Archive for October, 2010

Introducing the Festival of New MR

Welcome to the Festival of New MR – a global event that will run every year and help track and shape the future of our industry. Inspiration is from Ray Poynter (The Future Place) and the board comprises researchers, clients and industry partners from around the world. All volunteers. Asian Strategies is delighted to be on the Editorial Board.

The Festival will run 6-10 December 2010 – an online conference accessible to all to help shape the future of market research. Think “ESOMAR Congress meets Woodstock & Glastonbury”. For a week. 24 x 7. Across all time zones.


Response has been overwhelming and we have to limit participation to 1,000 delegates (speakers, audience members) from the research industry who will be taking part over five days. Presentations will be archived and downloadable so delegates can get access to everything and sponsors will enjoy ongoing publicity as well as during the live events.

Ticket prices will be from as little as $25 as the aim is to reach people who normally don’t attend MRS and ESOMAR events because they can’t travel or afford the time or usually high conference fees.

Some of the speakers: Mark Earls, John Keraon, Ray Poynter, Duncan Stewart, Dianne Hessan, Shobha Prasad, Rijn Vogelaar, Tom Ewing, Jim Longo, Annie Petit, John Clay, Graeme Lawrence, Richard Shaw, Spencer Murrell, Sue York, Tom De Ruyck, Jon Puleston and Finn Rabin.

Confirmit is our Platinum Sponsor and NIPO Gold but Gold Sponsorship is still available for US$5,500 – not expensive given the duration of the event, the continued visibility in terms of content, quality of speakers and audience.

We believe this will become the biggest event of its kind based on the quality of people involved (the influencers of New MR globally) and the Festival’s “first mover” status.

For more information on attending, speaking or sponsorship, please contact Greg Coops at Asian Strategies <>


Survey research evidence in legal cases in Asia is on the rise

Counterfeiting and passing-off have long been facts of marketing life in Asia. But companies are  protecting their intellectual property (IP) rights more zealously and going to court to seek injunctions and damages against those who are thought to be ignoring those rights.

Initially, the plaintiffs were usually multi-national companies seeking to protect their trade marks but now local firms have followed suit. Another trend has been the use of survey research evidence in cases to reliably assess elements such as “goodwill” (what marketers would call brand equity) and the extent of confusion – aspects that were once argued in court without the benefit of independent survey research data.

Courts in Asia are now ruling on more IP and trade mark related cases and research is bound to become more widely used. Many researchers are reluctant to become involved either for fear of offending potential clients by being seen to “take sides” – some international research firms have a policy of not getting involved for this reason – or because they find the court room an intimidating experience (as it often is).

Researchers are far more comfortable in a collaborative client-agency environment and than in a High Court where opposing lawyers are vociferously attacking the integrity of the researcher and his/her data and conclusions!

Surveys that are used in legal cases have to be far more meticulous and rigorous than normal i.e. where the audience is a corporate marketing department and not a judge. Questionnaire design, sampling, interviewing, validation, data processing, analysis and reporting have to be done to a standard of execution and record-keeping far higher than is the norm in commercial research where compromises in design are often made for reasons of budget and timing and “topline” presentations in bizspeak dominate.

In legal cases, textbook research design rules. Clients may not generally care about universes, sampling frames, response rates and sampling error calculations but, in court, be prepared to answer hard questions on all of these fast disappearing aspects of our profession in the era of Research 2.0.

Judges are tough critics of shoddy or biased research. In Malaysia in 2008, a survey was rejected in a passing-off case. The High Court of Malaya quoted a British precedent… in Imperial Group plc v Philip Morris Ltd [1984] R.P.C 293 the court held that the following guidelines must be followed before market survey evidence is admissible:

  1. the interviewees must be selected so as to represent a relevant cross-section of the public;
  2. the size must be statistically significant;
  3. the survey must be conducted fairly;
  4. all the surveys carried out must be disclosed including the number carried out, how they were conducted, and the totality of the persons involved;
  5. the totality of answers given must be disclosed and made available to the defendant;
  6. the questions must not be leading nor should they lead the person answering into a field of speculation he would never have embarked upon had the question not been put;
  7. the exact answers and not some abbreviated form must be recorded;
  8. the instructions to the interviewers as to how to carry out the survey must be disclosed and; where the answers are coded for computer input, the coding instructions must be disclosed.

