What Makes a Research Enterprise in Asia?

James Redden, MD, 2CV Asia Pacific

 

Over the next few editions of Asia Research, we will interview the heads of some of our sponsor research agencies to understand what is needed to ‘make’ a research enterprise in Asia. We look at the success factors, the challenges, and the opportunities for other enterprises.

Q. Tell us more about 2CV the company

Ultimately, 2CV’s aim is to help our clients ‘make their mark’ – in terms of helping to drive the success of their brands and products, as well as the success of their own careers.

We describe ourselves as a ‘global boutique’ – which in practice means we are a boutique agency that has grown globally and can effectively execute research anywhere in the world. So, while our original HQ is in London, we have offices in the US and Asia, so we can easily cover markets across all time zones.

But we remain a boutique at heart, which means we continue to provide our clients with world-class senior researchers and tailored research solutions – we do not sell ‘products’, but instead design the best research considering the client’s needs.

Q. How long has 2CV operated in Singapore, and what was your reason for setting up in Singapore in the first place?

2021 is our 10-year anniversary in Singapore. We had already expanded to the US at that stage, and we already did quite a lot of work in Asia (serviced mostly out of London), so it made sense to have a presence in Asia, so we could more effectively execute work in Asia, as well as to target local clients to grow the agency further.

Q. What were some of your key challenges in entering the Singapore market? Was anything unexpected?

Initially the key challenge was convincing local clients to ‘take a chance’ with an agency they were not familiar with, which is a natural response from their perspective.

The most surprising element was that experience with multinational brands in other markets did not always help in Singapore. The local offices of clients for whom we already worked in the UK and US were priority targets, but it was often apparent that the experience and knowledge we had in Europe and North America was not particularly valued here, and it did not always help us to win these clients – it was more about ‘tell us what you know about Asia’ rather than ‘tell us what you already know about us from your European and North American work’.

Q. How would you describe your success factors in Singapore? How did you develop your business in what is one of the most competitive research markets?

Our success has come down to a few factors – one is not hiring too far ahead of demand. I have seen many smaller agencies quickly ramp up in terms of senior hires in Singapore, only to see that the work does not necessarily follow. So, we were always very cautious with hires – e.g. in the early days the senior team members did pretty much everything, and we took our time before building layers into the team, when our pipeline looked more secure.

Another success factor – related to the first one – was having (and continuing to have) senior researchers involved in all studies. This gave clients peace of mind – sure, they could go to a bigger agency, but they would likely get more junior researchers on their study.

And a final key plank of our success was initially focusing on our key areas of expertise – particularly technology and entertainment. While the team has grown and now has much more varied category expertise (e.g. finance, retail, FMCG), initially it was easy to sell a more focused story – that we are experts in a specific area.

Q. How have you been impacted by COVID-19? What are your plans for the recovery market or longer term?

We were affected in 2020, although it varied – some of our teams who work in categories that were highly affected (e.g. retail, transport) did suffer, while other parts of our business were quite resilient, as their clients were not affected – e.g. video gaming, video streaming, and computing.

2021 has been strong so far, so we feel like the recovery has already happened for us to a large extent. But the pandemic has taught us valuable lessons for the future – in particular how to adapt in the face of a crisis.

Q. What advice would you give a start-up research/ consumer insight firm in Singapore today?

The advice would be to learn from our success factors – control overheads by not getting too far ahead of your revenue in terms of hiring, and stay focused in what (and to whom) you are selling.

Also, if you are an agency from outside of Asia, offering local expertise is a must – hire great local researchers with regional expertise to complement your company’s global experience.