You need a stable foothold and insight into the dynamics of the marketplace from which to be able to peer effectively into the future.... Marketing research can provide real value by helping to provide the radar that will alert the enterprise to perils -- and opportunities -- ahead" (Duboff & Spaeth 2000, pp. 3-13). Proponents of market research maintain that these activities help to ensure that companies remain consumer-orientated. According to Fuglsang and Sundbo (2002), the value of market research can depend on what type of service or product is involved, and what destination country is intended for export purposes. "In practice," they advise, "this means that new products are more successful if they are designed to satisfy a perceived need than if they are designed simply to take advantage of a new technology. The approach taken by many companies with regard to market research is that if sufficient research is undertaken the chances of failure are reduced" (p. 115).
According to Fletcher and Smith (2004), the introduction of various technological innovations and a proliferation of international consumer data have resulted in the following trends in market research being experienced in recent years:
Market research is moving away from its roots as a discipline that was detached from the business decision-making process, and is now more actively engaged with decision-facilitation;
This shift has required new methodological thinking: an 'holistic' analysis approach that provides clients with a rounded view of what all their (qualitative and quantitative) marketing evidence is saying;
The new approach also requires analytical frameworks that combine hard market research data with prior management knowledge and intuition;
These new frameworks must be disciplined: intuitive thought can be powerful, but it can also be wrong. The new holistic approach to data analysis therefore needs to be based on the rigorous evaluation of prior management knowledge, as well as drawing on conventional data analysis methods (Fletcher & Smith, 2004).
While the foregoing trends suggest that most companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of effective and timely market research before "taking the plunge" into exporting to a given market, the country involved in such research, as well as the type of product or service involved, may affect the decision as to whether to attempt to acquire this data in-house or to outsource it to a domestic provider in the destination country, and these issues are discussed further below.
Market Research Considerations in Emerging Nations in General and Vietnam in Particular. Emerging countries such as Vietnam enjoy an abundance of pristine natural resources that are amenable to development for tourist purposes, and there has been a significant move on the part of many Asian nations to encourage additional trade through these avenues in recent years (Ghimire 2001). According to this author, "Developing countries considered they had a 'comparative advantage' vis-a-vis the industrialized world as they possessed exceptional tourist resources and attractions, such as warm and sunny weather, attractive beaches, unique wildlife and tropical forests and exotic or authentic cultures. Indeed, in the 1950s and 1960s, newly-independent countries in Asia and Africa frequently inferred tourism development to be a means of 'resource transfer' from the North to the South" (p. 99). As a result, emerging nations such as Vietnam have sought to encourage additional foreign investment by (a) identification and development of new tourism-related sites, (b) promotion and marketing of diversified tourism products, - enactment of favourable labour laws, and (d) provision of subsidized credits and tax exemptions to foreign investors (Ghimire 2001).
These initiatives, though, have only served to reinforce existing disparities between Western and Asian nations, a trend that was only exacerbated by the Asian financial crisis in the early 1990s. In this regard, Ghimire (2001) emphasizes that today, "A thorny issue" remains because "privileged tourist groups, coming mainly from the industrialized countries in the North, tended to respond more to the economic and political circumstances in their respective countries than to needs in Southern countries. In particular, developing countries possessed little capital, technology and know-how to develop tourism. Instead, this situation reinforced 'dependency' relationships with industrialized countries" (p. 99). Despite such "thorns," though, the fact that Asian countries in general and Vietnam in particular has sought to encourage additional foreign investment through the enactment of favourable labour laws and the provision of subsidized credits and tax exemptions for foreign investors means that the time is ripe and Australia companies that take advantage of these opportunities today will be well situated to reap the benefits in the years to come - if they approach their extension into this marketplace correctly.
According to Fields, Gunther, Katahira and Wind (2000), there has been a great deal of attention paid to market research in the emerging Asian marketplace in recent years, which has resulted in some important findings for Western nations seeking to expand their operations there:
Today, marketing is moving from the periphery to the center. Marketing expertise, once an afterthought, is now a central strategic necessity in rapidly changing Japanese and Asian markets. The practice of branding and segmentation, pricing, new product development, advertising, and marketing research have undergone fundamental transformations. These changes have tremendous implications for the critical success factors in entering Japanese and Asian markets. Overall, these many changes have made marketing more central to success. (p. 128)
As noted above, commissioning companies (defined for the purposes of this discussion as those Australian firms seeking to extend their market into Vietnam) have some options available when it comes to conducting market research, but emerging nations may have some special considerations that might go unnoticed or undiscovered without insider assistance from those who are in-country and "in the know." For example, in his essay, "Market Research Is Good Investment," Eckerman (2005) emphasizes that market research is an absolute necessity for companies seeking to gain additional market share through exports to another country, and the process is definitely worth the cost and should be regarded as an investment. This author identifies a number of benefits to be derived from effective and timely market research of an emerging nation today, including:
Effective market research will give provide companies with insight into many things, such as the target market's economy, any political risks, credit terms and recommended payment methods;
Companies will also find out which currency they are likely to be able to invoice in sterling, local currency or euro;
Companies can establish the market size and likely product demand;
Research can identify the location and number of customers/outlets, and can even go as far as establishing credit worthiness of potential customers in the target market;
Market research can also help companies determine who their competitors are and what makes them successful, uncovering the quality and prices of any competitive products already successfully being sold there;
Companies need to know if there are technical standards that may need to be met, as well as packing and packaging requirements for export, especially in relation to labelling regulations;
Before starting to export, companies should also find out which are the most effective distribution channels and methods (e.g., agents, distributors and wholesalers);
Companies will also need to be aware of any tariff or import restrictions within their destination market (e.g., duties, quotas, taxes on imported goods, the knowledge of which is essential for companies to realistically price their product in their target market) (Eckerman 2005).
Some basic facts and figures about Vietnam and its consumers are useful for consideration at this point. Two authorities on the culture, society and market in Vietnam report that today:
Street culture in the cities of Vietnam is one in which street vendors carrying baskets of fresh produce from their farms jostle with young men in crisp, white, business shirts rushing to their offices, where cyclos carry groups of students loudly communicating on their mobile phones, where the pavement noodle shops double as internet cafes and the latest glimmering paintjob on a motorbike is being admired by a group of savvy young consumers. The streets in urban Vietnam are predominantly youth-focused, reflecting the demographic situation in which well over half of the population is under 16 years old. However, it is not so much the age of people that marks the cities as being forward-focused and energetically engaged in the future, but the technologies, music, fashion and leisure activities which symbolise a population urgently acquiring the emblems of modernity. (Drummond & Thomas 2003, p. 1)
While this desperate thirst for all things Western may not be as pronounced as many commission companies in the West might like, the fact remains that the Vietnam market is hot but the country's economy is only lukewarm - but even this is changing quickly as well. For instance, Drummond and Thomas (2003) cite "the slowly increasing levels of wealth" and "the gradual freeing up of state control over the activities of the populace" as indications of these trends today (p. 1).
According to U.S. government analysts, Vietnam is a…