If Ever I Had Doubted The Importance Of Market Research…

In her first Thursday Night Insight post, Marketing Manager Caroline Harrison reflects on how cultural differences hold the key to the success or failure of products or services across the globe.

After years of study and years of employment in the fields of marketing and market research, I would like to think that by now I understand the value of market research. After all, day-in day-out, I see clients discover things about their business, or their clients, or the markets in which they operate, which they had never known before; sometimes they already had an inkling and, naturally, sometimes market research proves that they were right all along. But equally often, the research we conduct for them throws up surprises.

Around this time last year I was struck by a bolt of lightening (metaphorically speaking, of course). In a flash I saw the true consequences of not carrying out market research before entering a new market.

I was living in Beijing at the time, working in the B2B International China office. Many things strike you as different in China, but I was fascinated to find that the whiter your skin, the more beautiful a woman is considered to be over there (dark skin is apparently associated with peasants who have to toil in the fields all day). This was great news for me since finally there was no pressure to frazzle myself on a sunbed or waste hours applying fake tan.

Not that I could fake it had I wanted to, and that’s my point in all this. Because here’s the thing; beauty products in China all contain whitening agents rather than the bronzing agents so many equivalent products in the UK contain nowadays.

Although I found this to be an interesting observation, more than that I couldn’t help but think how crucial local knowledge and cultural understanding are when looking to enter a new market.

Imagine some executive of a beauty products company sitting in his or her cosy office back in the UK. With the nation’s top-selling moisturiser (featuring tanning agent for that natural sunkissed glow, of course!) reaching saturation point in the local market, it looks like it’s time to launch the product abroad… So where would be good? What about China? After all, with 200 million 15-34 year old women at your disposal, just imagine the clamour for this hugely popular product… And just imagine the profits that would come rolling in…!

Of course, I now know that the reality would be somewhat different. Without investigating the market in advance, this ambitious executive would have one of the costliest and most momentous product launch failures of all time on his or her hands.

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