The MRSS Conference – Future Fundamentals

The Market Research Society of Singapore (MRSS) held its 3rd annual conference at the Fairmont Hotel on 6th and 7th April.  The MRSS annual conference has become one of the major events in for the research industry in the Asia Pacific, some saying that it now outshines the global APAC event organized by ESOMAR.

However, the lineup of speakers again showed that the research industry in Asia needs to call on research professionals from outside the region to deliver the thought leadership pieces.  Eight of the ten speakers at the MRSS Conference were non-Asian.

The first two papers looked at the latest developments in advertising research. Han Zantingh from Brainjuicer introduced his paper with a shocking reality – adverts that are pre-tested through market research on average go on to perform worse compared to adverts that have no pre-testing!  But the paper pointed out that much of the standard advertising testing uses archaic measures of cut through, brand relevancy, appeal etc.  Brainjuicer’s example of Cadbury’s unorthodox gorilla avert playing to Phil Collin’s ‘In the Air Tonight’ was researched using eight measures of emotion: contempt, disgust, anger, fear, sadness, neutrality, happiness, and surprise.  While Cadbury’s advert might have failed normal advertising testing, the approach demonstrated that under the new method it worked well sustaining the ‘happiness emotion’ throughout.  It was also shown to work well in both Western and Asian markets.

The following paper from Graham Page, EVP of Consumer Neuroscience at Millward Brown, showcased the latest technologies in advertising development and research using cognitive neuroscience.  But questions remain as to how far consumers are willing to be ‘wired up’ in market research in order to understand the inner most thoughts.

Jonathan Puleston from GMI Interactive gave an interesting paper on how they had designed an on-line survey for music enthusiasts and younger consumers – often difficult to engage in long on-line surveys.  They demonstrated how clever use of graphics and careful wording of questions could engage respondents for much longer, eliciting much deeper responses than one would obtain from conventional on-line or even telephone based research.  This pointed to the future of on-line research and also how on-line panel companies can work very directly with end-clients – a sobering thought for many of the delegates attending the conference coming predominantly from main stream research agencies.

They say that conference papers presented straight after lunch are challenges when you are trying to engage delegates on full stomachs!  And it was an uphill struggle from Professor David Thomson, Chairman & CEO of MMR Research – specialists in food, drink, and packaging research.  His ‘heavy’ paper covering the science behind consumer choice, while appropriate for the highly academic UK research conferences, was perhaps far too theoretical and rambling for the audience in Singapore.  There was not much improvement with the next paper from Sanja Burns, Head of Consumer Understanding at Givaudan.  Sanja delivered a very detailed paper into how they had created of flavours for canned coffee in Japan.  It was a far too focused paper that for example talked about how consumers want “dimensional rather than bitter flavours”, and failed to connect with the audience.

One of the token Asian speakers was AK Han, the Executive Director & General Manager of Haw Par Healthcare Limited, better known for their Tiger Balm brand.  The paper was a review, if not celebration of their 100 years of marketing the Tiger Balm brand.  It included interesting footage of some of their earliest marketing techniques around the Asia Pacific region. This paper mirrored that of the 2009 conference with a similar corporate biographic paper from Eu Yan Sang, also in the Asian herbal medicinal field.

But the Best Paper went to Kim Walker, CEO of Silver, a business consultancy that helps companies market to the over 50 year olds in Asia.

Kim pointed out that by 2018, at least a third of the population in most Asian markets will be over 50 year old, with aging populations being particularly acute in markets such as Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.  While many corporations are seeking to woo the younger generation (being the future client base) they often overlook the size of the opportunity with the over 50’s, often those with considerably more purchase power.  In his paper Kim explained the functional rules that corporations have to adopt in order to engage with the older consumer ranging from product functionality to the style of their corporate communications.

The strength of Kim’s paper was its saliency to virtually all product areas.  Not as specific as the Japanese canned coffee paper, but with enough product examples to interest most of the audience.  Not as theoretical as Professor David Thomson’s paper on the science of consumer choice, but down to earth enough to be understood by everyone in the audience, and delivered in an engaging and entertaining manner.