Rising to the challenge: market research in emerging economies
Peter Mouncey FMRS FIDM, Editor in Chief, International Journal of Market Research &
Visiting Fellow Cranfield University School of Management
Earlier this year, the UK Market Research Society’s daily newsfeed, Research-live featured
news (http://www.research-live.com/news/news-headlines/gfk-commits-%E2%82%AC15m-
to-mr-courses-in-african-universities/4006818.article) of GfK’s €1.5m commitment to fund
the creation of market research courses at four African universities. Later, Warc.com
Ford’s announcement that it was rethinking its strategy in India: “We haven’t been a major
player because we weren’t positioning ourselves in the segment where 70% of all cars are
sold. We were focused more on issues outside of India and sending cars that were force-
feeding the Indian consumer,” said Michael Boneham, president of Ford India.
These announcements touched a real chord with me, having recently returned from a major
international conference held in Noida near Delhi, ‘Shaping the future of research in
marketing in emerging economies: looking ahead’, organised by the Indian Institute of
Management (IIM) Lucknow.
The need for initiatives to help build an effective market research sector, such as that
announced by GfK, was underlined at the IIM conference, with western countries being
urged to help emerging nations “up their game”, especially in increasing the quality of
research and teaching in universities, and building competencies among practitioners and
academics alike.
Practitioners are needed in the classroom to enable students to actively experience the
world where their research and education needs to be applied, and to ensure that what
they select as research topics for papers and doctoral dissertations are relevant to real-
world challenges. As Professor Satyabhusan Dash of IIM Lucknow described in his opening
remarks, there is often no theory and little practice in emerging markets. Unfortunately, I all
too frequently see Professor Dash’s insight reflected in the submissions to IJMR from
academics in emerging economies. We have to find ways to help them do better.
But another clear message was the need for innovation in research methodology when
working in emerging economies, especially to engage with those at the bottom of the
economic pyramid. It’s not simply a case, as one speaker described, of “cutting and pasting”
research methods applied in the developed world, whether by academics or practitioners. I
see this reflected in occasional submissions to IJMR, where authors demonstrate the
reasons why accepted western methods will not always work in emerging economies.
Examples include the need for modifying measures of socially responsibility when
researching this field in China (Yan & She) as many of the concepts commonly understood
elsewhere are alien to Chinese consumers; why online methodologies may not be
appropriate, and not simply due to a lack of access to technology (Vu & Hoffman); the
challenges in engaging communities in rural areas of Africa and how these can be overcome
(Prinsloo), including research methods skills-transfer and project management (McLeod);
why SERVQUAL measures need to be modified in retail research in China (Meng); the
lingering impact of authoritarian political systems when undertaking opinion polls (Manaev
et al); explaining why an emerging economy country needs to be treated as heterogeneous
(Cho; Xin-an et al). Very occasionally, I see an innovative application of an established
marketing science methodology, such as Ehrenberg’s NBD-Dirichlet model (Ma et al).
We also need to recognise the different structures of markets in emerging economies,
requiring a fresh orientation in segmentations (Burgess) or identifying new and powerful
influential forces on consumer decision making (Etgar). An interesting perspective put
forward by one speaker at the IIM conference was that ‘nation based research is dead’, as
countries become increasingly ethnically and culturally diverse – a point that echoes a
similar comment made about society in the UK by Paul Wiles in his keynote address to the
first IJMR Research Methods Forum conference in 2009. We therefore need to re-visit the
way we catagorise populations other than using traditional demographic classifications and
develop multi-dimensional profiles synthesised from market research and other data
sources. This requires new skills and competencies to integrate data and draw meaningful
We all recognise the importance of emergent markets to the future health of the market
research sector. They often demonstrate phenomenal economic growth rates compared to
current western levels – but let’s not understate the methodological and cultural challenges
they pose.
If you want a very good example of what can be achieved by western-trained researchers in
emerging economies, then read Rosie McLeod’s entry for last year’s IJMR Young Research
Writer award describing her innovative work in Kenya (McLeod). McLeod will be describing
other examples of this in her presentation at this year’s IJMR Research Forum conference
being held in London in November.
One very useful and interesting publication produced by Professor Naresh Malhotra
specifically for the IIM conference was a bibliography comprising references to papers
covering marketing research in emerging economies drawn from 86 leading journals,
covering 1986-2011. In 1986, only one paper was identified in any of these journals,
compared with 52 in 2011.
According to this analysis, IJMR has published eight such papers in that 15-year period, with
the Journal of Global Marketing being at the forefront with 52 references. As Editor of IJMR,
I’ve become increasingly aware in recent years of the growing importance of covering this
field, and we certainly want to encourage submissions in the future. For example, I’m very
pleased to have been given the opportunity to publish further examples of innovative
research applications based on papers presented at the IIM conference, which we will be
publishing in the coming months. At its best, market research when appropriated applied
and based on sound methodological foundations, can lead to those Eureka moment insights
that transform understanding of consumer needs and the development of innovative
solutions, as evidenced by the case studies by Mistry & Samant and Mohanta et al from the
IIM conference exploring in different ways the role of mobile technologies in rural India.
References (all International Journal of Market Research)
‘Community-based participatory research: a case study from S. Africa’, Mélanie Prinsloo,
Vol. 50 Issue 3
‘The myth of China as a single market: the influence of personal value differences on buying
decisions’, Zhang Xin-an et al, 50/3
‘Some retail service quality expectations of Chinese shoppers’, Juan Meng et al, 51/6
‘The ‘spiral of silence’ in election campaigns in a post-communist society: the case of
Belarus’, Oleg Manaev et al 52/3
‘The effects of product-harm crisis on brand performance’, Baolong Ma et al, 52/4
‘An examination of regional differences in China by socio-cultural factors’, Hyeon Jeong Cho
et al, 52/5
‘Using online surveys in Japan: an explanatory study’, Phuong Vu & Jona Hoffman, 53/1
‘Developing a trichotomy model to measure socially responsible behaviour in China’, Jun
Yang & Qiuling She, 53/2
‘Ownership and change: a case study of action research in Kenya’, Rosie McLeod, 54/1
Conference Notes, Michael Etgar, 54/3
Conference Notes, Steve Burgess, 54/3
‘The day Peepli went live: How research assisted the roll-out of a mobile agriculture
information service’, Purvi Mistry & Ameya Samant, 54/5
‘Understanding the rural consumer’s behaviour in context to his ecosystem: A
telecommunications perspective’, Mohanta et al, 54/5