Differences Between Japanese and Western Market Research |An Interview with a Japanese Researcher with Experience Overseas (2)

In this series of posts from the front line of global market research, we would like to discuss how market research methodology differs from within Japan and overseas, including the latest overseas market research methods, and information to make global market research more familiar to our readers.

In the previous issue, we talked with Mr. Kawaguchi about his background and overseas research experience, and in the second part of this series, we would like to hear more about background and differences between Japanese and Western market research.

For those that missed it, please click here to read the previous article: Market Research in the US and Europe is a Science!

This time around, we would like to talk about market research. Are there any major differences in the work of research firms in Europe, the U.S., and Japan?

Most of the work done by Japanese market research companies consists of collecting and tabulating data–something that, in the U.S. or Europe, people would hardly call a market research firm. Western market research companies develop their own survey models, have normative (reference) values to evaluate the survey results, and report such results using their own analysis models. Rather than saying, “lets do a survey together,” market research companies overseas might approach clients by saying “Why don’t you utilize our survey models?” In addition, such companies have a consulting-like ability to solve their client’s problems, starting with the design and planning of the survey, to listening to the client’s issues and proposing the best kind of questionnaire. Furthermore, in order to make full use of the market research company’s professionals, a research specialist will often be the point of contact on the client side. These specialists will determine whether the model proposed by the market research company will work for their firm. Finally, these specialists might be used by internal departments needing surveys to help search for an appropriate market research company.

In the past, Japanese market research companies also developed their own original survey and analysis models, but as the proportion of online surveys has increased, the balance has shifted towards system companies and original survey models are rarely developed or customized. When surveys are now requested, a Japanese market research company may provide advice on questionnaire wording or options, but they do not actively engage in the planning and designing of surveys tailored to client issues, nor do they provide much advice or analysis, or make finding and recommendations based on this analysis.

Why has such a difference between Western and Japanese market research firms developed? What factors have contributed to this?

As in the case of the University of California, which I discussed in the previous post, one of the major factors contributing to the differences between Japanese and Western market research companies is the environment in which research specialists are trained. Overseas, these specialists are often trained in universities or other institutions, but in Japan, there are almost no academically trained specialists, including those at universities. In recent years, some universities have begun to offer courses in marketing research theory, but research activities such as the development of new research models are not very active. For example, there is also almost no sensory research, in which people are fed or use things while being surveyed.

Even though a survey might be targeting the general population, it seems that in the U.S. or Europe, the background behind such a survey is diverse—from psychology and statistics, to physiology and biology—with research from a wide range of faculties including marketing, management, product or food engineering, psychology, and so on. If anything, it seems that science may play a greater role than the liberal arts here, with science forming the basis of market research companies overseas.

In Japan, it is difficult to make the connection between market research and science, and perhaps this symbolizes the difference in the educational and research environments between the West and Japan. Science is constantly creating new things that can be applied to the market research industry. The fact that science forms the base of market research naturally affects the development of survey models.

Perhaps the reasons why we say that education needs to be strengthened is because it is so needed by society as a whole.

The social environment is a major factor in causing the differences in educational environments. In general, fields of study in which society focuses its efforts and attention are revitalized, while those that don’t attract attention fall off. Unfortunately, many Japanese companies do not use research as a basis for decision making or literacy. Japan is one of the few countries with a single ethnicity, a single language, and as a result, we have Japanese people developing products for other Japanese people. They may not have to rely so heavily on research for marketing and product development. It might be said that in Japan craftsmanship supersedes research.

In contrast, to take the United States as an example, there is a diverse mix of races, income groups, languages, and religions, and a large market size based on mass production. In such a case, it is essential to have as accurate consumer data as possible from the planning stage, so that decisions can be made and the business structured based on data. Because huge budgets are influenced by such data, academic research is emphasized and money is spent on quality market research.

Indeed, it seems that the difference in the importance of market research surveys is largely due to differences in social structures. This would also influence survey costs, as quality will vary greatly. In the next post, we would like to talk more about the differences in survey costs between Japan and the West.

If you have any questions about the content of this interview, please feel free to contact us.

First Published: 2018-09-07

Revised: 2023-06-28

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