China: "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma"?
This phrase -- attributed to Winston Churchill, who was referring to Russia -- appears to be an apt description of
China is, as we all know, the most populous country on this planet. What we probably don't know -- unless we do market research there -- is just how
different it is. At the ARF's annual re:think conference, China -- and doing business there -- was the subject of a fascinating panel discussion.
China has 160
cities with population of over 1,000,000. In contrast, in the U.S. we only have 10 cities with populations of over a million. This puts size in a real perspective. China, however, is not just
BIG -- it is also undergoing an incredible rate of change. One striking example illustrating the rapidity of change in China is the fact that a major highway in one major city was rebuilt TWICE in one
year! The above, plus a plethora of good information, was provided by a panel of seasoned China experts.
Moderated by Diane Hessan, president and CEO of Communispace,
the panel included Paul Casswell of Disney Destinations, Diane Kosobud of Heinz and Anthony Michelini of Citigroup. All four participants travel to China often and spend a good deal of time there. In
fact, all four panelists have been to China within the last couple of weeks, and the moderator just came back from there last night.
The main conclusions of the
group -- and there was hardly any disagreement among them -- can be summed up in a few words: if you are going to do surveys in China, you better hire some local talent. The reasons are numerous: the
country is big, it is undergoing an incredible rate of change, and the potential respondents are going to surprise you in many ways. They don't talk, think or behave as you may expect. Let the
market researcher beware!