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'Clients want better research insights, high quality data and speed' : Tim Balbirnie - Synovate Asia Pacific CEO

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The world of market research in India is growing. Both channels and advertisers are seeking more clearer understanding of the consumer and his/her evolving media behaviour.





One firm that helps in this regard in market research firm Synovate. Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto caught up with Synovate Asia Pacific CEO Tim Balbirnie for a lowdown on the company's activities and how it adds value for clients.

What are the ways in which Synovate is helping add value to your offerings?



We are finding an increasing number of clients are looking towards our online capabilities. We are expanding our global panel, ViewsNet, to facilitate the increasing demand for online research. More and more, we find clients appreciate our assistance with brainstorming workshops as a complement to the report.

How much does the media and entertainment sector contribute to your revenue stream?



Our media division makes a significant contribution to our revenue. However, we do not break up our revenues by division or indeed, area of specialisation.

The media sector is important because it is very high profile within the overall research industry. It is also challenging work to conduct from a sampling and analysis perspective.

Could you give me an idea about the time and effort involved in conducting major studies like Synovate Pax?



It is significant. It is an ongoing effort to continue enhancing a media currency survey like Synovate Pax. Synovate has invested 10 years; a lot of time and energy; and intellectual rigour in ensuring the survey delivers accuracy, representativeness and meets the needs of major media owners, specialists and agencies across the Asia Pacific.

We are using sophisticated data collection techniques to collect information from the most affluent segments of the population in Asia. In less developed markets this has its own challenges.

How is Synovate able to work within tight deadlines without compromising on quality?



As with all service industries, clients are - quite rightly - demanding more. They want better insights, high quality data and speed. Synovate is putting a great deal of emphasis on technology to help us deliver high quality work with faster and faster turnaround times.

We now have a global chief information officer who is seizing this opportunity to drive the group forward from a technical perspective. Synovate is focussing on support services which had previously been regarded as back office functions and utilising those services as a way to deliver all the benefits of our global scope, reach and scale to clients.

One of the things we will not do, regardless of deadlines, is compromise on quality. All Synovate offices have implemented quality control standards of the highest degree. Nothing we do will negate the need for maintaining these standards.

'Moving customer loyalty to the centre of your business strategy requires a well thought-out plan. Our customer relationship architecture provides that guidance'

What recent additions have been made to your product portfolio as far as the media and entertainment sector is concerned?



Over the past 12 months we have added the 'Media Atlas' survey in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Bangkok. This study shines the spotlight on local media consumption and is being welcomed as a valuable alternative to information that has been in the marketplace for decades.

This is also being introduced in the Philippines. Over the coming months further markets will be added. We have also introduced 'Media Brand Values. This measures the relationship between C level executives and their media of choice.

In addition, our 'Young Asians' survey looks at the media consumption as well as attitudes, brands of choice etc for eight to 24 year olds across the region, including India, and kicks off its second year later this month. This survey, given the importance of youth across Asia, is attracting much interest among clients.

Have you acquired any research firms in Asia recently to add to your repertoire?



Less than six months ago, we acquired Market Equity in Australia, a large independent firm. That acquisition, coupled with Aztec Information Services which was acquired in March 2005, has made Synovate a top five player in the Australian market. Australia is an important market to many of our regional clients. So it is a real benefit to now have a seamless Synovate regional operation throughout the major markets.

Market Equity re-branded to become Synovate in December 2005. We also completed the purchase of the Filter Group, a youth marketing research company late last year.

Could you talk about the kind of out of the box solutions that Synovate's customer Loyalty practice division offers clients?



Moving customer loyalty to the centre of your business strategy requires a well thought-out plan. Our customer relationship architecture provides that guidance. This blueprint is customised for each client, and built from a solid, proven framework.

We work with every business in a different way. How we work with a company depends on its goals and where it is in building its own customer relationship architecture. We have some solutions that are starting points addressing aspects of loyalty such as customer, organisation, event, brand, market, employee and reputation.

Could you give me an idea of what advertising development research entails? How does Synovate work with media planners and FMCGs in this regard?



At Synovate our philosophy is to integrate media measurement into brand and advertising tracking. This allows our media expertise to be of direct value to major advertisers.

