Oz Adventure – My secondment in Melbourne

Written by Robyn Drysdale

It all began at one of our annual RDSi Brand Development days when a picture of a kangaroo appeared on the screen of the PowerPoint presentation. Along with most of my colleagues, I was very confused as to what this kangaroo represented – until our CEO put us out of our misery and announced with excitement: “there is an opportunity for one of you to go to Australia on a secondment!”. “What a great opportunity for one of my colleagues,” was my first thought – recently engaged, saving to buy a house… not really something I could think about at this point in my life. That was until I had one or two conversations with others and swiftly realised how crazy I was not to consider this amazing opportunity, and in fact grab it with both hands! I just needed to convince my fiancé, but with sun, beach and BBQs on the table, it didn’t take much convincing!

After what felt like years, it was finally time to bid farewell to the RDSi team whom I’d worked with for the last four years – the only team I had ever worked with in fact. I knew a bit about the company I was going to – they were called Galkal, had an office in Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore (I was heading to the Melbourne office), but I was moving across to the other side of the world – a hell of a flight home if we didn’t get on!

Thankfully we did get on (although I quickly realised that I was not quite on point with the Hipster Melbourne vibe – must try to be cooler!), and it was reassuring to find out that the Melbourne team’s specialisms were in Retail and FMCG – two sectors I had lots of experience working in during my time at RDSi. Little did I know how different researching these sectors could be in a new market.

Not yet convinced by the online / digital qual research options that are so popular in the UK, Australian clients love the traditional focus group – and we’re not talking your typical ninety-minute group, they are fonder of the three-hour group. I didn’t think it was possible to speak to six people about butter for this length of time, but here comes one of the big differences – Aussies are very passionate and patriotic when it comes to butter and in fact anything Australian-produced they can call their own. Along with being called ‘Robbo’, that being ‘filthy’ meant they were annoyed, and various other Aussie lingo, this patriotism was something I had to get used to – and in fact something I really enjoyed about this new set of consumers I got to speak to on a weekly basis. You may not think it, but delving into that key consumer insight and tension within the butter category – why is one butter the ‘hero’ archetype and the other is the ‘regular guy’? And other than yellow, what does the butter-world look like? – was hugely interesting.

Trends and cultural context are, unsurprisingly, extremely important to be aware of in such a unique market and therefore were a key focus at Galkal. I quickly learned that it is essential to understand the cultural narrative underpinning any client output. Again, although always floating around in the world of UK market research, this was a new focus for me and something I had to learn to constantly be aware of – building it into proposals, debriefs and of course the research process itself – often kicking things off with trends scans and an associated report output to set the scene, or better inform the job to be done.

On the retail side of things, I felt a bit smug that I had the upper hand. Online grocery deliveries are still new news in Australia, and the issues around implementation and very frustrated customers were all too familiar from my work in the UK with the Big Four. However, with an obvious focus on fresh produce, and the importance of supporting farmers, the supermarkets were a slightly more appealing and aspirational place to work here.

I will miss the great minds I worked with at Galkal, the constant adventure of conducting research somewhere that is not inherently familiar to me, travelling to random towns in rural Victoria that I can’t pronounce and, of course, the Melbourne coffee! But returning to a company that has nurtured me as a researcher from day one and bringing with me a completely fresh perspective and energy to implement everything I have learnt, is unbelievably rewarding – and I would encourage every market researcher to spend time during their career immersing themselves in a completely different market. You never know what you might learn!