I have just returned from the ESOMAR APAC conference in Melbourne, a well organised, stimulating, well-attended conference. I have attended something like six of the last ten ESOMAR APAC’s and I have noted some interesting developments.
The first trend is the rise of China within the region. Most of us are aware of the statistics that point out that China is the rising economic giant, a combination of its population size and the speed of its economic growth, but experiencing the growing impact, confidence, and contributions of Chinese delegates at ESOMAR’s APAC Conferences brings this home in a very real way. The common references to that powerful quartet the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) probably distracts our attention from the degree to which China might soon be outstripping everybody other the US (and will overtake the US in a growing number of key areas over the next four years). The other BRICs are all interesting, especially India, but I do not think that they are anything like as significant to the world as China.
The second trend is the growth in local (i.e. Asia/Pacific) innovation, sometimes focused on ideas developed from regional/unique perspectives, others reflecting the growing strength of the region. Ten years ago, most ideas in the region originated from North America and Europe. That pattern is changing. Ten years ago speakers from Europe and North America were almost automatically assumed to be relevant experts, now they are increasingly viewed sceptically, having to prove that what they have to say is relevant to Asia Pacific.
The third trend is the declining role and attendance of Europeans and North Americans at APAC Conferences, just at the time when the importance of Asia Pacific is set to grow rapidly. I make attending events in Asia Pacific a priority, not because I think I have information to take there from Europe, but because I want to learn from this dynamic and exciting arena.
However, not everything is rosy in the world of Asia Pacific Conferences. The two biggest issues are cost and the English language. The cost of attending an ESOMAR APAC Conference, especially in a location like Australia, is equivalent to the entire year’s salary for some researchers in the less wealthy countries in Asia Pacific, this makes it hard to get a broad base of attendees and makes it even harder to get young researchers to attend.
The second problem is the English language, which is both assists and impedes progress. The upside is that English is the common language of market research in Asia Pacific and facilitates common learning and discussion. However, English also confers a major advantage on native speakers, for example Australians, and this language skill is often overlaid on cultural differences. The ‘typical’ ‘Anglos’ (e.g. North America, UK, Australia, New Zealand) are willing to engage in robust debate, advancing their claims, and taking criticisms as part of the process. Would-be speakers from some of the other cultures in Asia Pacific are less assertive, less happy with shouting about their own benefits, and less inured to criticism (note this is a generalisation, I believe it to be true of many speakers from Japan, but much less true of many of the presenters I am familiar with from India).
My feeling is that ESOMAR needs to find ways of tackling the cost issues, helping people from lower income situations to be able to attend. I also think that there needs to be a process of ensuring that a certain proportion of the speakers are not ‘Anglos’. Perhaps the answer to part of both of these issues might be a combination of technology (e.g. remote attendance) and organising local events which would act as feeder events, with the ‘winning’ presentation from a feeder event being funded to attend the main ESOMAR APAC event. I think that it would also help if ESOMAR APAC had a larger number of presentations, perhaps by adding an informal extra day to the Conference, with a much, much lower cost, perhaps building on the barcamp model?
Next year the ESOMAR event will be in Shanghai and I would suggest that anybody who wants to find out more about the fastest growing region and the next economic giant should be there.