By Dave McCaughan
Ghengis Khan, rich lamb stew, incredibly cheap cashmere sweaters. Go on, what else comes to mind of when you think of Mongolia? How about a truly professional and interesting market research conference. Well last week in Ulan Baatar that is what we got.
The APRC (Asia Pacific Research Committee) brings together 12 MR industry bodies from 11 Asia Pacific countries and last week near 350 marketers and researchers, including over 60 from all parts of Asia and beyond gathered in UB for it’s annual conference. In it’s brief history of a little over a decade one of the defining features of the APRC is it’s organizing top level international speakers at events held in important, but often over looked locations for conferences like this. Places like Xian, Auckland and now Mongolia’s capital.
Eleven presentations that covered some of the hot topics in marketing like Big Data, On-line shopping, behavioural economics, data science from the perspective of practioners in China, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Korea. And yes I did do a session on my pet subjects of narrative identification for story building and the use of Artificial Intelligence. Case studies abounded on how Samsung’s amazing growth was all about completely integrating research and insight at every stage of development, how online and off-line shopper decision making unfolds in Japan compared to Taiwan, and the inevitable story of how the 1985 generation is disrupting and changing behavior in China and beyond. And please do not refer to Chinese, and Asians in general, born after 1985 as millennials, a thoroughly discredited term anyway. As speakers like Victor Yuan Yue pointed out and was debated in a number of breaks the post 85’s of China and many other markets in the region ( Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Korea … ) are likely the first and only generation where the great majority are single children and they are raised in a world of breathtaking, unprecedented change well beyond their Western cohorts experience.
The BIG learning? Something Victor said really clicked: “It’s not news anymore, it’s ooze”. The constant bane of marketers and the opportunity for researchers is finding something that sticks. As Andy Zhou, the incoming President of APRC pointed out we live in a time where in China’s biggest cities the millions of privately owned bicycles, still a major personal transport system, were 90 per cent replaced by shared service bikes in less than six months. Things are not evolving, there are revolutions everywhere. And again Victor explained those 85ers are really “non-experienced” and beyond open, they are expecting constant newness and change and because they have so little experience in nearly everything, and often have parents who can not advise them from their own experience they have absolutely no bias.
I was reminded of a piece of research I managed a few years ago as the 1985 generation were leaving college and joining the workforce. In one focus group about brand loyalty one mid twenty-something Thai explained, “I am perfectly loyal, I change my brands every month.” By which he meant that in his experience of constant newness and the need to be constantly up to date there was greater risk in staying with the same brands and more opportunity to develop his own brand by constant trial.
Maybe my one regret was that apart from passing reference there was not enough discussion about the real growth opportunity in Asia: the ageing populations. It would have been time well invested to hear more about innovation in understanding how ageing is changing so fast and how the 60-90 plus age groups (the fastest growing segment of every Asian population) is being researched, marketed to and adapting.
That would have solidified a theme across the conference for researchers from the people of Asia’s perspective: don’t hold me back, help me evolve quicker whether young or old.
Peter Harris, the outgoing APRC President, made the great point that we have to move beyond structures that are stilted and not fluid. Match the people of Asia’s experience of decades of change and dynamic choice with techniques to be more involved in lifetime experiences rather than “point in time” insertions. At it’s simplest in a “social” world stop re-asking for basic data and use tools to “know who people are. Andy Zhao built a theme around the conundrum that while there were many great new ideas, techniques and technologies being developed across the region too many clients really just wanted to use legacy processes and that one of the challenges for the industry in Asia was to do more to educate clients on new ideas and practices. Given that over half of the conference were clients it was a good start.
So the message from Mongolia: Innovation, technology, insights, revolution to breakthrough the ooze.
It all sounded and was a great intro for us all to gather in my home city, Bangkok, for IIeX Asia Pacific in December.
Oh, and well done to the Mongolian Marketing Research Society and key sponsor the Mongolian Marketing Consulting Group for a very professional and forward looking organization.