Marketing Research in Singapore: With Special Reference to Academic Research

ABSTRACT - Marketing research in Singapore is carried out by three major groups of institutions. Of the three groups -- the private sector, the government related bodies and the School of Management of the National University of Singapore -- only the University is involved in both applied and basic research. The other two groups mainly conduct research of an applied nature. This paper discusses these three groups of institutions and their research. In particular, it focuses on the research work of the University.


Chow Hou Wee, Ah Keng Kau, and Chin Tiong Tan (1985) ,"Marketing Research in Singapore: With Special Reference to Academic Research", in SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, eds. Jagdish N. Sheth and Chin Tiong Tan, Singapore : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 100-104.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 100-104


Chow Hou Wee, National University of Singapore

Ah Keng Kau, National University of Singapore

Chin Tiong Tan, National University of Singapore


Marketing research in Singapore is carried out by three major groups of institutions. Of the three groups -- the private sector, the government related bodies and the School of Management of the National University of Singapore -- only the University is involved in both applied and basic research. The other two groups mainly conduct research of an applied nature. This paper discusses these three groups of institutions and their research. In particular, it focuses on the research work of the University.


Marketing research can be either applied or basic in nature (Kinnear and Taylor 1983). Applied research is typically conducted with very specific objectives in mind. It is action-oriented, and geared, towards assisting executives in decision-making. For example, a market survey which aims to provide management with specific information related to the market under consideration is considered as applied research. It is therefore not surprising to find most applied research performed by marketing research firms and management consultants.

Basic research in marketing, on the other hand, is not necessarily action-oriented. It generally attempts to extend the frontiers of knowledge in some aspects of marketing, be it in consumer behaviour or advertising effectiveness or other aspects of the marketing variables. As such, it does, not seek to provide specific answers to any organizational problems, although it is likely to, have managerial relevance. By its very nature, basic research in marketing tends to be carried out by the academia..

In Singapore, the same pattern of research activities can be observed in that applied research in marketing is generally done by commercially operated marketing research firms, while the University is more involvee in basic research.

Marketing Research by Non-Academic Institutions

While the first evidence of marketing research in the United States was found from attempts to forecast elections and that major advances were made in the period 1910 to 1920 (Lockley 1974), marketing research in Singapore began at a very much later date. In the mid-sixties, two major developments helped to give marketing research in Singapore the much needed impetus. In the private sector, the Survey Research Singapore (SRS) which is part of the Survey Research Group International was established. The following year, a Department of Business Administration was set up by the University of Singapore, and this gave the academic component to the research environment in Singapore. Over the years, there have been an increase in market research activities in Singapore, and today the bulk of the research are conducted by three major groups of institutions. Two of them -- government-related bodies and private sector institutions -are non-academic in nature while the third body -- the School of Management at the National 'University of Singapore -- is involved 'in more academic type of research.

Government-Related Bodies

While many government-related bodies do conduct some form of marketing research occasionally, the more notable ones are the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Statisrics Department, the Economics Development Board, the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board and the Applied Research Corporation. The research done by the first three agencies rend to be informative and descriptive in nature. Some typical studies include surveys of wages and salaries, monitoring of consumer price indices, retail and other business sector performances, and other macro-level studies.

The Singapore Tourist Promotion Board is the agency largely responsible for the promotion of tourism in Singapore. As such its research tends to be focused more on the tourists and the various businesses related to tourism. For example, the board carries out regular surveys to obtain information on the various aspects of the tourists - their socio-demographics, purpose and length of visits, likes and dislikes, and image of Singapore.

The Applied Research Corporation (ARC) was established in 1973 as an independent, non-profit making company. Its main objectives are to provide consultancy services and industrial research and development facilities to government agencies and private companies on a client-confidential basis. However, it is also actively engaged in market/opinion survey and research. For example, it has conducted numerous market feasibility studies, consumer patronage research, industry analyses, and so on. However, as its studies were client-confidential, it was not possible to gauge the detailed number and types of studies done by ARC since its incorporation.

In general, the studies conducted by government-related agencies still lack statistical sophistication. Almost all the studies employ very basic statistics, and few studies employ techniques beyond the contingency tables approach.

Private Sector Institutions

There are about a dozen privately listed companies that are involved in some form of marketing research. However, the major ones are Survey Research Singapore Private Limited (SRS), Frank Small and Associates (S.E.A.) Private Limited, and Consensus Consumer Research S.E.A. (Singapore) Private Limited.

Among the three companies, Consensus i s the smallest. It was set up in January 1976, and currently its marketing research activities include conducting psychological studies, attitudinal surveys, motivation studies, product and package testing, pre and post commercial testing. The statistical analysis used, however, is still rudimentary and at most is marginally better than those used by thegovernment agencies.

