What is Ifop’s international role?
The international element is a core part of our market research activities. Our main clients are major groups with a global reach whose activities and challenges know no boundaries. We work on their behalf in around 50 countries every year, in both mature and emerging markets, and our current growth is based on this international research segment.
You gained a presence in Shanghai and Hong Kong very early on. What do you take from this presence in the far east?
We were ahead of the game by going to China 20 years ago, and today we are reaping the benefits of the long-standing relationship we have with our major accounts, which are heavily dependent on this market. When we arrived in Shanghai, China accounted for 4% of global trade. Since then, this figure has risen to 18%, while the relative share of all the G7 members has fallen. It has become the top market worldwide for luxury brands, cars, retail and telecommunications, to name but a few. Above all, it is the development of inland cities and the explosion of e-commerce that have caused this market to grow much faster than those in the west. The success or failure of a global brand depends to a great extent on its capacity to win over Chinese consumers. This means they are given special attention, and studies are a particularly useful tool to aid understanding and decision-making. Our capacity to support our customers in this region is based on our historic relationship with this country and expertise from our local team, which is relayed to Paris by our ChinaInside unit.
In addition, the Chinese market provides the opportunity to monitor new consumption practices, particularly regarding mobiles. The volume of mobile payments in China is 11 times higher than in the United States, while the variety of everyday facilitating services used by the general public on the WeChat platform (from the management of finances to queue optimization and remote medical consultations) is as yet unprecedented in the West, but indicative of the practices we will adopt in two or three years. China is also ahead in other areas, perhaps where we wouldn’t expect them to be, such as environmental protection: it accounts for half of global sales of rechargeable electric and hybrid cars. In fact, in many areas, the former delay in Chinese society (20 years ago people generally didn’t have cars, credit cards or landlines), combined with the population’s immense appetite for innovation, has facilitated a direct switch to the most advanced practices.
More generally, the world’s center of gravity has shifted towards the Pacific, and this is where the major dynamics of transformation are appearing. Korea and Singapore are the societies that make the greatest use of robots, while Japan is at the cutting edge of everything related to population aging and the role of seniors in society. If you aren’t following what’s happening in this region and are settling for a European perspective, you’re getting left behind!
How are methods for performing international research changing?
The demand for speed and implementation continues to grow to allow advertisers to take decisions and act in a more coordinated way in different corners of the globe. To meet this demand and reach the daily lives of consumers we join them as they go about day-to-day tasks, notably via mobile phone. We use WhatsApp or WeChat, for example, for Express Quali sessions, which provide an immediate, collaborative, tangible return regarding initiatives relating to communications or product or service offers. The deliverables are designed to be personalized and narrative (using videos, stories, etc.), in order to bring data to life and facilitate country ownership.
At Ifop, we are also noticing a development in two opposite directions, which express two ways of understanding market reality. On the one hand, we are seeing the emergence of hyper-global studies, which look at highly targeted populations regardless of their nationality. This gives rise, for example, to multi-country online communities, generally English-speaking, in which populations with different origins but a lot in common – the aficionados of one brand in particular, a multi-country consumer segment, patients suffering from a specific disorder, etc. – share their experiences and interact among themselves to react to or co-develop new offers. These approaches are now possible thanks to universal access to collaborative technology and the existence of transnational references, notably in certain premium and lifestyle worlds. In parallel, we are also developing “hyper-local” approaches, such as those in which our InCapsule teams take our customers on trend tours to discover highly specific cultural, social or consumption locations that are indicative of the transformations under way in a particular market.
In some cases, hyper-global and hyper-local converge, for example when we work in hub cities such as Dubai or Abu Dhabi, where we capture, in a single location, a highly cosmopolitan population that shows very typical purchasing behaviors.