Following our news that we’ll be opening offices in Hong Kong and Singapore this year, we turned to Global Commercial Director, Daniel Tompsett, for the story behind this move East. How does this fit into FACE’s strategy – and the future of market research?
First, Daniel, can you tell us about your background at FACE and how the company’s developed?
Well I’ve worked at FACE since we started as a qualitative research agency in 2007. Back then we were seeking to pioneer co-creation as a research methodology in an industry still stuck in the traditional focus group model. We were different; we tied our colours to the mast of the “empowered consumer”, giving them more responsibility and keeping them involved throughout the entire insight and product development process. At first on the commercial side I had to do a lot of explaining and evangelising for what this could offer – but this has now become an accepted way of conducting research in Europe and has been very successful for us.
The rise of social media only made “consumer power” even more true, and with Francesco D’Orazio, our Chief Innovation Officer we’ve developed a social media platform and innovation process to match.
I’ve spent the first half of this year in Manhattan, helping Philip McNaughton grow the business in our new US office and we’ve won some really solid clients out there. Now demand from clients to spread this type of research is part of what’s driving our move into Asia and doing the same thing from Hong Kong and Singapore.
So why is now the time to set up in Asia?
Well, in some ways it’s been on the cards a long time – we’d always worked on international projects and so it was clear we wouldn’t stay UK-only for long. Three years ago, perhaps 50% of our projects were multi-region. Now it’s up to 70% or more – in the recessionary climate, clients are looking to get the maximum value they can for their research spend, so not one market but multi-country and multi-region. Clients want both a local presence to run the project, and an international presence to pull everything together and give a global over-view. So this is what we’re building.
But really it’s about the big economic picture – since the recession, brands have realised that the emerging middle class in Asia offers growth opportunities of a scale that European or North American consumer markets can’t match. Budgets and client focus has shifted, and so research providers need to adapt and move too.
What are the research industry trends in this market?
I think we’re seeing research in Asia mature a little as clients are realising that they don’t have to simplify projects in these markets and just do focus groups. We’ve also been hearing clients say that they’re frustrated with the quality of qualitative research in Asia, from focus group moderation right through to the depth of insight. This is why Unilever have launched their accreditation scheme, of course – to make sure they’re getting the standard of research they need.
We’ve been brought over for projects in Asia because our expertise with co-creation makes a point of taking the research further, going beyond basic insights into building platforms and a very clear template for “what next” – needs platforms, comms development and brand positioning platforms, or detailed advertising feedback. It’s about involving consumers earlier, for longer, and more creatively and in more depth – integrating consumer insight throughout the business. We have found that using co-creation as a robust from of qualitative research ensures that what goes in to the marketing funnel is of better quality so what comes out is of a much higher standard.
And it’s also about multi-site research in markets such as China – not just Beijing or Shanghai, but getting into the nuances of differences between regions, or between first- and second or third-tier cities. Our Hong Kong office will give us a base to explore China – a market of 1.3 billion people, almost twice the size of Europe.
Finally, across Asia, people are using social networks and being early adopters of technology just as much as in the West. For example by 2015 the majority of the content on the internet will be Chinese driven by technology power houses such as Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and Sina. So it makes sense to reach out to Asian consumers with online tools – online communities, social media research and mobile based research frame works – as working in these kind of environments isn’t unfamiliar to them at all. And of course this provides major benefits in terms of geographical coverage, time and cost savings, as well.
Finally, Daniel, what’s the main thing you want to achieve with the Asia offices?
For me it’s not just about opening up new markets and winning new clients, it’s also about developing a framework for what we do as a whole company. We’re calling it “social intelligence” – uniting deep social methods of research such as ethnography with online communities and wider social data.
In Asia we’re going to be working with a lot of tech-savvy consumers who want to be involved in brands – voices that have not been brought into the global innovation process before. Working with people like this, it’s not just about bringing in our expertise developed in the US and London offices. Instead, I think our Asia offices will be real hubs of research innovation for FACE as a whole.
We also asked Mark Scott, Chief Executive of Cello Group (our parent company) for a comment on what this means for the wider group:
“FACE branching out into Asia is very exciting, for both them as a company and the wider Cello Group. We believe FACE’s research methods, tools and technologies will provide a new approach to insight and market research in this region. They tap into much wider consumer trends in technology and mobile uptake that have so far not been fully explored, and will help brands really understand and reach the emerging market consumer.
Strategically, FACE’s offices in Hong Kong will be the start of a Cello Hub for the China region and they will be a welcome contribution to our growing Cello Hub in Singapore. We’re sure they’ll also prove valuable partners for other Cello Consumer agencies who don’t yet have a presence there so we can continue to provide integrated solutions for our global client base.”
Connect with Daniel Tompsett on LinkedIn to keep in touch.