Author - Octavio Murekian

International Body Image and the Issues with Purely Quantitative Marketing Research

International Body Image and the Issues with Purely Quantitative Marketing Research


Consumer Insights

By Octavio Murekian There is little doubt that quantitative research has been slowly and steadily taking over the social sciences in the past century. There are some valid reasons for this, and whilst I find myself rooting for qualitative methods there is a stone cold logic to numbers that seems to comfort researchers. In marketing research however, the dominance of quantitative studies perplexes me, not because I believe that it is not useful (It is a critical source of information), but because you can make completely erroneous assumptions (and possibly expensive errors!) by focusing solely on the numbers. International body confidence and the issue of cultural understanding As I was looking around the Internet, I saw a Daily Mail article proclaiming Mexico to be the most body confident country in the world. Intrigued I decided to read the study (Done by GFK, a large and prestigious market research company) with the results as follows: Mexico tops the chart, with a 29% completely satisfied whilst Japan is at the bottom and whilst it is interesting to note that Mexico is one of the most obese countries in the world whilst japan one of the slimmest, personal confidence need not be tied to weight. What you might also notice is that there is a high representation of Latin and Hispanic countries in the top 10 spots, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Spain. You wouldn’t be surprised to assume that from those results, weight loss or body changing products might feel that there is little market across them, they would of course be wrong. Further reading the study showed me that they asked all respondents one question ”How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with your looks?’’ Whilst I believe there are inherent methodological issues with resuming a complex construct such as body confidence to one question, as well as having a question phrased in a positive and negative way, lets just for the sake of this article take their question at face value and assume that everyone understood it correctly and responded on their looks. The issue I have with the study is the fact that its results are very unlikely to represent actual body confidence, and also unlikely to understand where this body confidence stems from. As a veritable book could be written on each country, for the sake of brevity I will focus on some specific examples for underlying cultural forces that shaped the answers. Latin culture, for example, is characterized by what some sociologists call machismo, which “requires individual men to make a display of physical power and social domination, and to disdain any feminine, or supposedly feminine, traits” (Leiner 1994, p. 79). This machismo is a trait that was inherited by colonial Spaniards and among other things it was suggested as a form of control for the male body (Hardin 2002). This machismo culture would have indeed made male respondents to make a positive assertion about their bodies (In their minds, influenced by machismo culture, a lack of confidence would have been seen as a feminine trait) therefore tainting their responses and making the answers irrelevant. For a marketeer being aware of this powerful cultural force and how it works is crucial, as it is a driver in the behaviour of consumers. Macho culture, for example can explain for Mexican male consumers’ taste in fashion or other goods, and the use of this underlying cultural force can make for powerful marketing. To uncover how this type of cultural forces shape behaviours however, a researcher needs to have a level of granularity and freedom in analyses that is difficult to achieve in a quantitative study. This is especially the case as competing influences can affect how these forces are expressed; macho culture in Mexico is not the same as in Argentina. Despite the similarities between the countries, and understanding where there is cross over between cultural influences and where there is not is critical for marketing managers when designing efficient and hard-hitting campaigns across the continent. I used machismo as an example to illustrate this point, however it is only one of many influences across cultures that would have affected the answer. Turning our attention to the ‘least confident’ country on the study Japan, the study is ignoring important traits of Japanese society. Japanese, for example is a vague language; certainty is not common within communication. It is not uncommon when having a conversation with a Japanese person to hear the word ‘maybe’ several times. Likewise in Japanese society, traits such as vanity and narcissism, which are common in Latin American cultures, are thoroughly frowned upon. Japanese proverbs such as ‘the nail that stands out gets hammered’ illustrate this type of mentality, knowing that it is therefore not surprising how the Japanese participants responded; this is however not necessarily how they truly feel about themselves. — Through this brief analysis my aim was to illustrate the issue with making assertions out of purely quantitative data. Our identity, our behaviour and our consumption of goods and services are thoroughly influenced by culture, and whilst this might always not be evident at first sight, are always there. This is where a strong qualitative focus can bring out an understanding of behaviours much more difficult to access qualitatively. Octavio Murekian is Toucan Insights’ Co-Founder and Research Director and a PhD Candidate in Consumer Behaviour from the University of London. References: Hardin, M. (2002). ‘Altering Masculinities: The Spanish Conquest and the Evolution of the Latin American Machismo’. International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies (2002) 7: Leiner, M. (1994).’Sexual politics in Cuba: Machismo, homosexuality, and AIDS. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Food & Beverages – (Paraguay)

by Octavio Murekian


Increasing the sales revenue of the soda line in a soft drinks company.