Frank Small and Associates was set up in Singapore in June 1973, although it had an earlier beginning in Australia. Currently, it has other offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Hong Kong, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, and thus can be considered an international research firm. Its office in Singapore has about 30 full-time staff and it has positioned itself as the specialist in the Asia-Pacific Region. Its marketing research can be divided into three main areas - consumer research, omnibus survey, and industrial research. Its consumer research activities include attitude research, market definitions, new product research, communications research, and package testing. The omnibus surveys are done bi-monthly in Singapore and Malaysia and covered various consumer behaviour relating to adults, households and selected target groups. Finally, its industrial research involves mainly feasibility studies.

Overall, the type of research done by Frank Small and Associates tend to be of a more qualitative nature. Very limited multivariate analysis is carried out.

The Survey Research Singapore (Pte) Limited is the largest and leading marketing research company in Singapore. Established in 1964, it now employs over 120 full-time staff including three directors, nine research executives, a technical services manager, data processing manager, field manager and sixty interviewers. Its research activities include ad hoc surveys on consumers and industrial products; quantitative research such as adult omnibus surveys, annual tourist omnibus and kids omnibus surveys; specialist syndicated surveys for products like hair care, dishwashing liquid, toilet soap, household cleaning products, liquor, fast food, motorists, milk products and fruit juices; brand tracking studies; annual media surveys, on-line analysis of media data and continuous monitoring of advertising expenditure; twice yearly distribution check in representative panel of  retail outlets; telephone surveys; and market modelling such as forecasting based on ASSESSOR, PERCEPTOR, DESIGNER SPRINTER, and AID market models.

One of the unique strengths of SRS compared to its other competitors is the creation of its own sampling frame for consumer surveys comprising of 1,800 primary sampling units of 260 dwelling units each. This frame is continuously up-dated and is stratified by housing type within area type to ensure that selected samples are representative. This method of sampling has enabled the company to achieve equal probability sampling for the population of Singapore. In addition, it has also allowed the company to achieve high response rates for many of its consumer surveys.

Another major strength of SRS is its use of more sophisticated data analysis techniques. For example, its cross tabulations are prepared using the Donovan DISKTAB package, and multivariate analysis is carried out using either SAS or SPSS analysis packages. Thus it is probably the only private research company which can carry out multivariate analysis based on its in-house capabilities.

Evaluation of Research Done by Government-related Bodies and the Private Sector

In general, it is not unrealistic to state that marketing research carried out by the private sector has not reached the level of sophistication as that of Western Europe and North America. In addition, most research are mainly of surveys and analysis seldom go beyond cross tabulations and frequency counts. There are several factors why this is so. First, many companies in Singapore have still not realized or understood the usefulness and relevance of marketing research studies in relation to their performances. Second, even if such a need is perceived, few executives are able to understand sophisticated types of analysis other than simple descriptive statistics. The main reason is their lack of training in statistical techniques. Third, there is also an evident shortage of skilled and well-trained researchers in marketing research firms. Few have even masters' degrees, and the problem is serious enough that the major firms are still having expatriates holding key research positions. Finally, but nevertheless an important one, is the lack of easy to use softwares for marketing research purposes.

Marketing Research at the National University of Singapore

With the establishment of the Department of Business Administration at the University in 1965 (it is now renamed the School of Management), systematic research in business began to take shape. As part of graduation requirement, each fourth year honours student is required to complete a "thesis" called an academic exercise under the close supervision of a faculty member. In recent years, external examiners of such academic exercises like Professor David Chamber of the London Business School and Professor Jagdish Sheth of the University of Southern California have commented that the research done are equivalent in standards and quality to master's level thesis. The same opinion was also expressed by visiting professors like Professor John U. Farley cf Columbia University and Professor William R. Swinyard (who has supervised three recent academic exercises) of Brigham Young University. From the period 1908 to 1984, about 400 academic exercises had been completed. Of these, about 20% or 77 academic exercises were in the area of marketing.

The research focus of these exercises had been quite varied. It ranged from the first one which investigated the promotion of tourism in Singapore to a more recent study on the family buying behaviour of local and expatriate families living in Singapore. Table 1 gives a summary of the types of studies that had been completed, As can be noted, almost all ma-or aspects of the marketing mix had been examined. However, the research area which attracted the greatest interest was in consumer behaviour (30%) , followed by research in service marketing (19%) and product issues (16%). Some stud"es were also conducted in the area, of promotion, advertising and distribution (total of 16%). One very significant omitted area of research has been in the pricing area. In fact, there is no study to date that has pricing as its main focus of investigation. Several observations can be made about this pattern of research.



