Nothing illustrates the acceleration of change in market research better than the fate of the industry’s mainstay – the observation room. With online focus group discussions (FGDs) gaining in popularity post-covid, some viewing rooms are given new functions while those still in use double as regular meeting facilities between the sessions.
Yet Ngan Ly, the country manager for Ipsos Vietnam, is not one to feel nostalgic about pre-covid days when qualitative market research was mostly done face-to-face. For Ngan, digitization of the process was a long time coming, and when the pandemic struck, her team was ready.
Ngan started her career with Ipsos in Sydney in 2012 and transferred to Saigon from Geneva, Switzerland when Ipsos entered Vietnam following the acquisition of CBI and Synovate. Since then, her team has been providing insights into Vietnamese markets, brands and people as part of the world’s third largest market research agency who is now present in 90 countries.
We ask Ngan how she found her calling, why market research remains vital to our understanding of society and how her team helps clients act faster, smarter and bolder.
What does your role as Country Manager with Ipsos Vietnam entail?
My role is similar to that of a Managing Director. As a head of the country there are four areas I focus on: setting the mission for our operations in Vietnam; managing the team; ensuring market research excellence; and serving as the face of Ipsos in the country making sure we are in compliance with local laws and regulations, among other things.
Being a multinational, there is a global direction of course but when it comes to implementation, to strategy setting — this is driven locally. Local managers have a lot of authority and are trusted with making high-level decisions — something you don't often see in this industry.
To give you an example, globally our operations are organized along what we call ‘service lines’, such as innovation, healthcare, public affairs, etc. There are a total of 17 and country managers decide how many of those to focus on based on their local market knowledge. For Vietnam the number is six.
What attracted you to the field of market research?
I landed in this field thanks to my curiosity. I’ve always enjoyed digging for insights, connecting the dots and looking at the big picture. So while studying at university in Sydney, I chose marketing as one of my majors. And within this broad subject I found marketing strategy and marketing research to be particularly up my alley.
It was just so down-to-earth: being in the field, talking to the people on the streets, asking questions about real life. But it wasn't until I started my first job in marketing that I really saw the value of market research. And when I did, I knew I found a career I wanted to dedicate my life to.
Back in the day, when I was getting started in Vietnam, the industry was just finding its feet. The way clients looked at me when I was giving a blow-by-blow explanation of the numbers behind brand awareness, sales and loyalty, you’d think it was pure black magic!
And that’s how I found my purpose in giving clients guidance and confidence to take their businesses to the next level.
How would you describe your management style?
Let me take you back in time for this one. In 2014 when Ipsos first introduced the healthy organization concept in its Asia Pacific offices (based on the book “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business” by Patrick Lencioni), I discovered the importance of being vulnerable, as a leader.
In a nutshell, it’s about creating a foundation of trust where you hold each other accountable and focus on a common goal rather than letting your personal agenda, your ego, get in the way. And it just clicked.
So to integrate this concept into my life, I came up with my own definition of vulnerability. For me it’s putting myself out there and willing to get hurt. I am not afraid to show my weaknesses, to admit that I’m wrong when I’m wrong and to say I’m sorry and actually mean it.
In Vietnam, for the fear of losing face, leaders find it especially hard to own up to their mistakes. And this is exactly why it was so empowering to embrace vulnerability, because it shows my team that I am human. That I make mistakes just like everyone else. Revealing your flaws also makes it easier to give constructive criticism to your team.
What is the one thing you want job seekers to know about Ipsos and its corporate culture?
At Ipsos, our corporate culture is built on five values: integrity, curiosity, collaboration, client-first and entrepreneurial spirit. But if I were to pick a less corporate definition, I’d call us a ‘home of researchers’. We aim to provide an environment where our team members feel welcome and safe. Even the office layout reflects the idea, with lots of cozy nooks and crannies, house plants and relaxation areas.
When hiring for your team, what personal attributes do you look for in a candidate?
Going back to one of my core values, I’d say that in my hiring decisions I am guided by the same principle. I am looking for people who are not afraid of being authentic, being vulnerable, being humble. My ideal hire is someone who is willing to try and willing to learn; willing to fail and willing to move on. And they must be great collaborators and genuinely enjoy being part of a team.
And of course to be successful in market research you need to be naturally curious. You can be asking all the right questions but if you are not interested in the answers, this field is not for you. It’s a little bit like when we are kids, we go around asking ‘why’ because we want to understand the world. Some people retain this curiosity. Only the questions we ask here are very different!
Where do you want to take Ipsos Vietnam in the next 5 years?
Any predictions are a fool’s errand at the moment, with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on most industries. But one thing I can tell you with confidence is that the ambition of the company remains the same. After the initial setback, we have bounced back stronger and have cemented our position as a business partner of choice for our clients.
In terms of research solutions, the changes have actually been positive as the crisis has dramatically accelerated the pace of digitization. The digital solutions we were developing for the roll-out in a year or two are already in use. It happened literally overnight.
It shouldn't come as a surprise though, as globally Ipsos is ranked as number one in market research innovation, and I am very proud of my team who has transitioned seamlessly. Vietnam has finally caught up with the more digitally advanced countries, so there’s a silver lining in the disruption that is happening now.