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National institute launched to help businesses grow with Asian consumers

Launched officially today, the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight (ACI) announced its strategy and plans for becoming the world's go-to centre for companies seeking to grow their business in Asia.

Top on the list is an Asia Consumer Summit, organised with the Financial Times. Modelled in format after the World Economic Forum in Davos, this event, to be attended by global business leaders, will be a platform to examine Asian consumers. The rest of this year's calendar is filled with conferences headlined by big names in the region, like Acer's Stan Shih, and uniquely Asian events including a seminar on "Ghosts, Spirits, Lucky Numbers and Other Superstitions" and the consumer.

The Institute, funded jointly by the Singapore Economic Development Board and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), is a world-class, first-of-its-kind institute focused on Asian consumers. Through research, education programmes and industry collaborations, ACI will help companies develop strategies for Asian markets. Hosted at NTU and funded up to $77 million over five years, the Institute will help businesses innovate brands, products and services, based on insight about pan-Asian consumer needs, wants, and preferences.

The Institute was officially launched at an inauguration ceremony at the Mandarin Orchard Hotel Singapore. Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade & Industry, S. Iswaran, presided over the event.

In his speech, Mr. Iswaran noted that the launch of the institute is in tandem with the shift in economic focus to Asia. He added that Singapore's ideal location and integrative research capabilities in biomedical sciences and engineering will benefit consumer goods companies looking to access and capture market opportunities in the region and beyond.

"Singapore's physical connectivity and cultural proximity to the region, coupled with our multi-cultural talent base, makes us an ideal outward looking pan-Asian hub for many research agencies and consultancies to acquire a nuanced understanding of similarities and differences among Asian consumers," said Mr. Iswaran.

Top executives of global consumer goods and market research companies also attended the event. They included Unilever, ADK, Kraft Foods, Research in Motion, and Nielsen, which have committed to collaborating with ACI on various initiatives. Also present were Professor Amitava Chattopadhyay from INSEAD, Professor Shi Zhang from the UCLA, Ms Leung Cheong Tai, President (Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa) from Nielsen, and Mr BV Pradeep, Vice President (Consumer & Market Insight) from Unilever, who participated in panel discussions on consumer insights, and strategy and growth.

"Unilever is delighted to support ACI. We need thought leadership and insights about Asian consumers that we can use for marketing and product innovations." said Mr Pradeep.

Ms Leung said, "As consumer needs evolve at an increasingly rapid pace, insights into how and why they make purchasing decisions become even more critical for companies to win, and also identify emerging demand for growth. We welcome the ACI's initiatives to accelerate the development of talents in the region, which will foster an even stronger community of professionals to help companies win."

At the event, NTU President, Bertil Andersson highlighted ACI's relevance to NTU's strategy of becoming a New Silk Road of knowledge that combined the best of the East and West. "The study of Asian consumer insight is one that relies on expertise across many disciplines. Say, you are looking to make inroads into the Asian retail markets. You may start by looking to history, culture, psychology, to figure out what goes on in the mind of the consumers. This requires a multi-disciplinary approach. At NTU, ACI will have access to some of the world's best brains in fields like marketing, culture intelligence, accounting, engineering, and very soon, neuro-science when NTU's new medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, set up in partnership with Imperial College London, enrols its first 50 students in August next year," he said.

The Institute is led by Executive Director Bernd Schmitt, who is currently at NTU as a Nanyang Visiting Professor. A professor of international business at Columbia Business School, New York, and Director at the Centre on Global Brand Leadership, Professor Schmitt has taught and conducted research on Asian consumers for almost 20 years, at universities such as CEIBS in China, Yonsei University in South Korea, and Hong Kong University. He has also consulted for a variety of organizations Sony in Japan, Samsung, Lotte, and Amore Pacific and Hanjin in South Korea, Wheelock in Hong Kong and Tata Industries in India.

"The Asian consumers are set to become the number one priority for companies around the world. Vibrant economies and youthful demographics are creating the world's fastest growing middle class. Firms that are seeking that next phase of growth cannot ignore this region and I'm most excited for this opportunity to lead this pioneering work at the frontier of the global consumer franchise," said Professor Schmitt.

Conferences, Seminars and Executive Programmes

ACI's flagship event is the Asia Consumer Summit, which will be the global platform to examine issues of growth and strategy, exploring Asia's latest consumer trends and how to capitalise on business opportunities that arise from them. Organised in partnership with the Financial Times, it is fashioned after the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, and will bring together the world's most influential and iconic leaders from business-to-consumer (B2C) companies, research firms, creative agencies and academia. The inaugural conference is scheduled for October 11, 2012.

Prior to that, ACI will be organizing its first seminar on Friday, 13th April, at 1808hrs. Titled "Ghosts, Spirits, Lucky Numbers and Other Superstitions and How They Influence Consumer Behaviour", this seminar will help retailers, hoteliers, property developers and other companies unravel the mysteries of how superstitions affect consumer perceptions, decisions and ultimately business. For more tailored insights on market-specific trends and issues, ACI will be conducting several Country Series seminars this year. The first of the Country Series takes place in July, with the spotlight on South Korea. This will be followed by a seminar on India in August, and one on Indonesia in December. The Institute will also offer executive education courses for working professionals. It will also develop customised courses for companies that want their employees to be trained to meet their specific needs.


ACI, through its research fellows, conducts academic research in areas such as consumer decision-making, consumer psychology and consumer culture. ACI fellows are a multi-disciplinary faculty from universities in the region, including NTU, National University of Singapore, Singapore Management University, INSEAD, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. ACI has already invited professors from leading US business schools, such as University of Chicago, University of California, Los Angeles, and Columbia University, to present their research. It has established a partnership with the Centre on Customer Insight at the University of St Gallen, Switzerland.

Master of Science Programme

ACI, together with the Nanyang Business School, will launch a Master of Science in Marketing programme in October 2012 to help nurture talent that understands Asian consumers, and possesses the know-how to reach out to them. This one-year, part-time programme will focus on developing quantitative and qualitative research skills to analyse, evaluate and appreciate the unique needs of Asian consumers. Students will learn well-established research methods like survey design as well as cutting-edge methods such as ethnography, text mining and Bayesian analysis. More than just theory, participants will learn how to implement and apply these methods in practically relevant contexts, such as design, branding and product innovation.

Industry Collaborations

ACI invites companies to engage in joint projects and create "next practices" for areas such as understanding young Asian females, "the bottom of the pyramid" and emotional consumption. Corporations can sponsor company-specific research projects and case studies, which will provide them with key strategic insights into how they can grow their businesses in Asia.

Contact: Feisal Abdul Rahman
Nanyang Technological University

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