Quirk's Editor Joseph Rydholm talks with Lyndal Pearce of Millward Brown in Myanmar to get a glimpse of what it's like as a researcher on the ground in an emerging market.
In 2004, as part of a trip to Southeast Asia, my wife and I spent a half-day sightseeing in Myanmar, crossing the border from Thailand at Mae Sai. Back then Myanmar was still largely closed off to the rest of the world and though our border crossing was legal, it still had an air of danger about it.
These days, of course, things are completely different. With the dissolution of the military government in 2011 following general elections in 2010, Myanmar is open for business. And boy, is there business to be done. The country is rich in natural resources and the economy is expected to grow at an annual rate of 6 percent, attracting the interest of Western firms like General Electric and Coca-Cola, to name but a few of the companies that are establishing presences in the country formerly known as Burma.
Where there is business, there is a need for marketing research and when I learned earlier this year that Millward Brown was opening an office in Myanmar, I reached out to Lyndal Pearce, the country manager of Millward Brown in Myanmar, to arrange an e-mail interview about her experiences. This being our annual international research issue, it seemed the perfect time to bring it to you.
How much did you know about Myanmar and the area before being named to this post?
I began conducting research projects for international FMCG clients in Myanmar in 1996 and had lived and worked as a researcher in Myanmar for 10 years before joining Millward Brown. The work I led on developing contraceptive brands and the communications to support and grow those brands took me, and the Myanmar researchers I trained and worked with, deep into the fabric of relationships in Myanmar. I value this experience highly because it took us well below the veneers and gave us a good understanding of how family life, relationships and decision-making work in Myanmar.
I also worked as a market researcher in Vietnam between 1995 and 1997 at a time when the Vietnamese market was emerging from a long period of sanctions and global companies were beginning to enter an exciting, new market. I am finding this experience and my knowledge of Myanmar valuable in assisting clients now looking to engage in business here.
What types of research are being conducted there currently?
A lot of our work has been exploratory as clients investigate the Myanmar market and search for understanding and insights about Myanmar consumers. Clients who came into the market early are now also measuring the performance of their brands and communication campaigns. We have built our advertising pre-testing database and have already developed benchmarks for Myanmar, allowing us to conduct advertising pre-testing and truly partner with clients in the creative development of their communications.
Our research into advertising in Myanmar tells us that, as in other markets, advertising works when it is kept simple and the brand has a central role to play. Music, celebrities, love and attraction are common executional elements here and the ads that do well leverage on these intelligently. We have also learned that there is some skepticism about unfamiliar products and brands, possibly as a result of consumers having had to rely on grey-market channels to deliver goods when the market was closed.
Now Myanmar consumers are being inundated with new brands and seek to be convinced about them. They also want advertising to educate them about products that are new to them and, of course, they want to be entertained.
Who are your clients?
Our clients are mainly international FMCG companies with brands in the food, beverage, personal care, home care and pharmaceutical categories. Some are reengaging with Myanmar but many are entering the market for the first time.
What has you most excited?
The growth and development occurring in Myanmar now is remarkable and witnessing how people use the new opportunities coming their way is exciting.
What has you most nervous?
As more international companies enter the market, the demand on services, infrastructure and human resources grows and cost control is challenging at this time. Fortunately in the human resources area there are many talented, young Myanmar people returning home after studying abroad. They bring with them valuable skills and exposure to the international environment and are integral to our team.