Where are the market researchers on Cameron’s trade delegation to China?

This week David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, is in China. His goal? To strengthen economic relations with the second largest economy (by GDP) in the world by establishing a mutually beneficial ‘growth partnership’ between the two nations. He has not gone alone but with a delegation of over 130 UK businesses promoting the British economic presence in China. But where are the market researchers? China offers a market with some of the highest levels of digital technologies, internet and smartphone penetration, active social networks and online communities. It offers the perfect market for the future of market research.

Historically, big western companies have struggled to make it in the Chinese market, instead losing out to more agile native competitors which are more attuned to the needs of their domestic markets. The case of eBay losing out to Alibaba and its “eBay like” Taobao service (now expanding into the wider region) is just one case in point. Businesses typically struggle, in the words of Shawn Mahoney, managing director of the EP China consulting group, due to “a lack of understanding of the legal and cultural environment” within China. China’s considerable geographic area, huge disparities of wealth, and cultural differences both within the Chinese market and between China and the West mean expert advice is essential if British companies are to thrive in the Chinese market.

So how can business gain a better understanding of the Chinese market? FreshMinds believes that Social Media Listening and Online Communities could be a perfect way to gain fresh insights into the needs of the Chinese market. We think this because:

1. There are high levels of internet access and smartphone penetration within the Chinese market

Access to the internet has risen year on year. By the end of 2012 there were 564 million internet users in China, a number which continues to rise. Access to the internet is paired with high levels of mobile phone and smartphone ownership: China is the world’s largest smartphone market with smart phone penetration amongst 18 to 30 age group in China reaching 92%. Access to mobile technology and the internet means that researcher can reach Chinese citizens across the country with various mobile research tools.

2. The Chinese make extensive use of domestic Social Media Platforms to which researchers can listen

Although the Great Fire Wall of China prevents many of China’s citizens from accessing social media sites that are popular in the West (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all banned), the popularity of domestic versions of these platforms, such as RenRen QQ, and Weibo, continues to grow. Though these are subject to state censorship, they are a channels to which Western market researchers should be tuned in and listening to as they can broadcast up-to-the-minute insight into cultural, social and political trends within the nation.

3. Online Communities overcome domestic barriers to research in China

Online Communities allow geographical barriers within the Chinese market to be overcome by bring together citizens from across China. Also, as they are predominantly text based, language barriers within China are overcome: although China has a unified written language, there is a great diversity of spoken languages within the country. Research tools such as VisionsLive would allow rich insights to be gained from the Chinese market and concrete outputs for research buyers.

Perhaps on the next delegation to China, market research firms along with other businesses will be represented. By doing this the future of British business within China will be more sure.