How young researchers can help the MR industry to tap into emerging markets

Last Monday I attended the ‘Young Research Writer Showcase’ presented by the International Journal of Market Research and R-net in the MRS offices. The showcase puts the spotlight on the IJMR’s competition for young talents in market research to display their research skills in an engaging paper rather than a dazzling Prezi presentation, zen-style Pecha Kucha talk or a stream of hastag-laden tweets. I took home some great quotes and food for thought on how to tackle some of the market research industry’s challenges for the future.
Peter Mouncey, Editor-in-Chief for the International Journal of Market Research, took the honours as host of the evening and introduced us to the three finalists of the awards. First up was Elina Halonen, partner at The Irrational Agency and winner of the 2012 competition with her paper on brand personality measurement across different cultures.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, why is branding in China not the same at all?

In her research, Elina confirmed existing literature and common practice in market research of using self-identification as a powerful performance indicator. More interestingly her work also challenges the validity of this method for emerging markets. Elina saved us the details of her regression analysis and the R² scores, but instead clearly explained how the fundaments of current brand personality research do not apply to non-western culture. The core of the problem with the western practices is that they ignore the different definitions of ‘personality’ in emerging markets and more specifically in Eastern cultures.
Before you continue reading try this: how would you describe your own personality? In ‘developed’ countries one usually describes a personality by using traits, values, abilities or preferences. Think of the resumes you have read from those ‘ambitious, passionate, honest and result-driven’ individuals, or maybe you used one of these characteristics to describe yourself?
This is very different in collectivistic cultures like China and India where people define personalities in relation to the context and social situations they are in. This implies that their definition of personality is more interdependent (rather than something that stands on its own) and changes in different contexts.
Did you use any ‘relationships’ in your own personality description? Do you consider your personality as something fixed or something that changes according to the (social) context you are in?
Elina’s research data indicates that the popular measurement of self-identification with a brand has far less prediction power in China and India. As such, I believe it is a very convincing call to question even our most commonly shared beliefs about research and consumers when working in different cultures. One that definitely got me thinking and wanting to look into the subject in greater detail. Our host timely quoted the great Jeremy Bullmore (*) stating that a great market research report is like a fridge, every time you open it a light goes on.

Technology creates opportunities, but understanding its users is essential to know its limits

While I was tweeting this great quote, we got introduced to our second speaker of the evening, Adam Ball from MESH Planning who looked into cookie-based tracking methodologies to evaluate online advertising. Adam argued that while technology opens up opportunities to collect behavioural data on a large scale, we should be cautious and check the data quality before using it.
Adam explained why cookie-tracking does not work in its most standard format. First and foremost, we should not forget that these methods track exposure to ads on a computer (or more precisely an IP-address), and in the case of shared computers, there is no way to distinguish different users. Secondly, standard cookie-based tracking methods are not compatible with tablets or smartphones and as such miss out on an increasing deal of exposure to digital advertising. Hence, Adam argues that self-reported methods can be more reliable than relying on automated technologies to collect data. I believe there are issues in using self-reported exposure in advertising research, but I definitely agree with Adam that understanding consumers’ interaction with technologies remains key as the popularity of BIG data market research increases.

Mobile ethnographic research can help to connect effectively with consumers in emerging markets

Firefish’s Martin Smith closed the evening with his research on the political engagement of 18-24 year olds in UK, China & India. I won’t share my point-of-view on the engagement of young Brits. Having lived in Belgium – world record holder for the longest period without a government – I am probably the least credible political analyst to find. But even to me it was clear that his analyses confirm Elina’s findings, i.e. that our individualistic culture is very different to the more collectivistic cultures in China and India.
But I do want to point the attention to Martin’s method of using Crowdlab’s mobile ethnography app to tap into the minds of youngsters around the globe. Martin’s work is another great case of how technology can help us to gather information much more effectively than traditional methods. He collected observations and interpretations from youngsters in China & India at a fraction of the costs of traditional methods. Obviously traditional methods have their advantages as there is a loss of ‘data’ such as facial expressions, body language, etc. But on the other hand this mobile app allows us to conduct research in the heat of the moment, in this case when these youngsters where living their normal life. It can also help solve problems linked to consumers inadequate memories as you are not asking them to reflect back on the past weeks, months or years. And it provides researchers with rich data such as pictures, videos and audio recordings. I can testify that there is no greater way to make consumers come to life for our clients.

We need to keep challenging our most common beliefs about how technologies work and how consumers think

For me the take-away of these 3 studies is that new technologies have created opportunities to collect research findings that were not accessible before. Martin proved how it can be used to collect rich consumer stories from the other side of the globe at a relatively low cost. Adam on the other hand, presented a powerful example that should get everyone thinking about use technology effectively in market research. Technologies are quickly turned into buzzwords, but we should keep investing resources to understand how consumers use them and what this implies market research. Last but not least, as Elina revealed, we need to keep challenging ourselves when using even the most widespread theories and beliefs about consumer behavior. Many of them are a product of the western culture where they were developed and may not be applicable to consumers in different cultures.
Curious to hear what you think!
(*) Your chance to meet Jeremy Bullmore – The MRS is inviting Jeremy Bullmore, member of WPP’s advisory board and columnist, to a Book Club session in London this week on Wednesday February 6th. Unfortunately I can’t make it, but I’d definitely recommend everyone to go and listen to this marketing visionary thinker.

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