This episode is all about market research and marketing in China and features episode guest Andrew Kuiler, who joins the conversation by telephone from Shanghai.
Andrew Kuiler is the CEO and founder of The Silk Initiative (TSI), a brand consultancy located in Shanghai, China. Doing a bulk of its business working with brands in the food and beverage space, Andrew and his company works with companies from all over the world to break into the Chinese market and succeed there.
TSI works across many areas of the marketing process to design brand identities, innovate products and create visual assets for brands in China, Asia and elsewhere.
In their conversation, Andrew and Duncan discuss the differences in doing market research and marketing in China and some of the emerging trends one can see in that market. Andrew shares some of the experiences he’s had helping brands move into the Chinese market.
Later in the episode, we’re joined by Insightrix Communities Client Success Manager Evan Goodfellow. Evan heads up the Insightrix Communities offices in Bangkok, Thailand, and does a great deal of work in the Asia-Pacific market.
Since Evan also has experience working in China and similar markets, and since he coordinates his time between Bangkok and Saskatoon, Canada, we thought it would be great to have him on to discuss his experiences.
If you’d like to know more about the Silk Initiative and their work, or if you would like to know more about TSI Navigator, check out their website at www.thesilkinitiative.com.
You can also learn more about Insightrix Communities market research online community software at www.communities.insightrix.com.
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Episode Transcript[EPISODE INTRODUCTION] [DUNCAN] We all know that to do business, you need to make informed decisions.
As insights professionals, we know that those decisions need to be informed by experience and market knowledge, backed up by solid research and analysis.
But what about when a brand wants to expand to markets it knows little to nothing about – whose culture, language and maybe even ways of doing business are different to what it may be used to back at home?
Hello, my name is Duncan McGregor, the marketing and communications coordinator at Insightrix Research in Saskatoon, Canada, and your podcast host.
In this episode of Stories of Market Research: The Insightrix Podcast, we’re talking about doing market research in China with episode guest, Andrew Kuiler. Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Silk Initiative – brand consultancy that operates in Shanghai, China.
The Silk Initiative works with food and beverage brands from all over the world to help them develop their brand and marketing strategies and to provide them the deep insight they need to move into the Chinese market and succeed there.
In the episode, Andrew shares some of his experiences working with brands in the Chinese food and beverage space, how marketing and market research differ in China, his thoughts about trends to watch for in that market and much, much more.
We also speak with Insightrix Communities’ own Evan Goodfellow. Evan is a customer satisfaction manager in Insightrix Communities’ Bangkok offices in Thailand, and he often has to coordinate with our home offices in Saskatoon, Canada.
Since we were speaking with Andrew about what research and marketing are like in China, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to sit down with Evan while he was in Canada to speak with him about what it’s like to coordinate offices for halfway around the world, how selling and marketing differ in the Asia-Pacific market and to get an update on news from our Communities software division.
Managing time zones, working through regulation and looking at trends in the Chinese market – all that and more on this episode of Stories of Market Research: The Insightrix Podcast.[THEME MUSIC] [INTERVIEW SEGMENT 1]
DUNCAN: I’ve got Andrew Kuiler on the line. How’s it going today Andrew?
ANDREW: It’s going very, very well. Thank you very much Duncan for having me.
DUNCAN: Well, thank you. Thank you for joining us from all the way out in Shanghai. You were just telling us you’ve got some typhoons on the way.
ANDREW: We do, yes. So, we’ve been pretty lucky this year to escape them. We’re in the light zone here, but I think, with global warming, I think we’ve done a bit of a flip on the typhoon season. So, yeah, batten down the hatches today, I think. It’s a strong wind coming in and quite a bit of rain.
DUNCAN: Well, right on. I really appreciate you braving the weather to come on the podcast. Could you tell us a little bit about your company, The Silk Initiative, and explain how you help your clients?
ANDREW: Absolutely, yeah. So, we’re a Shanghai-born brand consultancy and we operate – and we started operating in the food and beverage space particularly, but we’ve branched out into some other particular categories. Essentially, all that work is insight driven. So, we’re a team of about 10 people right now and we work with global brands to help them on their China strategies and where they need rich insights to drive new brand development programs, product innovation, pipeline types of work, pack design and all sorts of other bits and boxes that sit sort of in the marketing services space. We sit at the nice intersection between insight brand strategy, product innovation and design. So, a bit of a unique shop in that regard.
