hidden gem” anymore, but a “very obvious gem”.

Asia Research: What are the main challenges facing the industry in Asia?

Finn Raben: There seems to be a huge downward pressure on pricing in a number of markets without a clear understanding of what impact that will have on the rest of the research process. I sometimes question our ability to show the implications of such trends to our users and buyers.

Our ability to attract and retain talent in the industry is also a problem, but not just for Asia; it is one for the industry globally. I don’t think we (the profession) shout loud enough about what we do. I think we can be a bit of a demure profession and somewhat restrained in advertising what we do. If you go to schools and ask students “what is market research?”, they tend to think it’s men in coats in dark rooms on computers. The student will say, “we don’t know about statistics” (and therefore cannot work in market research). How do we convince the world that what we do has enormous social and commercial value, and that it contributes enormously to the businesses that we work with?

One of ESOMAR’s projects is to produce a campaign to raise awareness of the value of the industry; imagine a user of research referencing: “I had a business problem, it was costing me this [much money] and I invested that amount into research, and as a result my business has benefited from this amount of profit”. This demonstrates that there is real financial value in research to the audience at large. Our Research Effectiveness Award – launched three years ago – is intended to be a pre-cursor to this campaign, and we have an example in Asia where a client made an investment of $150,000 in research that resulted in them saving over $200 million. If this message is being regularly conveyed in all of the markets, do you think we would have problems recruiting and retaining staff if they knew they were joining a profession that had that kind of impact?

Asia Research: The ESOMAR Foundation is looking at how it can help poorer communities. Do you think the research industry can reach out to these communities to bring people into the industry?

Finn Raben: Ultimately, yes, but it will take time. GfK have taken a leadership position in this regard and have decided to invest very heavily in Africa. In order to develop the resource and research expertise in Africa, they are looking at setting up programs in universities, and bringing in interviewer training qualification standards and best practices. The ESOMAR Foundation will have a more global outlook, but the answer to your question, “Can it be done?” is: absolutely!