Assessment of Research Areas

The focus on the study of consumer behaviour was a pattern typical of a consumer-oriented marketing trend, especially in the period after 1977. In this aspect, the emphasis placed on research in this area was no different from that of North America. However, the interest shown in consumer research was largely a function of the kind of marketing faculty recruit ed by the University. In 1978, the first local Ph.D. in marketing specialising in consumer behaviour was recruited from the United States. This, in many ways, resulted in students picking research topics in consumer behaviour. Subsequent faculty members recruited also tended to have a heavy orientation in the consumer behaviour discipline. Thus as of to date, research in consumer behaviour had covered a wide array of topics such as motivation, brand loyalty, product adoption, consumer stereotyping, consumer risk perceptions, family decision-making, post-purchase satisfaction/dissatisfaction, comparison of consumer behavior across cultures, and so on.

As services form an important component of the Singapore economy, it is not surprising that many studies had been devoted to understanding the marketing cf services.  Quite a few studies investigated, the tourism industry, an important service industry that currently attracts close to 3 million visitors to Singapore. The topics ranged from studies of tourist promotion, the marketing of hotels, airlines and convention centres, tourists' images of Singapore, tourists' perceptions of Singapore's shopping facilities, and other tourists' attractions. Another major area of investigation concerned the marketing of banking and financial services. A 1984 study, for example, focused on the differences between ATM and non-ATM card holders.

Studies on the two marketing mix variables distribution and promotion --- have also received considerable attention. However, considering that Singapore is a large international distribution centre, one would have expected more studies in the distribution area. In addition, being a heavily export-oriented country and one with an international orientation, it is surprising to find that there had been very few studies that focussed on export and international marketing. Similarly, there had been only one study on industrial buying behaviour. The lack of studies in these areas could be largely attributed to the shortage of faculty members specialising in such research. In addition, studies in export, industrial and international marketing generally involve contacts with companies and the research may require more time. Such ''obstacles'' tend to deter students from embarking, research into such areas.

Another interesting phenomenon was that almost all the academic research topics tended to ''copy" the latest research intefests in North America. This was largely because most of the marketing faculty members were trained in North America. Even today, the trend has continued as most faculty members subscribe to North American journals and attend U.S. conferences. As far as research findings a re concerned, most local results resembled those found in North America, although some studiesshowedcultural differences.

Methodological Development

In general, marketing research can be classified as exploratory, descriptive and casual. Exploratory research is concerned with ''discovering the general nature of the problem and the variables that relate to it" (Tull and Hawkins 1984). The research design here is more flexible and may depend largely on secondary data and convenience samples of small size. Descriptive research, on the other hand, focuses on ''the accurate description of the variables in the problem model" (Tull and Hawkins 1984) and includes studies which aim to establish consumer profiles, attitude surveys, and so on. Finally, causal research attempts to establish the nature of the functional relationships between two or more variables under consideration.

Most of the academic exercises done at the University were exploratory and descriptive in nature. Very few studies attempted to establish causal relationship between marketing variables. This could be attributed to the fact that causation is generally difficult to establish in the social sciences and the time constraints of the students in completing their academic exercises. The methodological development of marketing research at the University can be classified into two distinctive periods, namely, the pre-1980 and post 1980 period.

In the earlier years of the school, the bulk of the faculty members had only M.B.A. degrees, and as such, most of the research completed were of the case studies type, relying at best on secondary data. In the later part of the 1970's where some better trained researchers were recruited, there was a gradual shift towards empirical research. Surveys became popular as a means of data collection. Sampling techniques, however, were very weak. Most studies relied on small samples of less than 100. Judgement and convenient samples were commonly used, and there were quite a few studies that relied on students as the sampling population. There were several reasons for this.

First, empirical research was just making its beginning in marketing research and there were still few faculty members who were well trained in research methodology. Second, the time and cost constraint faced by the students were real. The academic exercise was only considered as one full-course equivalent in the fourth-year honours program, and students had to take six other full courses. Third, the academic exercise had to be completed within one academic year. Finally, but nevertheless an important factor, students doing the academic exercise were not given any formal training in research methodology and much of the research skills had to be picked up from the supervisors who in some cases did not have the skills either.

The focus on empirical research became a norm in the post-1980 period, and hypotheses development and testing became increasingly popular. Surveys continued to dominate as the main method of data collection. However, increasing emphasis was placed on the need to have larger samples and the use of probability sampling. In addition, the subjects for sampling also went beyong the students population. Many studies made use of non-student population for sampling, including companies and other private institutions. There were also some attempts to use experimental designs as research techniques. However, so far, this method had yet to gain popularity.