DUNCAN: Yeah, really.
ANDREW: We have a lot of fun doing it.
DUNCAN: That sounds like really super interesting work. How did you get into that line of work? You must have some connection to China to begin with, correct?
ANDREW: Yeah, I mean that I’d say I was a little bit of a late bloomer in starting my own company. I’ve worked for several of the big agencies for many years myself – so, the likes of AC Nielsen, GSK, Ipsos – the big insights agencies. And I decided, about almost five years ago, to set The Silk Initiative up on pretty much the back end of the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement. And I just saw a huge opportunity there coming my way. I’m Australian; I had already been in China for a good part of 10 years. I was out here in the early 2000s – it’s actually where I started my insights career, coming out of marketing for a short period of time and had gone on to work in New York for several years. And then, come back to China, and I was like, I think I want to do something in this space. I think I want to start with food and beverage. I love that space. There was a bit of a food crisis happening in China at the time, as well – like, a lot of issues around product safety. Those are still there, as well. And with this free trade agreement, I saw this big opportunity of cleaner, better-for-you foods that are so popular with the Chinese people – food from the Australian space. And not many services companies up here that had, I would say, the kind of insight background and the ability to create brands and products for companies sitting overseas, and that’s really how we got started. So, it was very organic and we got a small project and brought in an intern, and got another project and brought in a project manager and it literally just grew organically. And now we work with brands from all around the world from the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Continental Europe, Australia – so, yeah.
DUNCAN: So, working in China in the Chinese market and helping all of these companies from all over the world, specifically North American companies, what are the main differences you see in marketing and doing market research in that market versus the North American market, or even the Australian market?
ANDREW: Well, it’s funny you should mention that. I was on a call a few nights ago with an SVP in Chicago of a big North American CPG brand and I got off the phone and I was like, that was such a refreshing call. It was a grown-up, adult conversation about methodology and what should work and what should go where and when, and what they need to get out and, sort of, full transparency on what they’re trying to achieve – it was nice, you know? Now, I think when you’re dealing particularly with brands in China, things move so fast here. And we’re started moving – we started working with some of the CPG headquarters here. The operating styles are so different, you know? There isn’t this huge heritage in things like data market research. I think a lot of things are being – the fundamentals are being skipped over over the years purely for need of agility and speed. The market was just surging with such huge growth for many, many years and some of those sort of fundamentals aren’t there, but they do pretty amazing work. But of course, China’s so big – we’re talking 1.3-1.5-billion people…
DUNCAN: That’s huge.
ANDREW: …trying to sort of decipher what is a suitable overarching consumer insight for a brand here, it can be difficult. It can be really different by cohorts, by regions – and as I said, the operational challenges and the infrastructure challenges that China presents, it makes the whole process really, really interesting. It’s not a consistent market, like say the States would be, or Australia or the UK, where you can expect a certain level of consumer behaviour or retail behaviour in one part of the coast or a city inland. The dynamics present so many challenges, and that’s the result, I think, that’s where we’ve been quite lucky is that I’ve always been quite methodology agnostic. I’m a classically trained market researcher across multiple methodologies. That’s come in really handy – that I’m sort of not wedded to any one particular way of doing things, and I’ve been able to make those sort of traditional practices, qual/quant, it bit more adaptive to today’s China.
DUNCAN: Can I ask how – without giving away too much of the secret sauce?
ANDREW: Absolutely. Yeah, I think things like digital. You know, having apps for the Chinese consumer. I mean, there’s not many consumers these days who want to be sitting behind a computer or a laptop, filling in 20-30-40-minute questionnaires. We might break the research up into different stages – stakeholder interviews, we might do quite a bit of in-store work. We might do digitally enabled surveys through WeChat at multiple phases. WeChat is a program like – it’s kind of like an integrated WhatsApp, Facebook app where you can get folks to complete surveys and also take photos and do videos. So, you can do sort of more integrated work like diaries and video logs and things like that at the same time. So, it makes things a bit more engaging for the consumer. And obviously, there’s a ton of big data in China, as well, that clients sit on. So, I think there’s some really interesting pieces you can bolt together to try and triangulate the story a bit more. Yeah, and so we get our hands dirty with all of that, but the real power comes from interplay when your in a workshop with a client and you’re actually working through ideas and try moves and arrive at some really brilliant places.