Problem Statement / Initial Situation

The client, a soft drinks / mineral water company in Latin America, contacted Toucan Insights concerned that there had been a stagnation in their sales revenue on their line of soft drinks. The client wanted to continue their growth and understand why it had capped when their data showed there was still more market to capture. The company’s main market was around Paraguay’s two main cities: Asuncion and City of the East.

Research Development and Strategy

The market research study for this case involved a heavy qualitative and observational bend, the use of focus groups, in depth interviews and consumer observation were used in conjunction with a more quantitative market analysis. The research was aimed at understanding:
    • What the Paraguayan consumer wanted from his beverage
    • How the purchasing decision was made
    • What regional cultural factors influenced this decision
    • The most poignant messages influencing these consumers
    • Identifying the best marketing channels to reach the consumers
    • What key influencers had an effect on the consumers
    • How the company’s sales process could be improved
The main research findings uncovered by the study were:
    • In Paraguay the weekly shop and purchase decision is predominantly done by women.
    • Soft drinks are associated with family meals and spending time with family.
    • The main worry they have when buying drinks for their family is the drink quality.
    • There are four dominant flavours in the market (Cola, Guarana, Pineapple, Orange) these are roughly in line with the company’s offering.
    • Most of the consumers tend to shop weekly on Sundays on small local shops rather than large supermarkets chains.
    • Radio and local radio personalities have a huge impact on consumers and are listened to daily.
Following the findings from the study, Toucan Insights laid out a new marketing and sales plan for the company including, among others, the following recommendations:
  • Target Consumers: Direct the marketing actions to your target (Customer Personas) identified during the previous stage.
  • Messages: The messaging should associate the drink with the ‘ideal Paraguayan’ family time, showing a family congregating for a meal at a table together emphasizing the high quality of the drink itself
  • Sales process: Distribution times and operations were reformulated seeking to maximize the presence of products during peak demand.
  • Marketing budget was redistributed, allocating more resources and investment in developing communicational materials for the channels influencing the target.


In the 6 months after the changes were made the company noted a 35% increase in sales at no increase in their marketing budget.

Critical Distance in Consumer Insights Studies

Industry experts, Researchers, & Professors

  By Octavio Murekian Why you shouldn’t always go local: Maintaining critical distance in consumer insights studies. In one of my last pieces, I wrote about a study done by a large market research company on body image. In the study I noted how the results where absolutely skewed by cultural factors which where not picked up by the researchers. The outcome was that the results and conclusions that where drawn by this study where almost meaningless when looking at it from a consumer insights perspective. It is however important to note that the solution to this is not clear cut or easy. One might think that this solution would be to then employ local experts, however this solution might suffer from a problem well-known and recognized  by ethnographers, the issue of critical distance. Going native, is a term given to researchers when studying a culture to forgo their critical distance and become unable to objectively analyse the setting that they are in (LeCompte & Goetz 1982). This loss of objectivity comes from the researcher being so immersed in their local culture that they can only see issues through that culture’s perspective to the detriment of any insights they may gain from their research. The solution proposed to this issue for researchers is to regain critical distance again, this is done through a periodic withdrawal from the field of study, which in theory allows the researcher to return to a more critical state (Whyte 1955).  Other researchers are more pessimistic about this and they argue that the particular piece of research should terminate at the point when the researcher notices they have gone native (Everhart 1977). This leads me to the issue with local agencies, which exist immersed in their own culture to a point where their objectivity and critical distance are in doubt. Referring to my original piece on Mexico, where I looked at how machismo is understood by Latin cultures and its impact on how respondents would answer questions of body image. Talking this issue through with different parties, including several market research experts from LATAM, they failed to recognize this issue until I mentioned it specifically, subsequently agreeing it as a major factor for the study. One of the reasons I was able to do this is of course my training and experience as a researcher, however it is not the only explanation. It is the fact that I have been away (living, studying and working) from LATAM, that allows me to dispassionately dissect these cultural constructs. This has allowed me to gain sufficient critical distance from the population that I study whilst allowing me to still retain my native expertise in it. This is therefore the main issue with local agencies, the fact that they usually do not consider critical distance when approaching studies of consumer insights. It is therefore important for clients, when requesting pieces of analysis in a market to try and understand how this issue is being addressed by the agency in question. The agency should not be so far removed that the culture is alien to them, leading to the lack of cultural expertise and sensitivity shown in the study on global body image. There should also not be a blindness to these powerful constructs that comes from never objectively and dispassionately analysing the culture one lives in. At Toucan Insights we are passionate about our research ensuring we collaborate with local and international experts to ensure that this critical balance is maintained. We believe this brings out the most accurate and powerful insights, allowing companies to understand their consumers, better serving their needs and attracting them to their offering. Octavio Murekian is Toucan Insights’ Director of Research and a PhD Candidate in Consumer Behaviour from the University of London.  

