We’ve been conducting market research in the Middle East for over a decade. It’s always been a pretty good chunk of business for us; however, this year we’ve seen a marked increase in the number of projects, proposals and inquiries for research projects in the region – especially from Western companies seeking to gain decision support and competitive insights in countries like Iraq, where “opinion research” is, well, a little new.
It’s going to take decades to rebuild and retool in places like Iraq, Libya and other countries touched by the Arab Spring, and smart companies all over the world are increasing their investment in the region – which, of course, also includes market research and other market development and decision support exercises. We’ve certainly benefitted, of course, in a commercial sense, but it struck me today that there is also something quietly wonderful about this increased demand for our services in places formerly ruled by despots.
We are constantly being asked to give our opinions here in the US. If you are over 18, you’ve taken a survey. Might have even been one of ours. The Internet has dramatically changed the question asking business, certainly – but whether we are being asked to complete a survey over the phone, or bombarded with a withering torrent of “pop-up” opinion surveys on the sites war frequent every day, we surely couldn’t be blamed for suffering the occasional bout of “survey fatigue.” It happens to me, too – you’ve had a long day, and you get that call while you’re making dinner, and you just want to hang up.
Consider, though, how much we take that for granted. “Oh great. Another pollster, wanting to know who I plan to vote for.” Yet this is precisely the question that no one has been able to ask – or answer – in Iraq, Libya, or Tunisia. We are conducting projects in Iraq and other countries in the Middle East about all manner of consumer products and services, and here is something you won’t hear: “Oh, great. Someone wants my opinion again. Why won’t they leave me alone?”
The countries of the Arab Spring are now, finally, getting to make their voices heard after decades of oppression. The stories we rightly celebrate involve political freedoms – the right to demonstrate, the right to vote. But being able to share opinions about bottled water, or automobiles, or footwear – all the things we’ve been exposed to for our entire adult lives here in America – is also, in its way, a small, good thing. And whether it’s about politics or potato chips, we’re proud to be asking the questions.