ESOMAR Congress 2008 : Research intervenes in developing markets including China and Russia

Geoffrey Precourt, WARC Online’s US Editor, finds out about research in developing markets such as Russia and China

This is one of a series of edited extracts from the ESOMAR 2008 Annual Congress in Montreal. Other articles cover: 

For WARC’s full coverage of ESOMAR Congress 2008, visit our conference blog page.


Hernando de Soto, president, Institute for Liberty and Democracy, a global economic think tank based in Lima, Peru, has met heads of state and business in Latin America, the Middle East, the United States, and the nations that once comprised the Soviet Union. He’s been one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. And his books have sold two million copies sold in 25 languages.

And he came to the 2008 ESOMAR Congress in Montreal with the most basic question: “How do you get knowledge?”

“From Adam Smith to Peter Drucker, it’s a question that economists never feel they have exhausted, now matter how much they think they know. How do you get knowledge?”

De Soto moves quickly, with references that range from Marx’s locomotive (you need to examine 5,000 separate components before you can understand the engine that leads the train) back to Adam Smith (the productivity of a pin factory) to the “biography” of the pencil that describes the scores of elements from more than 120 countries that have to meet in one spot to be assembled into a writing instrument.

And he took the same kind of build-it-up-tear-it-back-down-to-its-essentials theme in a discussion of the current global fiscal crisis in an ESOMAR keynote address.

“The problem we have today is a breakdown of knowledge. We have to find the greedy culprits and figure out how they did it.” De Soto allowed, however, that the process of discovery can be complicated.”

“We all operate with an infinite variety of semiotics,” he explained. “There are signs all around us and we have to read each of them in a different way. And, unless you know the language, you really can’t know anything at all. Adam Smith said that language was the connection between the mind and reality.”

“So, when a bell rings, I make the connection between the sound and the front door, so I answer it. I hear a different bell and answer the side door. A third bell takes me to the back door. I have breakfast and a bell tells me when the toaster’s done its job. I still write on a typewriter. A bell tells me when I’m at the end of a line. There are school bells for the kids next door. And, for those of us who are Catholics, the bells at the church ring all the time; even when the mass is over, another bell rings. Bells on streetcars take us home. And when a building’s on fire, we hear a bell.”

The series of sounds and signs – the language – makes any number of connections in first-world countries. But, in places like Peru, de Soto contended, “there are no signs. There are no connections between the mind and reality.”

Research, he said, can play an important role “seeing in the dark” in underdeveloped countries that “operate in shadows”.

“There is no end to food shortage in the world unless we get it right. We’re mainly fed by North America. There are 2.7 billion hectares of farmland in Latin America and Africa. But we need to invest in getting the stones out before we can teach people how to bring agriculture in.” And the skills of research, he added, are critical to that effort in that they can provide direction to countries that have no way of understanding how and where to start.

China: How Culture Can Convert Numbers into Opportunities

First, some numbers.

Do these figures represent an opportunity for marketing and research? Peter Cooper, a chartered psychologist and CEO of London’s CRAMQiQ Group, thinks so.

But sheer volume and econometrics are not all that matter,” he cautions. “It is the hearts and minds of the Chinese that represent the real frontiers of China.”

Those hearts and minds became far more confident after the completion of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, according to Katie Zhou, general manager, DiagAid Marketing Research Co., Ltd., Republic of China.

While Cooper emphasized that Chinese people tend to be traditional –valuing mutual respect in all relationships, honoring parents and elders, emphasizing moderation, balance, respect for privacy – Zhou said that the global exposure of the summer games had modified this self perception:

Prior to the Olympics, more than 80 percent of Chinese people felt that the West was afraid of the growth or China,” she explained, adding that 16 percent felt that the rest of the world had little respect for the country.

“After the games, she contended, “the people of China were prouder of their history and culture than ever before. More than 90 percent of the people felt increased confidence in their country and believed China had been brought closer together with the rest of the world.”

Cooper cautioned against marketers approaching the Chinese market with the assumption that consumers will aspire to Western values and therefore they will respond to similar claims. In contrast to studies which make assumptions about Western individualism, our concerns were to understand what it means and feels like to be Chinese in the currently fast-changing world, and how these experiences differ between different Chinese social milieus.”

One critical difference that Cooper and Zhou highlighted was the reintroduction of Confucianism as a major component of Chinese culture – “the re-emergence of Confucian values in modern Communist China after the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution under Mao had sought to repress the past,” according to Cooper.

The result? A combination of the traditional and the buoyant optimism of the future, grounded in the guiding Confucian principles: Harmony, respect, moderation; traditional ways, simplicity, reality; education, learning and self-improvement; the importance of actions rather than words; and the belief that everything has a base in positive relationships.

As Zhou explained, to understand Chinese consumers, it’s essential to discover how much the changes go beyond numbers: “The people are rediscovering traditional values apply to modern life. After a long “winter”, these values are beginning to re-blossom.”

In Russia, One Global Research Size Doesn’t Fit

If Coca-Cola has a different name in India and a sweeter taste in the Middle East and Asia, if Unilever sells its shampoo in small plastic packaging in third-world markets, if Nokia sells a dust- and mud-resistant cellphone to people in India, and McDonald’s designs “local” burgers for franchisees in different locations, why should market research have a one-size-fits-all?

The query is a particularly pressing one for Alexander V. Shashkin is CEO/founder of

Online Market Intelligence Ltd in the Russian Federation. “The rise of online methodology led to delight and enthusiasm about Globalization 2.0 and blurring boundaries,” he told an afternoon ESOMAR 2008 delegates. “It seems that global sample providers forgot that localization means not only translation of panel portals to different languages.”

In Russia, Shashkin said, research from global marketers suffers because it is often insensitive to local market needs. As evidence, he cited reports from two waves of research on researching, the first in October 2007, the second in February 2008. Specifically, the studies focused on research portal and survey experiences.

Users who had participated in Russian web portal-driven global research were subject to:  

By contrast, Shashkin continued, global research portals designed by Russian specialists contain: 

Survey experiences touch on all of the above pluses and minuses, with a few additions. On the downside, the surveys may drive a participant to Google, while the Russian search engine Yandex has a dominant (40 percent) market share. And, the more text the pieces present, the more often grammatical and spelling errors undermine the authority of the survey. To reward payments, the global surveys offer irrelevant rewards(U.S. customer-loyalty programs, gifts from online shops that won’t ship to Russia or cheques drawn on U.S. banks).

The Russia-centric program survey writers simply don’t make the same mistakes because they’re in touch with the target audience and, quite simply, speak their language.

Shashkin told the ESOMAR audience that locally-driven research can be more powerful because its practitioners better understand survey audiences.

More than 55 percent of the respondents participated in research because they were “curious” – they found the experience interesting and enjoyable. Just under 25 percent sign up because they felt that their engagement was “responsible” behavior. It helped marketers make informed decisions and, in cases when donations to loyal charities were offered as incentives, the time spent with researchers came back as a community benefit.

The balance of the research participants – some 17.3 percent – were, in Shashkin’s terms, “pragmatics.” In words not so kind, they were in it strictly for the money.

The first two audiences take their assignments seriously. And, when the process is flawed by improprieties, they have no hesitation in walking away from the session. Pragmatics, on the other hand, will fill out any form, no matter how nonsensical it may be. And, in Shashkin’s finding, their too-willing participation adds little to the integrity of the research product.

About the author:


Geoffrey Precourt is the US Editor of WARC Online.


You can read their reports from ESOMAR 2008 Congress and other recent marketing events here.