The Happiest of All

Consumer Insights

  By Octavio Murekian Recently trawling across the internet I saw a piece of news on the BBC claiming that Finnish people where the happiest in the world according to a thorough survey. Sceptical as I am at the thought of accurately measuring a construct as complicated as happiness through quantitative means I thought I would give it a read. It turns out that the World Happiness Report is a study on 157 countries measuring the ‘happiness’ of the inhabitants. I have read several of these and it seems that usually there is a strong Nordic and Scandinavian presence at the top of the table, this was again the case this year with Finland being crowned the world’s happiest country according to the study. An interesting find however, is that according to their measures, Latin countries tended to be much higher on the list than they should be when taking into consideration their income. This phenomenon was analysed by Dr. Mariano Rojas, an economist from the University of Puebla in Mexico. His analysis went on to make several points, firstly that the measures are neglecting important aspects of well- being and happiness as seen in latin america. Secondly, a recognition of social values into the measures would allow for a better measurement. One such explanation is the high human relations oriented culture of Latin America. Unsurprisingly for an economist, and despite arguing for the follies of making a one size fits all measurement to happiness, the argument then delves into values and more mathematics and correlations with happiness, such as Life Evaluation changing the model to be less dependent on income and more on social factors to explain happiness. Another variable, positive affect is then shown through a regression exercise to be higher in latin america than what would be predicted by income. The conclusion was that the variables used for the study have less accuracy in latin america, I however would go one step furhter and argue that it is futile to measure happiness. Whilst not super happy with the aformentioned explanation, where I believe a lack of thought into culture starts tainting the analysis is when another cultural construct that is mentioned by Dr. Rojas, that I agree helps explain is the importance of nurturing family ties in Latin America, and how close families remain through their lifetime as opposed to other western countries, using several quantitative measures such as time spent nurturing family bonds and time living at home as variables. This variables showed latin countries on one end and scandinavian nordic countries on the other. This analysis I believe is wrong, and betrays a lack of knowledge of Scandinavian culture. As a Latin American married to a Swede I can attest that family bonds in Sweden are much more ritualized than in latin america, board games and official family meetings are very common (much more so than the more informal ones in latin america) and family bonds just as strong as latin ones. How parenthood is understood in the culture also has an effect on the results, in latin america where parenthood and childhood is understood primarily as a sheltering and highly dependent process from an otherwise hostile environment, would lead respondents to tend to agree that one should take care of family first, or that making parents proud is the most important. Conversely in Scandinavia where parenthood is understood as creating ‘independent’ individuals would lead them to respond less, this however would not mean that in fact Scandinavian parents are less preoccupied with their children or families less close, it just means that the values that they hold differ. This renders the values he uses useless as a means of explanation. Whilst I could go on and tear apart the values he used one by one I believe I have made my point, that the lack of understanding of what the cultural values and representations make the analysis of very complicated constructs such as happiness nearly impossible. It is only through a thorough look at how concepts are understood across different cultures that one may gain actual actionable knowledge. Otherwise we are risk making a shallow and inaccurate analysis regardless of how sophisticated the methods that we are using are. Octavio Murekian is Toucan Insights’ Co-Founder and Research Director and a PhD Candidate in Consumer Behaviour from the University of London.