DUNCAN: That’s really cool. You mentioned earlier that there’s a lot of differences between the regions in China. I can only imagine; it’s a massive country with a lot of people in it. And I know there’s probably a lot of difference between marketing in rural and urban centres, or even mainland versus central China. What would you say were the differences in, say, marketing a product in Guangzhou versus a town in Inner Mongolia? I imagine it’s quite a different strategy, right?
ANDREW: Yeah, well, things like purchase drivers will be complete different for the same category.
ANDREW: We were having this conversation actually, yesterday with a client in Australia. We’ve got a really interesting engagement for pet care for an organic pet food. And we’ve got to make a city selection – like, which cities to select. Dog and cat ownership, for example, have been increasing, but I guess the role of the pet can be completely different in somewhere like Mongolia versus southern China.
ANDREW: You know, living in Shanghai, for example, like, there’s just been an explosion of all sorts of dog breeds in Shanghai in recent years. And it could be 100 degrees, and you’ll be on the street and you’ll see these quite, sort of elaborate Alaskan malamutes and all sorts of shaved dogs walking down the streets. And they’re being pampered and they, you know, consumers have probably spent a ton of money on them. Perhaps, that same behaviour in a second- or a third-tier city – completely different. You know? Very early days of what would be a – what I would say would be acceptable way to treat a pet. Perhaps they aren’t looked after as well. So, there’s still some emergent categories like that. That’s a classic one…
ANDREW: …where the behavioural differences are so huge. Now pretty much all our cities are concerned about food safety, supply chain issues, you know, Toll chains, for example, are not as well developed in those places. So, when you go to buy, if you do have access to a pint of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, is it all frosted over, and has the product separated because it’s been in and out of different chillers and the delivery trucks not as consistent with temperature? Taking it from, you know, warehouses where they’ve been stored. So, you know, I think the – what’s on consumers’ mind is just so different – just more practical and probably more functional. A city like Guangzhou, I mean, we’ve done quite a lot of work down there – mothers and kids. Did a lot of work on the Goldfish brand for Campbell’s soup, yeah, and just looking at the role of the mom and the kid. And we kind of estimated that we think the mother in Guangzhou is probably five to seven years behind where the mum is in Shanghai. You know, the mum in Shanghai is looking for their child to – you know, it’s all about cognitive development. They’re looking for how to keep ahead of the Jones’s with their kids’ educational development, more interesting immersive experiences during their free time, how to really develop the kids’ social skills. Whereas, perhaps in Guangzhou or even lower-tiered cities, it’s more, just like, getting really good grades at school – so, less developed, less sort of evolved in terms of expectations of the kid. So, I think, differences. And then you bring into things like cuisine. There’s eight big cuisines in China. So, in the States, you might expect chicken and broccoli dishes, you know, when you go to a Chinese restaurant, but the cuisines are totally different in different regions of China. If you’re working in the food and beverage industry, that has massive implications on product development when you’re working with R&D teams. So yeah, it all keeps us on our toes and quite busy.
DUNCAN: You know, and you were just talking about the Haagen-Dazs situation. As somebody who works with a brand, I find that a little terrifying. How do brands deal with that?
ANDREW: Yeah, well they do their best.
DUNCAN: Yeah, right?
ANDREW: Working on, yeah, infrastructure stuff, right? So, it’s the other things. It’s like, your, the amount – and I don’t know if that’s a Silk Initiative thing whether that’s sort of every other agency out there – but I just feel that the practical elements to our consulting are so, sort of, front and centre, with things you have think about every day for a client. It’s not just a kicking a tire. It’s not just a brand strategy. It’s what can they get away with from a regulatory point of view, like towards government policy is always changing certain elements. Obviously, now you’ve got the trade war happening with the US, so consumers can turn on a dime on a topic. So, there’s just a lot of kind of noise in the background that we have to wade through when you’re doing this kind of work in China because, as I said, while some, you know, are still in the development stage in China. So, I think they’re just – they’re busy. Marketing teams here are busy. They’re constantly in meetings with different retailers. They’re constantly in meetings with agents who are trying to design the digital ads that – which seem to trend daily here. So yeah, that’s probably how I would see it can be quite different.
