FEATURE1 September 2011

Ups and downs – Barry Ooi


Research professionals tell us about the highs and lows of their careers. This month, Kadence Malaysia’s Barry Ooi on why he wants more insight experts to take the top jobs in client companies.

The best advice I’ve had is…
“Being a good marketer does not necessarily mean that you will be a good manager.” This wisdom was handed down to me from a boss at Ericsson when I was a marketing executive. The same applies in the context of market research: a good researcher does not necessarily make a good manager. This maxim has guided me towards actively developing my management skills throughout my career.

…and the worst advice I’ve had is
I can’t say that any advice I have received has been wholly bad. It might seem so at the time but with the benefit of hindsight or under different circumstances it can actually turn out to be the opposite. A series of opportunities and obstacles have led me to where I am today. In the early days of my market research career, for example, I was overly keen to introduce a syndicated service targeted at FMCG clients. While my boss at that time advised against it, he nevertheless allowed me to proceed. I subsequently only managed to secure two interested parties which was not even enough to cover the costs of fieldwork. Of course, my boss was right. The timing of the launch was poor as our sales period coincided with our clients’ budgeting.

A campaign that grabbed me recently is…
the Malaysian oil corporation Petronas’s advertisements. The long-running campaign consists of festive celebration ads which offer a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Malaysians. Through its festive ads, it shares simple but heart-warming stories that are reflective of the moral values, cultural diversity, harmony and traditions that play an important role in the daily lives of Malaysians. The ads are in a narrative style that is compelling and engaging. Most Malaysians look forward to them every festive season. Not many brands around the world can claim their campaign has such a pull on people after running for 15 years.

…and a campaign that needed more research was
one for a mobile phone services provider. I have trouble recalling the brand, however, as brand association was weak. It was a high-impact ad showing images of happy and successful people communicating through their mobiles. The ad also features shots of famous international cities and icons. Clearly it needs to be evaluated to determine its brand resonance with its target audience.

One thing this industry could use more of is…
people with a strong background in consumer insights holding top management and board level positions in client companies. This would help to ensure that corporate strategies and plans have a solid grounding in marketplace knowledge and understanding of the consumer. Organisations should be driven by consumer insight.

…and one thing this industry could use less of is
comparing agencies on a ‘cost per interview’ basis. This may not necessarily reflect the real value of the respective companies. Some agencies are more efficient in fieldwork and data processing capabilities but lack the analytical ability to generate insight. Evaluating a research project based on a cost-per-interview model will not lead to the generation of value from the assignment.

One thing I hope to do is…
dedicate some time to promoting and building stronger awareness of the Marketing Research Society Malaysia, of which I am the vice president. Through the society I hope to develop the image and reputation of market research as an interesting and exciting profession, with many opportunities for personal development. Personally, I have enjoyed an interesting and successful career in market research and I hope to encourage young professionals to consider it as a career path.

…and one thing I wish I?hadn’t done is
eaten a rack of ribs for lunch before a big meeting today.

If I hadn’t become a researcher…
I would probably have been involved in something creative in the media and entertainment industry – an illusionist, maybe.

…and on the other hand if I hadn’t become a researcher
I would have missed out on discovering the psychology behind the thoughts, feelings and reasonings that drive consumers to make choices between alternative brands. This has enriched my own life.