All these principles are enshrined in the Code of Conduct of the Market Research Society (Singapore) but how often have you read a research report that contains all of the above? In Sanbos (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd– vs –Tiong Mak Liquor Trading (M) Sdn Bhd) the survey research report was deemed to be of no probative value because the research methodology and full results were not fully disclosed, the questions were considered leading, some questions asked participants to speculate in areas in which they were not qualified, the instructions to interviewers were not published and so on.

If your report is going to be used in an Affidavit in court then you’d better be sure that your survey not only meets the highest standards of research but that you have all the necessary evidence to demonstrate it. Courts are not interested in hearing broad assurances from you that, for example, primacy and recency effects exist – you must quote a credible source to back up your claim. And forget PowerPoint presentations, all evidence must be in the detailed, discursive report format that courts use. Think “university thesis” rather than “client debrief”. And don’t forget to wear a nice suit and bow to the judge.

Asian Strategies has been involved in several cases as expert witnesses and witnesses of fact and, so far, we have enjoyed a perfect record of judgments or settlements in our clients’ favour. For more information, contact us at:

Photo: Old Supreme Court, Singapore. Siyuan

Ten Rules for Young Researchers

Back in the analogue days of the Seventies we had to sell the idea of market research to suspicious clients from leaky offices across SE Asia that had non-existent phone systems, intermittent powers supplies and all the other watch-them-glaze-over-old-Asia-hand diatribes… the golden era when the research business wasn’t really a business. But you’ll be pleased to see that I’ve managed to distill this sanctimonious rave into Ten Shortish Rules…

Rule 1: Maintain your incredulity. Don’t believe anything that’s recorded in a questionnaire, said in a focus group or reported in a survey unless you have personally validated it. Several times.

Rule 2: Ask sensible questions. Respondents aren’t idiots. And you’ll always get responses to a poorly constructed question; their answers just won’t mean anything.

Rule 3: Data aren’t the end result… reliable data are important but even “good” information isn’t important per se. Information is the manure – the fertiliser for ideas… step in it, walk around it but use it to understand what’s happening and what the client should do.

Rule 4: Make definite recommendations. Go beyond the data. Remember, knowledge is adjudicated information and you have the authority to adjudicate. Some clients may not want your opinions but give them judiciously. All of us have numerous examples of studies where clients have ignored our advice and lost lots of money.

Even an Old Economy researcher can tell when a New Economy idea bombs in research. We once watched a dotcom client drop $10 million in three months because they disagreed with the fairly obvious prognosis that Singapore didn’t need their version of an online department store.

The late Dr Peter Kenny (the brilliant and wonderfully eccentric Aussie researcher whose letterhead featured a naked picture of himself – as one does – on the basis that it had impact and opened doors) once told me to “push clients to do what you suggest…they need the confidence to act in a definite way. Get them to do anything, anything at all and they’ll get a result!”

Rule 5: Be brave with your knowledge. Don’t be afraid to deliver bad news. Only the ancient Romans cut out the tongues of the bearers’ of bad news. If in doubt, avoid Italian clients.

Predictions are difficult. Certainly don’t expect consumers to predict the future for you – they can’t.

Rule 6: Write properly. Research reports don’t have to be poorly written just because most of them are. Stop hiding behind the bullet points of PowerPoint and MBAspeak. A coherent story and cogent ideas do not require the camouflage of paradigm shifts in asynchronous end-to end consumer interfaced concepualisations going forward. If in doubt give your report to a non-marketing person to read. If they can understand it then it will probably make sense when someone who wasn’t at the presentation picks it up later.

The finest research reports I’ve read were from Peter Kenny. Invariably hand written and no more than four A4 pages they were discursive and deceptively simple (impressive as they sprang from a mind so brilliant that only two people on the planet were qualified to grade his doctoral thesis). They usually contained hand drawn pictures and still make colossal sense twenty years later.