DUNCAN: I can imagine, yeah. And honestly, with a market that large, a little bit of infrastructure problems are definitely outweighed, right?
DUNCAN: So, there’s – yeah. No. There’s a lot of – how would you say it? Maybe some cultural negotiation that goes on, or even legislative negotiation, as well, I imagine. Has there ever been a time where a brand, which will remain unnamed – is there ever a time when they needed your help understanding these differences or that you had a hard time getting this through?
ANDREW: I would say where that kind of occurs in the boardroom. So, in the last year or so, I have found myself being requested to come to perhaps senior management meetings to give my expert’s advice, I guess, on whether China is the right market for them. How many eggs do they want in the China basket? Do they want to kind of diversify their strategies to other parts of Asia? What would be the risks associated with that? So, all these sort of risk mitigation types of discussions, that is happening more and more, particularly because of the socio-political kind of (inaudible) and things that are coming up with China with different regions that would (inaudible) and their role in the new world. So, that’s probably where it’s happening a little bit more, I’d say – at the boardroom table.
DUNCAN: I really wanted to ask you about doing – get back to doing research in China. Now, you were talking about infrastructure issues and that kind of thing, but do you ever run into any real difficulties setting anything up? Or, do you find that that’s actually something that maybe not an issue at all?
ANDREW: Yeah, like – coming back to like, could be the way the regulatory can shut things down. There are some really cool product categories that exist overseas. We did some NPD work recently with a client and they have access. They’re interested in things like alternate land use – a sort of huge, agricultural conglomerate. And they have access to different types of animal meat and also milk – so, sheep milk, deer milk, goat’s milk. Things like hemp – you know? Alternative dairy?
ANDREW: And some of those items, they don’t even have a classification for them for importation. So, the regulatory classification, the GBH code, I believe it’s called, doesn’t exist. So, you know, sometimes it’s like the old let’s just shut that project down. We’re not going to bother about it. Or, can we find an interesting way to perhaps merge that ingredient with something else that’s more dominant so we can get the product in? So, the reformatting of products is often a big discussion for us as a major work-around. It can be a liquid milk solution in one market, but here it might have to be dried and put into a protein bar. Right?
ANDREW: Or, some of our binding agents for use in food service. So, it could – well, the category just kind of, and the product completely modified to be able to get it into China, to be able to play here.
DUNCAN: Geez, that’s fascinating. Do you ever help any Chinese companies go the other way? Try to break into say European or Western, say North American, market?
ANDREW: You know, we haven’t so far, but that’s going to be a big thing I think out there. Chinese investment is a big deal now, particularly Chinese investment in places like North America, Australia, New Zealand, UK. There are a few big Chinese brands here that have spoken to us. We haven’t engaged them – or haven’t engaged us, sorry. Looking at like southeast Asian markets or South America, Middle East – we’re so, I guess, we’re so busy focusing on trying to improve the food and beverage landscape through better brand and product offering into the market, and that’s the, you know, that’s kind of inherent in our name. The Silk Initiative is about clients who want to do more transformative work, like the silk moth, to produce better products of just a higher grade for the Chinese consumer. So, that’s our big focus right now. I think, for Chinese brands, particularly in the food and beverage space, right now there’s no extremely OK or high-grade offerings that we would be particularly enamoured with to want to help with a strategy for outbound work – just to be quite, quite brutally honest about that.
DUNCAN: No, no that’s cool. That’s awesome.
ANDREW: Yeah, it’s sort of, in some way, I would say goes with the team across the Silk Initiative. And I would just say, we’re so busy just coming across these fantastic offerings out there that that keeps us plenty busy.
DUNCAN: Yeah, I imagine so. I’m going to ask you to throw your fortune telling hat on for a second. Do you see anything on the horizon when it comes to marketing or doing market research in China?
