What to Expect from the Growing Research Space
Bob Chua, CEO, Pulse Group PLC recently tipped off ADOI that market research veteran Bill Pegram, Non-Executive Director of Pulse Group PLC, was down from London, to attend Pulse Group PLC’s Q209 ‘Board of Director’s Meeting’ in KL. Bill’s career began in advertising when he joined Lintas in the mid 1960s. There, it was awakened within him a proclivity for discovering what motivated people’s behaviour; thus, he moved on to Research International (then Research Bureau Limited), where he developed his research skills—becoming an accomplished qualitative and quantitative researcher.
In 1982, Bill and two colleagues broke away from RI to set up Pegram Walters Associates. The agency quickly grew to become one of the UK’s leading independent consultancies. Bill worked extensively on international business, establishing strong working relationships with independents and larger research groups around the world. Pegram Walters was acquired by Aegis plc in 2001 as their first European acquisition in what was to become Synovate, the company’s global research brand. Bill then assumed the role of Corporate Development Director for Synovate, with his eye on building a powerful network for the company in Western Europe. In five years, Synovate successfully completed 16 acquisitions in the Region.
In 2006 Bill left Synovate to create Bill Pegram & Co, a consultancy that allowed him to operate on a broader geographic canvas. Meanwhile, in his role at Pulse, Bill assists in the governance, audit and remuneration committees, to add value where relevant.
ADOI joined Bill Pegram and CEO of Pulse Group PLC, Bob Chua, for a fascinating discussion on modern Market Research.
Bob, regarding your recent keynote presentation at the Media Congress on ‘How Emerging Media Provides Fresh Consumer Insights’, do you think the industry in Asia is ready to adopt?
Chua: Most definitely. The market research industry globally has been experiencing a major transformation over the past 10 years, probably more so now than in its entire history due to the availability of new technologies, a huge shift towards online, globalisation, and outsourcing. Asia has always been at the forefront of technology adoption, be it for consumer electronics, software applications, and more relevantly, the Internet.
Asia now boasts the largest Internet population in the world, coupled by the fastest growing economies and market research spend; hence these ingredients have already impacted on more efficient means of conducting research. One of our programs in place is ‘mPulse’, a collaborative effort between Pulse and MindShare on ‘online consumer habits’, which is in its third year of syndication. The program, conducted online for the past 3 years, now spans 13 countries throughout Asia.
Bill, you’ve been in the market research space for ages. What are your thoughts on how technology has impacted the way Market Research was conducted when you first started your career compared to now?
Pegram: I’m massively excited by what technology is doing for the industry today. On-line technology is providing solutions to deep-seated problems that were starting to impact negatively on the research industry. When I began working in research, face-to-face interviewing was the main method of data capture. But by the 1980’s the methodology was attracting criticism. Face-to-face had become increasingly expensive and standards of recruitment and interviewing (which depended largely on the interviewer) were starting to slip.
Telephone interviewing was introduced as an alternative, and although it reduced cost, it created problems of its own. Online, on the other hand, delivers a product that is high quality, professional and consistent. And, of course, it’s both cheaper and quicker than face-to-face or telephone. In my opinion, online research has moved research onto a whole new level. I’m convinced, for example, that we are only just beginning to see the power of proprietary panels.
Do you believe the evolution will continue at a faster pace, Bob?
Chua: Yes, there’s no doubt. As consumers change their media consumption behaviours, the industry will follow very quickly. We are also experiencing cases of ‘wagging the dog’, where technologies such as Facebook, Skype, and Google etc. are leading change, as opposed to the other way around. Mobile is now becoming very interesting with more powerful devices, constant connectivity, richer content, and creative applications. I predict that mobile will be the next disruptive technology to watch out for in our space, although for now, online will continue to dominate.
And has Media 2.0 created more opportunities or challenges?
Chua: Well, Media 2.0 has changed the way consumers interact with brands, and therefore how marketers interact with consumers. Consumers are now even more spoilt for choice, more bombarded with advertising messages and mediums, and hence conventional share of voice is distributed and fragmented by a higher degree of sophistication. Media 2.0 does indeed pose both opportunity and challenge. I say ‘opportunity’ by way of targeted messaging, eCRM, and a higher degree of consumer information—which assists in the life cycle of branding to purchasing. As for challenges, advertisers, its agencies, and marketing efforts need to be much more creative in how they deploy their campaigns, and to effectively get their message through the clutter in cyberspace.
Bill, the adoption of Media 2.0 seems to be embraced by all demographic and psychographic groups. In your opinion, does this enable marketing and media agencies to be more global?
Pegram: Undoubtedly it does. Brand marketing people have been thinking globally for many years now but local differences in patterns of media consumption made it hard to really communicate with brand users and potential users across geographies. What we are seeing now is the emergence of new global communities, linked by platforms such as MySpace, on-line forums, and blogs. These communities are not restricted by national boundaries. One of the challenges for research is to find new ways of looking at and analysing the ideas that emerge from these rich resources.
Here’s an open question for you both: You are having your board meeting in Kuala Lumpur, although your company is now very international, and listed on a UK bourse (PLUS). Is this a model of marketing companies of the future?
Chua: Well, it’s more a model of marketing companies of ‘now’. We’ve grown very quickly in an exciting space, which is continuing to grow at a rapid pace, where the ‘fast eat the slow’. The Internet knows no boundaries, and with consumers becoming more savvy and sophisticated, companies like ours need to gravitate towards industry needs. Being small, nimble, innovative and dynamic helps us to keep up with the pace and stay ahead of the curve.
Pegram: I agree. Our global HQ is in Kuala Lumpur, but we have offices in Sydney, New Delhi, New York and London. I suspect that over time we will hold board meetings in these cities too. Our unique strength is our ability to talk to people in Asia Pacific—but we are servicing a business world that is truly global and we need to stay close to our client base.
As a board member of the Pulse Group PLC, Bill, what still excites you about the industry, and companies like Pulse?
Pegram: I find the business culture at Pulse extremely stimulating. At the end of the day, it’s about the people. It’s a young company, with a bright, enthusiastic management team. I suspect that most businesses operating in the fast moving, ever-changing online sector will offer a level of excitement; but with Pulse, it’s a lot more than that. We have a strong sense of our market positioning. What’s more, we have a keen awareness of the competition, which keeps us well ahead of the game. And there is a real dynamism about the place. At Pulse, it’s not a case of technology for technology’s sake—it’s what I call ‘smart technology’. All the time we are looking to find a technical advantage that will help to differentiate us in a way that’s relevant to our clients’ needs.
Another one for you both: What should we be expecting from the market research space in the next 12 months?
Chua: In my opinion, we will see more consolidation in the industry, a higher shift to outsourcing, and online methodologies as a way of meeting Media 2.0 type dynamics, but also to remain competitive in an age of increased competition and a global credit crunch. The media and advertising dollars will be under pressure to find the most creative and effective means of creating desire within the digital world, while a huge shift on growth with come from Asia.
Pegram: All of the above. More consolidation, whether WPP buys TNS or not; more emphasis on outsourcing. And in particular, I anticipate a real upswing in online work in Asia as US and European based clients realise that growth at home is going to be incredibly hard to achieve. I think Pulse is going to be very busy!