Feature Friday: Google Helping Bring Research to Emerging Markets
Guest Post by Jim Bryson
Google is bringing research to the developing world! No, its not their highly publicized/touted/criticized survey service. Google is using its Internet technology prowess to bring the developing world online.
The Wall Street Journal recently profiled a promising Google initiative to bring Internet access to developing markets, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia. Google is working with many governments developing a variety of technology solutions from under-utilized television wavelengths to high-flying blimps.
The developing markets will be the growth engine for consumer products and consumer product research for the foreseeable future. The size of the market with growing disposable income is staggering to the western mind. This is why Proctor & Gamble has moved two of its largest consumer divisions to Singapore, out of Cincinnati. Now, Singapore is becoming the hub for Asian research. The locus of focus is moving and researchers must move with it.
Unfortunately, in the developing world, the diversity of cultures, languages, and governments, combined with the low penetration of consumer technology create significant barriers to modern western research methods. Compared to today’s western standards, research in developing markets has typically been more difficult, slower and more expensive.
At 20|20, we find that conducting online qualitative research works well in most developing urban markets, but is generally inadequate for understanding the rural consumer in developing countries. Even our mobile capabilities can be limited by the lack of Internet access in many markets. Mobile technology compensates by saving activities completed when the phone is outside a wi-fi connection until the phone is re-connected. Even so, limitations are real.
Smartphone penetration in developing countries is widely variable as highlighted by Isaac Rogers’ recent article in Research World, The Mobile BRIC Revolution. Researchers must understand that in many developing markets even consumers who own smartphones may not purchase a data plan and, thus, will not have timely Internet access to complete online research. So, access is improving but remains far from perfect.
Even quantitative research utilizing the wide-spread feature phone faces significant challenges. Research questions and surveys must be very brief, severely limiting research capabilities.
Google’s initiative to bring the developing world online is a huge opportunity for the research industry. Researchers could more easily blaze the pathway for the consumer products industry using current and pending online and mobile tools that enable faster, better and less expensive data collection leading to better products for these developing nations.
The consumer products industry is quickly moving to the developing world to access the billions of emerging consumers. The research industry is not far behind. Google, mobile phone companies and other technology providers are also scrambling to push technology and Internet access to these same billions of customers.
As technology and Internet access becomes more accessible to the emerging consumer, researchers will be able to use the online and mobile tools to understand these emerging consumers faster, better and more inexpensively than ever before. Better research will result in better, more targeted consumer products for the developing world resulting in even faster economic growth.
As researchers, we have a very exciting future unfolding before our eyes.