ANDREW: Well, I think a big shift – I was in a conference in London, a beverage innovation conference, a few months ago and someone was presenting big trends in the US market – like 10 of them. And I said there were like five that are apparent today. Don’t ask me to repeat them all right now. But, you know the big ones, I think, are going to be alternative meats – so, plant-based protein sources. There’s a bit of a protein crisis here to be honest. That and all sorts of contamination issues with poultry, with beef, with pork, seafood – that is something that I think is of major concern to the Chinese government. Obviously, people need protein to work, grow and develop, so better sources of that. We are seeing some of that, even in the you know, say, in the dairy alternative space. Companies like Oatly, so oat-based milk doing very well here – almond milk, rice milk, etc. So, that’s taking off, particularly with the millennials – seeing it a lot of it on the café scene. So, started to make its way into food service in a big way. I’d say even things like performance products and beverages – so, the types of things that you would see on more sophisticated shelves in sports stores or your Whole Foods in the US. A lot of that stuff is turning up here. The gym scene has exploded. There is some really quite sophisticated spa-type night gyms here. People are working out like mad but I’m like, I’m really curious. Like, where do they get their good nutrition? The maca powder is a nice protein powder and the bars and lots of that stuff, so a lot of that is sourced online. Or people are just bringing it in, you know, from their travels from overseas. So, I think that’s going to be a particular big offering. Things like hyper-personalization – we’re seeing that from brand share already where we’re seeing the big, local brands getting consumers to co-create solutions that they want. More individualized products – I’ll give you the classic example. There’s a café chain in China where, when they give you a latte, you can have your photo. You scan a QR code, have a photo from the photo album in your phone digitally impressioned onto the top of the foam on the latte – like a photo of you and your friends or something. So, that’s something that’s happening quite a bit. Like cutey-quirky, more individualized – yeah, and I think, in general, things around global flavours. People here are travelling. Year on year, huge numbers of Chinese are going overseas. They’re looking for new experiences. There’s also been a big upsurge in sort of traditional values, I would say. You know, celebrating Chinese heritage, poetry, literature, that sort of stuff. Some of that is making its way into brand campaigns. Nike has done that quite well this year, using some like ancient Chinese proverbs in some of their marketing campaigns, billboards, TV series – stuff like that. So, and that’s some of the experiences. I could speak on that all day.
DUNCAN: Yeah, that’s really, really fascinating actually, to me. I used to live in Vancouver and came out to the prairies and I noticed that Chinese folks travel a lot, and they must bring back a bit of a hunger for brands that they find elsewhere. Not finding those brands could be an issue, and from what you said, a lot of the – a lot of them are turning to online shopping. Is that correct?
ANDREW: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that’s the best place. If you’re going to any retailer here, it’s either crazy expensive or you just don’t get the range, you know. So, to do a shop up like you do in the States or back in Australia, to actually get the same assortment of products, it’s a pain here. You know? You’ve got to go from shop to shop, bit of it sort of offline, some of it online. Stuff online, some of it has become pretty sophisticated. They’ve come up with all sorts of special stores with different products. Some of the E-commerce sites are even doing product reviews themselves. So, that sort of start – there’s a little bit of like auditing-type store. And now, they’re going like social E-commerce, so online shopping really is a big deal. And often, that can be the gateway to China for a lot of our clients. Things like cross-border traffic, where consumers who can buy something online and then have it shipped to them and have the product arrive at their house pretty quickly and it’s coming from, like, a bonded warehouse. So, those – the Chinese government has made certain regions of China with bonded warehouses, where US brands or Canadian brands, for example, can ship directly without having to do a series of paperwork or special applications or certain codes where one has to put stickers or labels or things like that. So, that’s become a big thing, as well, a lot of cross-border shopping. So, it’s really complicated to be honest with you, all that stuff in China.
DUNCAN: I can just imagine. I can just imagine. Do you see any trends about more Chinese brands moving into North America? I know I asked earlier about your work with them, but, like – I do see a lot more food brands coming out of China even here in Canada, and I’m wondering if you see that increasing here in the future?
ANDREW: Probably not.
ANDREW: I think, if I’m to be honest, I mean, if we just look at what’s happened recently, with the trade wars and some of the issues between the Canadians and the Chinese right now that are ongoing, there have been backlashes. I mean, one of the big backlashes in the last couple of days that I don’t think many people saw coming, you know, was the deregulation of the renminbi, you know, from 6.85 to 7.54 or something like that. It’s quite a big jump, you know, and I think that’s just an early indication on one of many strategies for China to claw back, you know, their own terms…
DUNCAN: I got you.
