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SG punches above its weight in innovation but still some corporate reluctance to take risks: Join the Dots

Karen Schofield, Managing Director, Join the Dots (Singapore) Pte. Ltd

This interview is part of a co-branded series with Collective Works. Join the Dots is located at Collective Works, 168 Robinson Road, Singapore.

Consumer insights agency Join the Dots works with brands on building online communities, mapping customer journeys and delivering a better web, mobile and social experience, among other things.

As a market dominated by mobile internet, Southeast Asia is an exciting market to be in, says Karen Schofield, Managing Director, Join the Dots (Singapore) Pte. Ltd.

It is also a region that requires brands to rethink their strategies with its diversity of markets and cultures, she added.

Edited excerpts:

What opportunity does Southeast Asia present to the market your organisation operates in?

With increasing consumerism and buying power, and large populations in markets like Indonesia, SEA is increasingly under the spotlight for our major clients, many of whom also have a regional base or HQ in Singapore. That said, SEA doesn’t have the spending power of economies like China, another key market we service from our Singapore base for our MNC clients. For Join the Dots, it’s about ensuring we have reach across APAC, so we can support with all parts of the global or regional picture.

More broadly, it’s an exciting time to be in the consumer insights industry in SEA. As a region where mobile dominates, our philosophy of mobile-first research is a great fit and gives us an edge over competitors who still lag behind, relying on more traditional, costly and time-inefficient methods.

How do you view Southeast Asia – a homogeneous market or several smaller markets?

It’s very short-sighted to view SEA as one market, especially from a consumer insight perspective. With such a diverse array of cultures, customs, histories and politics, the underlying needs and drivers of consumer behaviour in each market are different, which means brands need to reflect this in their communications and product offering. While many brands have global strategies to execute locally, to do this successfully, they need to understand the nuances and impact of local culture to really resonate with their audiences.

What commitment/target has your organisation set for operations in this region?

We’re committed to maintaining a presence in the region, so we can continue to support our global and local clients. It’s important to be on the ground in SEA to gain the cultural understanding, as well as to develop networks of trusted partners and suppliers. We’re also mirroring the way many of our clients are set up by having a base here, as well as the UK, and that’s why we’ve also recently opened our US office in New York.

What trend or upcoming technology are you most excited about in SEA?

When we opened our Singapore office, we redeveloped our existing consumer trends framework to tailor it for Asia. Our philosophy is that consumer trends are a result of a desire to satisfy basic human drivers and, in particular, the need to increase happiness. Culture has a major impact on the way happiness is attained and the ways it’s fulfilled, so we had to remap the trends we’ve been using in Europe and the US. The trends come very much from a consumer needs perspective, which makes them actionable for the clients we work with.

An example trend is ‘Let’s Play’. Cities in Asia have some of the world’s longest working hours and, although we value productivity, there’s a growing desire to enjoy the fruits of our hard work. This presents an opportunity for brands to provide occasions, or else give permission for consumers to let go, unshackle and have some fun. Play isn’t just the domain of children – local brand andsoforth in Singapore, and global brand Hermes 2018 theme reflect this trend well. Read our full set of trends, and the underpinning theory here.

SEA has a long way to go to become innovation hotbed – thoughts?

Singapore punches above its weight in innovation terms – just look at the whole Smart Nation initiative, or the number of entrepreneur-housing, co-working spaces which have opened over the last few years. However, while the government is pushing hard to attract and develop creativity, there’s still a reluctance to take risks inherent in some corporate decision making. In consumer insight, we see some clients reluctant to try new methods due to risk aversion and perceived potential for ‘failure’ in using a method they haven’t tried and tested before – even when there are numerous case studies and proof points.

On the flip side, this also means there’s a huge opportunity to convince clients that there’s a better way of conducting consumer research and taking them on a journey with us. The local clients we’ve worked with have really seen the value of creative thinking and using online methods, from communities, to app-enabled video, to drive insight and meaningful change into their businesses.