Market Research in Southeast Asia

Market Research and Strategy Consulting in South East Asia

SIS International Southeast Asia guides clients in navigating through the many opportunities and challenges in conducting research in SEA.

The primary challenge that is often encountered would be “Language” as each country has at least 5 to hundreds of languages spoken across the country, Indonesia has over 700 languages, and in the Philippines although English and Filipino are the official languages, there are 185 languages spoken in the country.

Travelling in the region is also a challenge, Southeast Asia has 2 types of geographic regions, the mainland region consisting of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar (Burma); and the insular or island region which includes Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, East Timor, and the Philippines. Insular archipelagos, like the Philippines and Indonesia, are composed of thousands of islands, requiring a huge amount of travel for large-scale nationwide studies.

Unlike most western and developed economies, there is limited availability of secondary (including online and offline) research data. Government transparency is not consistently practiced, and censorship exists for online content.

Doing Business in South East Asia:

  • Weather can have a major impact on fieldwork
    Most countries in the region are within the path of annual tropical typhoons. Between May to October of every year, SEA experiences heavy rains and typhoons that heavily impact fieldwork scheduling and mobility due to flooding and power and telecommunications failures, especially in countries with poor infrastructure.
  • Vehicular traffic congestion limits mobility
    In urban and metropolitan areas, the lack of efficient public transportation, massive vehicle volume, lack of effective management, and large-scale infrastructure projects cause congestion that affects timing and scheduling fieldwork. This limits the number of home visits and In-Depth Interviews (IDIs) per day, as travel from one area to another takes significantly longer.
  • Be mindful of safety concerns at night time
    Mobility for the masses is limited due to lack of reliable public transportation, petty crimes, and the unscrupulous practices of taxi drivers also make it difficult to schedule interviews late at night; scheduling is often done during day time until early evening to ensure the safety of the respondents and the research team.
  • Due respect and compliance of prayer times and religious holidays must be made
    In predominantly Christian countries like the Philippines and East Timor, Easter and Christmas are major holidays and businesses are closed for a week to two weeks before, during and after these holidays. In predominantly Muslim countries like Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia, home visits and interviews must be scheduled considering prayer times and religious holidays.
  • Understand the culture of hospitality and hierarchy
    Foreigners especially Westerners are still highly regarded in most SEA societies. There is a high degree of service and respectfulness resulting in deference and agreement which would often be misinterpreted as lack of analytical input and initiative.
  • Recognize the continued existence of Patriarchal Societies
    While massive industrialization and female empowerment are happening across SEA, there is still a strong underlying focus on deference to the opinion and direction of the male members of the family, business, and society in general. In conducting focus group discussions or home visits, most female respondents might not be able to openly express their perspectives when asked with a male present.

  • Learn proper Communication and Feedback practices
    Across the Asian culture, agreeableness, diplomacy and respectfulness are essential in communication. Direct language and demands are often met with silence and agreement but not necessarily understanding, acceptance and compliance. Negative opinions or feedback are also culturally unacceptable, hence, a positive approach to sharing information and constructive criticism are needed to have an open and transparent communication and proper execution of the project.

  • Establish Personal Rapport and Interaction
    It is very important to establish personal rapport, either in conducting business or in conducting interviews. Although there is widespread adoption of technology in terms of mobile telecommunication and the internet, business transactions must be preceded by a personal meeting, and in-depth interviews must be done face-to-face. There is a very low uptake of online surveys as there is a general distrust and perceived inappropriateness of asking for someone’s opinion and perspective without being physically present. Hence, the better options are Computer-Aided Personal Interviews or in-facility online surveys to encourage successful execution.

  • Always consider the localization of concepts and nuances of Language
    Concepts and context must be clearly understood. SEA languages are contextual and definitions and meanings are affected by different tones; the same words with slight differences in tones can mean completely something different. It is essential that project objectives, screeners, questionnaires and expected outputs are discussed and understood in detail prior to the project. There must be an emphasis on proper translation of documents as rough interpretations may totally change meanings and definitions.

Key Success Factors

Quantitative Studies

Successful Quantitative Market Research is often conducted face-to-face, whether through intercepts or door-to-door. Personal interaction is imperative in Southeast Asia and despite the wide adoption of internet usage and mobile phones, interviews are still conducted in person. The low cost of labor and operating costs allow inexpensive execution Paper-Aided Personal Interviews. Since online surveys are often not successfully and properly executed, a growing alternative is Computer-Aided Personal Interviews which are conducted in-facility or using handheld devices (in urban areas). Hence, at SIS International, we have our on-the-ground resources to ensure localized, efficient, and successful execution of fieldwork studies.

Qualitative Studies

Qualitative market research interviews are still done traditionally, although there is growing adoption of new technologies and processes through the use of innovative software and platforms.

Competitive Intelligence and Business to Business (B2B) Interviews

Although often difficult at the initiation due to lack of databases and secondary materials to identify the proper respondents, once professional and personal connections are established, most Southeast Asians are often open, helpful, and eager to share information with another professional.

Panel Providers have increased their coverage in the region, with the growing demand for market entry, industry landscape, and competitive studies. The best sources still remains memberships in professional, social, religious, and practice groups.

Market Research in Bangkok Thailand