The Sharing Economy Isn’t About Sharing At All

Markets & Culture

  By Giana Eckhardt and Fleura Bardhi A version of this article was originally published in the Harvard Business Review. The sharing economy has been widely hailed as a major growth sector, by sources ranging from Fortune magazine to President Obama. It has disrupted mature industries, such as hotels and automotives, by providing consumers with convenient and cost efficient access to resources without the financial, emotional, or social burdens of ownership. But the sharing economy isn’t really a “sharing” economy at all; it’s an access economy. Sharing is a form of social exchange that takes place among people known to each other, without any profit. Sharing is an established practice, and dominates particular aspects of our life, such as within the family. By sharing and collectively consuming the household space of the home, family members establish a communal identity. When “sharing” is market-mediated — when a company is an intermediary between consumers who don’t know each other — it is no longer sharing at all. Rather, consumers are paying to access someone else’s goods or services for a particular period of time. It is an economic exchange, and consumers are after utilitarian, rather than social, value. Our own research on Zipcar demonstrates this point. When consumers use the world’s leading car sharing service they don’t feel any of the reciprocal obligations that arise when sharing with one another. They experience Zipcar in the anonymous way one experiences a hotel; they know others have used the cars, but have no desire to interact with them. They don’t view other Zipsters as co-sharers of the cars, but rather are mistrustful of them, and rely on the company to police the sharing system so it’s equitable for everyone. This insight − that it is an access economy rather than a sharing economy – has important implications for how companies in this space compete. It implies that consumers are more interested in lower costs and convenience than they are in fostering social relationships with the company or other consumers. Companies that understand this will have a competitive advantage. For example, we are currently seeing the rise of Uber in the short-term car-ride market. Uber positions itself squarely around its pricing, reliability, and convenience. This is encapsulated in their tagline, “Better, faster and cheaper than a taxi.” In comparison, Lyft, which offers an almost identical service, positions itself as friendly (“We’re your friend with a car”), and as a community (“Greet your driver with a fistbump”). Lyft has not seen nearly the same amount of growth as Uber, and a contributing reason is because they are putting too much emphasis on consumers’ desire to “share” with each other. By this logic, AirBnB’s recent rebranding, which highlights ‘people, places, love and community,’ will be a misstep. AirBnB wants its new logo to be a universal symbol of sharing, yet the reason why most consumers use AirBnB is the value they can get for their money, especially in expensive cities. Additionally, when choosing a place to stay, most consumers opt to have the entire place to themselves, meaning they don’t share the space with the owner at all. AirBnB provides the means for travelers and owners to engage in a market transaction of short term access, and their brand should reflect this. In the access economy, there will be two key elements of success:
  1. Competition between companies will not hinge on which platform can provide the most social interaction and community, contrary to the current sharing economy rhetoric. Our research shows that consumers simply want to make savvy purchases, and access economy companies allow them to achieve this, by offering more convenience at a lower price. Companies that emphasize convenience and price over the ability to foster connections will have a competitive advantage. Start-ups that have tried to facilitate direct connections between consumers have found low levels of trust between strangers when there is no market mediation. For example, Eatro, a food sharing start-up in London, discovered the hard way the challenges of getting consumers to pay for food cooked by other consumers, due to hygiene concerns. Eatro has now morphed into the market-mediated One Fine Meal, where consumers can order meals prepared by professional chefs and delivered to their door in 30 minutes.
  2. Consumers think about access differently than they think about ownership. And most of our best practices in marketing are built upon an ownership model. For example, being a part of a brand community is important to consumers for many products and services that they own, as they represent who they are, and consumers appreciate being able to share identity building practices with like-minded others. When consumers are able to access a wide variety of brands at any given moment, like driving a BMW one day and a Toyota Prius the next day, they don’t necessarily feel that one brand is more “them” than another, and they do not connect to the brands in the same closely-binding, identity building fashion. They would rather sample a variety of identities which they can discard when they want. Thus, trying to foster a community of consumers around an access economy brand is rarely successful, as we found with Zipcar. Zipcar tried to foster a brand community by sending out chatty newsletters and facilitating meet-ups, but these were not received well. Consumers are not looking for social value out of rental exchanges with strangers.
The access economy is changing the structure of a variety of industries, and a new understanding of the consumer is needed to drive successful business models. A successful business model in the access economy will not be based on community, however, as a sharing orientation does not accurately depict the benefits consumers hope to receive. It is important to highlight the benefits that access provides in contrast to the disadvantages of ownership and sharing. These consist of convenient and cost-effective access to valued resources, flexibility, and freedom from the financial, social, and emotional obligations embedded in ownership and sharing. Giana Eckhardt is a professor of marketing at the School of Management, Royal Holloway University of London & a Consultant at Toucan insights.