The marked improvement in methodology in the post-1980 period was the result of several developments. First, more and better trained faculty members were recruited during this period. Second, and more importantly, students doing the academic exercises were put through an one-week intensive research methodology course conducted by selected inter-disciplinary faculty members of the business school. Third, the academic exercise itself was upgraded to two full-course equivalent, and students began to spend more time and effort in their research. Finally, owing to the increased quality of the students over the years and the increased emphasis on research in the University, faculty members began to use the supervision of academic exercises as avenues to channel research papers. The result of this was a closer and higher quality supervision. Table 2 provides a summary of the evolution of marketing research at the University. As mentioned earlier in the discussion, there was a clear distinction between various aspects of marketing research in the pre and post-1980 period.



Statistical Techniques

The use of statistical techniques had also become increasingly sophisticated over the years, especially the period after 1980. The descriptive case studies approach based on secondary data in the late sixties and early seventies gave way to "rudimentary'' statistical analysis such as cross-tabulations, correlational analysis and bivariate regression when survey research became popular in the late seventies. With the advent of statistical packages such. as SPSS and SAS, and the increased capability of computers available for use by students (the University now has an IBM 3081), the use of more advanced multivariate statistical techniques has now become a routine exercise. For example, more and more academic exercises after 1980 had used statistical techniques like discriminant analysis, multiple regression, analysis of variance, conjoint analysis, factor analysis, cluster analysis, etc. With the availability of new software packages both for mainframe and personal computers (both easily accessible to students at the University), it is envisaged that sophisticated statistical analysis will become a norm in the future for marketing research at the University. This will be especially so with the gradual return of local faculty members who are trained at the top marketing schools in North America. Thus latest multivariate techniques like multidimensional scaling, perceptual mapping, LISREL, and other structural equations techniques will very soon finds its application in Singapore.

Future of Marketing Research in Singapore

Over the years, marketing research has gained acceptance in the Singapore corporate scene. More managers are now using research data to improve decision making. There are several reasons for this. First, more managers with business school training are reaching positions of responsibility. In general, they are more appreciative of scientific techniques In management. Moreover, with the growing popularity of management development courses, executives without formal business training are starting to be exposed to the benefits of research data in decision making.

Second, the government in its move to increase productivity is encouraging companies to perform more research and development. Marketing research and other management studies to improve management efficiency are included. Through the mechanism of providing project subsidy by the Skills Development Fund, the government is attempting to elevate the general level of managerial sophistication.

Finally, with growing, competition in the market place , managers are constantly looking for available market information to help improve market position. Hence, it is anticipated that marketing research will gain importance rather quickly in Singapore. In the private sector, one should witness an increase in research activities and an improvement in the overall level of sophistication in research techniques.

Interestingly, marketing research at the University is expected to play a more significant role in the academic world. Already, the marketing faculty has ir-s research published in journals like the Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, and Journal of Academy of Marketing Science. They have also been active in conferences of the American Marketing Association, Association for Consumer Research, Academy of Marketing Science, and Academy of International Business

There are several noticeable research developments at the National University of Singapore. First, more collaboration with marketing faculty of other universities. This is in fact the outcome of the University's policy to invite eminent professors to Singapore. Second, with the growing research interest among the U.S. and European business professors in the Asia-Pacific region, more professors at the National University, of Singapore will be invited to participate in international research work. At present, marketing professors at the University are involved with international teams of researchers studying topics like international advertising practices, export behaviour and strategic planning of multinational corporations. The University has paved the way for such active collaboration and exchange of research ideas with overseas scholars by hosting an international meeting of the Academy of International Business in 1984. Similar meetings is hosted in Singapore for the Association of Consumer Research in July 1985 and in 1986, the American Marketing Association will be hosted.

The National University of Singapore is also likely to play the leading role in organizing regional research projects. Thus far, comparative research on market and consumer behaviour of the region has-been limited. The only institution in the region that has the resources and interest to initiate such research is the National University of Singapore.

At present, research atmosphere among the marketing faculty is good. With the university's policies to encourage research, to improve staff-student ratio to 1:10, and to upgrade faculty quality by sending junior faculty members to top business schools for doctoral studies, the goal- to become a centre for excellence may not be too far away.


Kinnear, T.C. Taylor (1983), Marketing Research, McGraw Hill, U.S

Tull, D.S. and D.T. Hawkins (1984), Marketing Research, Macmillan,, N.Y.



Chow Hou Wee, National University of Singapore
Ah Keng Kau, National University of Singapore
Chin Tiong Tan, National University of Singapore


SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives | 1985

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