ANDREW: …between their different trade routes. There was a huge event last year – CIIC – in China, which is a big, global imports fair event and have brands, countries from all around the world being represented and sorts of brands encouraged to come to the China market and do trading. So, I think it’s China’s time to sort of, you know, spread itself more across different regions and its export interests, as well.
DUNCAN: That’s really cool. I want to ask you really quickly, I know you guys are developing a new client access portal, TSI Navigator. I wonder if you could talk to me about that?
ANDREW: Yeah, thanks for asking.
DUNCAN: Oh no, no problem.
ANDREW: So, we saw a need about a year ago from our clients. As I mentioned earlier in the call, agility and speed in China is so critical. You know, being faster to market, trying to reach distribution points before someone else – that first-move advantage. Whilst we are a project-based consultancy – so clients to us with a brief for some certain kind of work that needs to be done – we need to sort of break that cycle a bit and have something that is a little bit more real-time based, particularly for the innovation space. Clients are telling us, “I just can’t keep on top of the where the ice cream consumer’s going. I just, I don’t know why these local beer brands are killing our business, you know, in north China. Do you have something that could help me stay abreast of the changes more frequently in the market?” So, I sort of started with a view of OK, could we just track purchase behaviours, trending purchase behaviours, by categories – food and beverage by region, so that’s interesting. But our survey, we run a monthly survey, has now evolved into looking across 10 food and beverage categories, eight regions in China, and we’re measuring about 12-1,500 people per month. And we’re asking all sorts of foresight questions – so, what flavours would they want in the category? How would they feel about these projects that are being launched? So, we are developing a benchmarking database for clients.
DUNCAN: Oh, cool.
ANDREW: Rating those on assumption attributes, emotional attributes – basically, trying to understand where the mindset and the psyche of the Chinese consumer are moving. How do they – how are they changing their purchase decisions? What do they want from brands? How are they feeling about these new product launches into the market? And we’re still in beta testing. We’re about five or six months in, but it’s coming together. We’ve been able to produce really stunning, dynamic graphs and charts in an access portal that our clients can have access to, and that’s been really valuable. We’ve been doing some awesome work for some big CPG beverage producers here – some innovation work. So, being able to tap into that real-time data and triangulate that with client data, or there might be an actual engagement that we’re doing decent research on to bolt that together to inform the innovation process has been really, really helpful. So yeah, it’s called TSI Navigator. We’re beta testing it with a couple of clients now to sort of iron out some of the kinks, and we’ll be looking to go live with it in the next couple of months.
DUNCAN: That sounds like a treasure trove. It really does; it sounds awesome. For any brand who’s looking to get into the Chinese market, that sounds amazing. And they’ll be able to get that at the Silk Initiative website – thesilkinitiative.com?
ANDREW: Yeah, you’ll start to see articles about that and case studies, so that website is www.thesilkinitiative.com – and I would say to start following me on LinkedIn. That’s a great source for different memes and articles that we’ll be talking about for that. And, also, try and find some different speaking events around the world. We really think that might be viable alternative to help you understand what we’re all about.
DUNCAN: Well, that’s awesome. I’ll make sure we get a link up to your company’s website on our website, so anybody looking for it can find it on our webpage.
ANDREW: Thank you.
DUNCAN: Well, this has been really fascinating, Andrew. This last half an hour has just flown right by. I don’t want to take any more of your time, there; it being bright and early in the morning with typhoons coming in. So, thanks so much for appearing on our show.
ANDREW: No worries, thank you very much. It has been a pleasure. It has flown past – I’m looking out the window now and thinking how do I make my schedule work. The clouds are coming over – typhoon’s on it’s way and I’ve got a day of work ahead of me, so I’ve got to, somehow, fit that in. Thanks again, Duncan.
DUNCAN: Hey, any time. Any time.[INTERSTITIAL MUSIC] [ADVERTISEMENT] [INTERVIEW SEGMENT 2]
DUNCAN: And I’m here with Evan Goodfellow, Customer Satisfaction Manager, with our Communities division. How’s it going today Evan?
EVAN: It’s going really good.
DUNCAN: Excellent. Well, thanks for coming on the podcast – really appreciate it.
EVAN: Thank you for having me.
DUNCAN: Excellent. So, you manage our Communities division in Bangkok. Can you tell us really quickly – just give us a quick primer on our Communities division and the product?