In what way have clients' needs and expectations from Synovate grown in the past couple of years?



Not too long ago, research companies were just producing data. Now we are doing so much more for clients - analysing, consulting and so on. I believe that we are an increasingly vital part of marketing.

The research industry needs to move towards this model across the world. The way we are approaching this at Synovate is to work harder and better at understanding our clients' needs and the analytics before we start a project. This understanding then carries all the way through the project and beyond.

We are building our consultancy skills - investing in people that have both marketing and research backgrounds to drive this throughout the organisation.

'We understand that everything revolves around business. Pretty graphs are not worth it unless they can be translated into actions - actions that improve business'

How does Synovate move beyond just providing reports that contain lots of data?



To move beyond just the data, Synovate is working more and more on client workshops, brainstorming and consulting. We are working to make our service more than a report. We want to help clients make their reports meaningful and help improve their marketing and business strategies. The bottom line is - well - the bottom line!

We understand that everything revolves around business. Pretty graphs are not worth it unless they can be translated into actions - actions that improve business. We are all about applying the theory of research to real life in the business world.

Often marketers tend to not define precisely what they require when they buy research. Also they have unrealistic expectations at times. How does Synovate cope with this difficulty?



Again, we are working harder and better at understanding our clients' needs and the analytics before we start a project. This is a two-way process.

We understand clients better and they understand us. This understanding then carries all the way through the project and beyond. Our clients in general tend to have a clear understanding of what it is they need to know or find out.

As per Synovate findings what role will new media play in the media consumption landscape?



New media is without doubt influencing the decisions of advertisers who are seeking additional methods of communicating with their target audiences in an era where the consumer is increasingly in charge of media choices.

Speaking of which, one issue that is coming up more and more is that of media clutter. With the multiplying of media options, the efficacy of research activity in tracking ever-more complex variables are being put under the scanner. Your comment?



We have several tools which allow us to track consumer media pathways in real time. Mobile phones provide an excellent method because they are the one device which people carry with them day and night, and which allow us to interact with respondents to find out their media and advertising exposure across the day.

'Market research industry across all of Asia Pac is still growing quickly. Growth in some markets is running at 15-20 % & most markets are above market predictions. A lot of this growth is linked to China, but more & more India is gaining sway'

What kind of growth can we expect in the market research business in India and Asia?



Historically, we have always achieved double-digit growth in the Asia Pacific region. I am confident we will maintain these levels of growth for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, the market research industry across all of Asia Pacific is still growing quickly. Growth in some markets is running at 15-20 per cent and most markets are above market predictions.

A lot of this growth is linked to China, but more and more India is gaining sway. I was at a seminar on regional forecasts the other day and the talk was of 'China plus One'. Companies and investors don't want to put all their eggs in the one basket.

So they are investing in China and somewhere else in the region. Increasingly that 'somewhere else' is India. So as foreign investment increases in India, marketers will invest more and more there too. I see the country as a growth engine for Synovate - not our only one, but a significant one.

What are the plans as far as India is concerned? How important a market is it as far as Asia is concerned?



India is very important to us. We will continue to develop and grow our business there. As I mentioned India is becoming a significant market and a major consideration for most MNCs.

Have you signed any recent deals with any Indian television channels to do research on their behalf?



We work with several large media players in India. Synovate has a fully-fledged team in India to service media clients covering the entire genre of print, television, magazines and of course internet.

Since its inception, the media research division has done a lot of work in the areas of image and brand tracking studies, positioning studies, and of course on Synovate Pax. This study is the barometer to measure the media consumption habits of the affluent in India.

There have been reports that WPP is looking to acquire Synovate. Has anything progressed in this area? Is consolidation in the market research arena something that you expect to see this year?



It is certainly flattering to be the object of our competitors' attentions.

But, despite some discussion last autumn, the fact is that no one has made a serious offer to buy us and that continues to be the case.

Finally what does the future hold for Synovate?



It's a very bright future. Certainly, there are challenges from other industries which see research as a good thing to be in, but the demand is increasing significantly year on year. The nature of research is also changing.

So while the core people skills will always be in demand, the focus will shift to more technologically based solutions such as online surveys, which are already with us.

Our belief has always been to stay one step ahead of the competition - we believe this has helped drive our success in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

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