[ 3] Bell, Genevieve.
“Insights into Asia: 19
Cities, 7 Countries,
2 Years— What
People Really Want
[ 4] Doole, I. and R.
Marketing Strategy. 3rd
ed. London: Thomson
kets tend to expose their limitations: the biases and assumptions built in to the design of the
surveys. As ethnographer and
anthropologist Genevieve Bell
says, there are “things people
don’t even know how to tell you,
things you don’t know how to
ask about,” that get missed in
interviews [ 3].
Would a Western marketer
ever have conceived of a problem like the one Raju’s family
faced? Probably not. But more
even than content orientation,
research methods need to be
adapted to the very different
styles of communication in the
cultures of emerging markets.
Failing to Ask
the Million-dollar Question
It’s easy for researchers to be
misled if they don’t make their
subjects comfortable enough to
give honest, unguarded answers.
For instance, with greater sensitivity to hierarchy and subtext,
Asian users generally require
more context in communication.
They can also be particularly
averse to making negative comments. But if companies fail to
get the proper information, they
may fail to launch.
With marketing research
indicating that a shift in taste is
leading Japanese to add Western
foods into their diet, French
food-manufacturing conglomerate BSN targeted Japan as
a priority market for its line
of yogurt. After conducting a
market survey, BSN invested in
an expensive product launch,
only to find that sales were well
below expectations. BSN conducted a follow-up study in an
effort to identify the problem.
It discovered that the questions on the survey were not
nuanced or “Japanese” enough
for the Japanese. Too simplistic,
they failed to garner accurate
responses. The Japanese were
also reluctant to answer “no”
to any question, or to tell the
interviewers that they didn’t like
eating with a Western spoon
because that wouldn’t have been
BSN couldn’t get inside the
heads (or taste buds) of its
“users,” so the data on the size
and potential of the Japanese
market on which BSN spent so
much money was completely
invalid [ 4].
Fomabo Buildings, a Dutch
company, targeted the expanding, industrializing Malaysian
market to expand its line of
housing. Test showings got a
very positive response. However,
post-launch sales were, again,
disappointing. There were
several factors behind the failure; one turned out to be the
design of the product. Once the
Malaysians moved in, they found
out that unlike their traditional
wood houses, these houses needed boring tools for the hanging
of pictures or other decorations
on the reinforced concrete walls.
More tellingly, the general “
feeling” of the new homes wasn’t as
comfortable to the Malaysians
as that of the more culturally
resonant Malay wood houses.
The failure of initial surveys and
interviews to elicit that critical
response from test users was
a big reason why Fomabo was
forced out of the Malaysian market [ 5].
July + August 2008
[ 5] Dalgic, Tevfik
and Ruud Heijblom.
Blunders Revisited-Some Lessons for
Managers.” Journal of
4, no. 1 (1996): 81-91.
Shooting the Culture Gap
The dichotomy between cultural
ideals and cultural practices can
be intensely complex. If culture
can be likened to a river, then
dominant-culture communication barriers and hidden, coun-ter-cultural urges form eddies
that make emerging-market
launches a challenging ride.
For instance, it’s not really a
surprise that the cell phone is
as popular as it is in India, or