EVAN: Yup. So, I handle the sales and marketing for the Communities in Southeast Asia. So, basically, our Communities software, it began focusing on panel management. So, panels, in my opinion, are anything over 5,000.
EVAN: So, we started with managing our own panel. We built a panel here in Canada. We started roughly four years ago and now we’re up to about 18,000 members. So, when we first started the software, we were basically catering towards how we can make our own panel management easier, and since then, we’ve kind of perfected that and we started looking at the needs of our other clients who wanted a community but maybe not a panel size. So, around anywhere from like 500 and up, I would say, most of our internal clients, that’s what they use. And we also started seeing the need for short-term communities, so…
DUNCAN: Oh, right on.
EVAN: We’ve kind of… We have the panel management system, but we’re also using it for short-term communities. So, companies who want to use, who want to do qualitative studies – two-to-five-day studies – they’ll rent our software for a week. So, that’s kind of where it’s moving. So, I think we cover a lot of, a lot of different branches.
DUNCAN: Oh, that’s really cool. You manage our Bangkok offices.
DUNCAN: How do you find coordinating between Bangkok and Saskatoon? They’re not exactly close together.
EVAN: I don’t find it that difficult. I have kind of got it built into my schedule. So, Mondays and Wednesdays, I usually stay up to about midnight.
EVAN: And I guess my body’s just used to it. So, yeah, Mondays and Wednesdays I stay up and then do calls and meetings back here. But, yeah, I don’t find it too bad.
DUNCAN: Yeah? It must be kind of nice in that you’re not doing as many meetings, too, right? You know, you get a lot more done?
EVAN: Yeah, we were talking about that. It’s kind of one of the differences. When I do come back to Canada, it is – yeah, the amount of meetings and the work that centres around those meetings. So, I think each meeting creates extra work that you have to do based on that meeting. So, I think, being more select on the meetings that you have. So, if you are only having one or two meetings per week, you’re kind of more focused when you go into those meetings, and you kind of have to plan out better everything that you’re going to need to get in terms of information to carry you through to the next meeting next week.
DUNCAN: And you’re always connected too, right? You know, that’s kind of the bonus of living in 2019 as opposed to 1989. Any time you need to get a hold of somebody, you can pretty much do it. The problem is, you still have the problem with time zones.
EVAN: Yeah. Yeah.
DUNCAN: Once we get rid of that, I think we’re going to be in great shape. Do you find that there’s any benefit, other than meeting times?
EVAN: I think, living in Bangkok, and before – I used to live in Korea – living in big, metropolitan cities, you have a lot – you have exposure to a lot of different ideas and a lot of different trends. So, I think the new ideas are sucked up faster rather than living in like, living in a smaller city, it takes longer for those ideas to filter through. And even though they do filter through through the internet, I think that the context of those ideas aren’t always absorbed in the same way as if they’re seeing somebody who’s doing that idea. They can talk to them; ask them questions. Whereas, if you’re just getting purely from the internet, I think it’s a little bit different.
DUNCAN: And being exposed to folks literally on the other side of the planet, that has to help a lot when it comes to insights – when it comes to marketing and selling a product. Actually, it gets directly to the question I wanted to ask you most is, do you see any differences in marketing and selling the Communities software in the Asia/Pacific market, as opposed to ours in North America?
EVAN: I do. I think that most of our inquiries and interest come from Asia.
EVAN: Like, I would say at least double.
EVAN: So, I think there’s a few factors that cause that. So, say like a large company sets up their headquarters in Asia/Pacific, or Southeast Asia, they’re going into a new market. So, they’re going to have to do more research. They make less assumptions, so they’re always having to do more research to get a foothold in that market.
DUNCAN: Why do you think that is? Is it just a bigger market, so they’ve got more people, so you got…
EVAN: Well, I think, like, say Company X from America is expanding into Asia/Pacific. They know how to sell their product in America.
EVAN: They know what their customers want. They have brothers, sisters, cousins who may use that product, or may not use that product. But then, they move to Thailand and they want to sell that product. The market’s totally different. They don’t know the ins and outs of what Thai customers want, so I think there’s a lot more research that needs to be done.
DUNCAN: Yeah, you can end up, I imagine, putting your foot in it pretty bad working on assumption when you’ve got a bunch of different like language differences and cultural differences – that kind of thing.
