The Market Research Industry in Malaysia

For a comparatively small market of around 28 million, Malaysia keeps us researchers busy, due to its great cultural and linguistic diversity.  There are four broad race / language segments that can display distinctly different behaviour and attitudes and each of these needs to be factored into sample design before other standard considerations such as age, gender or brand usage. It is particularly hard to design qualitative studies that cover the full range of the target population without running up big samples and big budgets.  Compromise is usually needed, along with a thorough understanding of the local market in order to gauge where such concessions are best made. Qualitative on the rise: The industry has come a long way since I arrived in Malaysia in 1999.  At that time, clients were typically looking for straightforward studies to expand their general understanding of the market, brand health and strength of customer relationships.  It was a great time, with audiences enraptured by simple usage and attitude and C-sat presentations.   Clients are now looking to go well beyond such ‘review’ surveys and this has allowed qualitative to rise in prominence, particularly in the contribution it can make to forming ideas, concepts and creative development. Where have all the moderators gone? Rising demand for good qualitative research, a shortage of local talent, exacerbated by the need for language proficiency (FGDs might be in English, Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese or, occasionally, in Tamil) has allowed moderators to break free from agencies and work on their own terms.  It is rare now for agencies not to use freelancers at least occasionally, with some of the biggest industry names using them almost exclusively. A shortage of qualitative talent is among the greatest difficulties the industry faces, partly because it is problematic to try and plug gaps with tegretol medication expatriates who are unlikely to have the necessary cultural sensitivity or language skills. Democratisation of Quantitative Research: The big international agencies continue to dominate quantitative research and do it very well, but several factors are now allowing smaller specialists to gain traction in Malaysia:

  • It is now possible to reliably sub-contract fieldwork so it is not necessary to have a large national field-force of your own.  This was not the case just five years ago, when fieldwork quality was still an important point of differentiation
  • Stronger integration of qualitative and quantitative allows smaller agencies with robust market understanding to make a persuasive case for conducting both stages
  • More sophisticated clients and more targeted research spend mean that the balance is tipping towards specialists and away from generalists
  • Lower cost of supporting software for CATI & CAPI, statistical analysis and web-based reporting has reduced barriers of entry.

Robust competition: While Malaysia is not as crowded with research agencies as some countries in Asia, there has been a marked increase over the past five years with local start-ups and international chains extending their networks to cover Malaysia.  This has been great for researchers, with salaries rising sharply, particularly at the mid-level.  I am sorry to say that fees have not kept pace! Malaysia Boleh! Even though the market is tougher than it was, I would unreservedly recommend Malaysia as a destination for researchers.  The warmth and hospitality of the Malaysian people, coupled with the low cost of living and a wonderful tropical environment at the heart of South East Asia makes for a fantastic lifestyle.  Long weekends easily become impromptu trips to Phuket or Bali and we have plenty of opportunities for this with a quite-extraordinary number of public holidays!   Although not in its first flush of youth, research in Malaysia also continues to reward with real insights that clients are delighted to receive.