How the Emergent Affluent think - award winning research for HSBC

By Richard Smith

The MRS Award for International Research has been awarded to BDRC Continental, HSBC and BAMM for their Global research projects 

The global research team at HSBC has an innovative approach to understanding customers. It needs to support a strategy that global customer propositions must work successfully in multiple markets.  So the focus has been on understanding the Emerging Affluent.  Global demographic trends point towards increasing levels of income and wealth creation, particularly in emerging markets.  The key question was, how do these newly affluent audiences think?  And do they think similarly to their contemporaries in mature markets?  A seductive thought for marketers, but it needed to be tested.

Global Meets Local

Emerging Affluents are aged between 24 and 45 and are on the way up, earning above average for their age.  HSBC wanted to build an understanding of how they think, feel, act and dream at a very deep level.  Insight into this behaviour shared across countries, continents and cultures would greatly help global brand propositions.

On the surface, similar individuals (by age, wealth and aspiration) in different markets express themselves quite differently due to culture, religion, climate and other factors. Often the easy way for researchers is to focus on these differences when reporting findings. HSBC intuitively felt that by exploiting techniques that dig deeper into the subconscious they would discover the underlying psychological frames, needs and motivations that were similar across markets.

“The insight was very clear that there was an emerging affluent mind-set and it was a global mind-set, and, as bizarre as it sounds people in Mumbai felt exactly the same way as the people living in London. The things that they were hoping to achieve, and how they were thinking about their lives was exactly the same.”  (Henrietta De Souza, Global Head of Customer Insight, Global RBWM Marketing, HSBC)

How it was done

Over several years, the insight team at HSBC commissioned BDRC (using ZMET) and BAMM (innovative ethnography, born out of photojournalism) to bring a profound understanding to respondents’ thinking and behaviour.  Projects focussed on wealth, aspiration, attitudes and their translation into needs for financial services.

 “I think these two different methods perfectly complement each other. We've got the ZMET approach that helps us to understand metaphorically what people think, so we can really get inside their subconscious minds, and with the ethnographies we get to see them in their natural environments. This gives us a good grounding, a really deep grounding into their lives. The material we have to share internally is remarkable.”  (Josh Sorene, Senior Customer Insight Manager, Global RBWM Marketing, HSBC)

The outcome

Because the new research approach allows HSBC to identify fundamental psychological needs, they can build a pool of insight that’s broadly ‘future-proof’. Effectively, they’ve turned research into a future proposition development tool.

What next?
BDRC’s Richard Smith and BAMM’s Anthony Martin have developed an invaluable working relationship over several projects researching worldwide.  They are convinced of the value of the combined methodologies.  As clearly were the judges when they awarded their prize for Best International Research at December’s Market Research Society Awards. This is what the judges said:

"The winning paper, 'Together we advance: Understanding the emerging affluent’, was chosen for demonstrating a combination of consistency (collecting data over a number of studies over five years), synthesising the learnings, and combining them with video ethnography techniques to really understand the target market across HSBC’s key markets."