EVAN: Yeah. Yeah.
DUNCAN: And, frankly, just a different expectation of how you sell. So, that’s really cool. That’s really cool. So, what’s new for the Communities division? What’s going on with your guy’s side of the shop?
EVAN: Well, I think the most recent one was the online discussions and updating in real time.
DUNCAN: Oh yeah.
EVAN: And that was based on a need here in Canada where our Research Services side would go out, drive two hours to do focus groups, and especially in the winter, it just – it gets dangerous driving on the highways during certain times of the year. So, they wanted to use the software to cover that aspect. So, now, all of our online discussions, you can invite people in at a specific time, ask them the questions – as they respond, it updates in real time. So, it kind of works like a chatroom.
DUNCAN: Yeah, it takes you back to like old-school observational research. You’re not just waiting on somebody to get back to you. You’re actually talking to them in real time. That’s actually a big deal. That’s a big deal.
EVAN: Yeah, because I think a lot of times, people use it for the three-day discussions where it’s – OK, respond whenever you have free time, but I think there’s also an aspect of inviting people in at a specific time and seeing the participation within the group – it kind of encourages participants to share more and so, yeah, that’s one of the new things we’ve been working on. Also, we’ve overhauled our survey editor, and also the user landing page is much more visually appealing. I think, the way I think about it is Facebook is a community, and people are used to using communities like Facebook. And so, I think that, in the past, people used ideas like, “Well, it’s a research community. We’re doing research, so we don’t have to make it that visually appealing.”
DUCAN: You have to make it sterile. Yeah.
EVAN: Yeah. And so, a lot of times, like, I would see other communities and I’d think, wow, that’s – the user experience is really low on that. So, I think people are used to using Facebook and different platforms that are visually appealing so why not make our research communities the same, the same style as that.
DUNCAN: Well, if you’re dealing with anyone under the age of 25, they’ve grown up with pretty sophisticated UX. You know? The user experience has to be really well defined and if, to my own opinion, it leads to the impression of legitimacy of the product.
DUNCAN: You know what I mean? So, if you’ve got a user design or user interface that looks like something that was bodged together on HTML back in ’98, it’s just not going to work for anybody. People are going to get on there and go, “I’m don’t really know what we’re doing here.” Right? So, yeah, I really, I think that’s really cool.
EVAN: To add to that point, like, I joined – when I first started working here, I joined some other communities of kind of our competitors to see what the experience was like for them. And a lot of the times, I would land on a page – I would register, and then I would land on the page and I wouldn’t know what to do. Like, it would be – it was so unclear and there were so many, kind of, presumptions made that, “Oh, the users would land on this page after they register and they will know what to do.” But a lot of times, they don’t. So, I think we’re really trying to make it more engaging and, yeah, more user friendly.
DUNCAN: Well, that’s really awesome. I really want to thank you for coming on and talking for a little bit about your experiences out in Bangkok and what it’s like having to come between Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Bangkok, Thailand. You couldn’t get further away, but it’s nice to know we’ve got people out in that end of the world.
EVAN: Yeah, thank you for having me.
DUNCAN: Awesome. Thanks a lot man.[EPISODE CONCLUSION] [DUNCAN] And there you have it.
I’d like to thank our guest for this episode, Andrew Kuiler. Speaking with him about his work in the Chinese market was fascinating and more than a little informative. I ended up listening to the episode a few times after getting it edited and each time, I feel like I learned a little more.
If you’d like to learn more about Andrew’s company and the work they do, you can find their website at www.thesilkinitiative.com – there is a link on the podcast episode webpage too, in case you missed it.
I’d also like to thank Evan Goodfellow for stopping in to chat before jumping back on a plane to Bangkok. I really enjoyed learning about how it is coordinating between two continents and getting an update from the Communities side of the shop.
If you’d like to learn more about Insightrix Communities online market research software, check out the website at www.communities.insightrix.com.
And, of course, as usual I’d like to thank our awesome and loyal fanbase. Without you, none of this would be possible. If you’d like to help more folks like you who have interest in market research find the podcast, why not give us a review and a like wherever you usually get your podcast fix?
Thanks again for listening to this episode of our podcast. We’ll be back in another few weeks with the next episode of Stories of Market Research: The Insightrix Podcast.