Rule 7: Culture matters. Examine the past as well as the present. To understand where societies are headed, look at where they are from. Read Geertz and Mulder’s books on Java and Hla Pe’s “Burma”. Historical, popular and material cultural perspectives are generally more instructive than non-parametric statistics when understanding Asia.

Rule 8: Get out of the office. Research isn’t a white collar occupation although most research companies resemble accountancy firms where researchers imperiously compile data from questionnaires and focus groups that are brought in from the chaotic and non-airconditioned world.

Online communities are great but have not replaced the need for Wandering About. Speak to people on the train, on the street, in their homes, in the bars and coffee shops. Observe. This is a crucial part of the quest for enlightenment, not an optional product clients can buy under the guise of “ethnography”. Keep in mind that you have been commissioned to solve a problem not run “x” number of focus groups or conduct “y” interviews.

Rule 9: Make up your own rules. Read the textbooks but then explore new solutions. For example, the ESOMAR handbook tells us that focus group respondents shouldn’t know each other but, in our experience, it’s preferable to have a groups of teenagers who are friends in order to have them comfortable with their peers. They are also more likely to tell the truth amongst people who know them.

Get out of the traditional group “fishbowl”. Recruit consumers in situ so you know they really do drink XO cognac or go clubbing or whatever your consumers are meant to do. Reconvene groups. Sensitise respondents. Call them up after a group session and clarify their responses in private. Use more than one moderator. Listen unobtrusively. The best researchers are like the best photographers, chameleons whose presence doesn’t influence the experiment.

Rule 10: Enjoy yourself! Research is now cool – it wasn’t always the case. But it was always interesting. The journeymen/women of Asian Strategies have run focus groups in locales as diverse as Melanesian caves (ahh, Plato) and seafood restaurants in Kowloon with triad members who insisted on standing up throughout the two hour session (at least three moderators are required for this as two are inevitably yam singed under the table).

We’ve been poked with spears by irate Papuan respondents, dodged landmines in Khmer Rouge areas of Cambodia, been stoned by drunken fishermen in Banda Aceh and helped extinguish a fire in our hotel on Gizo (Solomon Islands) to save two thousand questionnaires from a radio survey. All in the name of consumer behaviour.

So get into some comfortable clothes, slap on the sunscreen and get out there kids. You probably won’t become a millionaire but you will become a better researcher and be more valued by your clients. Oh, and don’t forget to bill fifty percent of the fee up front.

Cautionary tale 1

Researchers are always telling you how research has improved things. Greg Coops shares an example of “what went wrong” …

After 30 years in research in Asia, I can boast of a longish list of things that haven’t gone precisely to plan. One of my earliest cautionary tales was research for Windsurfer in the 70’s in Sydney. I was trotted out in front of the client as the credible consultant – the firm’s young surfer. Depth interviews were duly conducted on the potential for sail boards in Australia: not as easy as you’d think when the typical surfer’s vocabulary consisted of approximately three adjectives: “cool”,”really cool” and “f#*ked”.

Nevertheless, a consistent story quickly emerged. These boards were too big, too heavy and would only make sense on the lakes of Switzerland where there were no waves but useless in Australia where we had surf and needed only manoeuvrability not propulsion. So I went back to the client and confidently pronounced the idea dead in the water.

Fortunately he didn’t listen to us and the sport boomed and, decades later, morphed into kite surfing. I have been careful listening to “consumers” (sorry) and even industry experts ever since.

Of course what we didn’t predict was (1) that these boards would get lighter and less sailboat-like due to construction technology and better shaping and (2) that a few maniacs would take these sailboards out in the surf. Never underestimate the ability of a young bloke full of testosterone and beer to go beyond what seems sensible and for his friends to follow him out there. Without this our ancestors would never have left Africa but that’s another discussion.

POSTSCRIPT: So where did we go wrong? We forgot to ask people to imagine the ways surfing could be improved and, instead, focussed on testing a prototype as though it was a final product. As obvious now as the New Coke debacle was when the researchers omitted to mention to Coke aficionados that New Coke would replace their current recipe (an error I should add that was not made by the qual. researchers; the quant. report, despite having this flaw, was considered more credible). Oh well. Always easy with hindsight.

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