Turks’ cultural codes barrier for healthy surveys

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The unique characteristics of Turkish people make the job of researchers in the country much harder, according to an experienced researcher.

“People of this region have their own specific characteristics. On the one hand, it is easy to approach them, but on the other hand, it might not be enough even to double-check their answers,” said Halil İbrahim Zeytin, founder of Akademetre Research, which is in its 20th year in the sector.

“Depending on the subject, Turkish people will provide you with an answer easily; the non-respondent rate is much lower than the Europeans,” he added.

“If you approach them and give them the feeling that their views are important; they will open their doors. But we have to cross-check the answers. On certain issues though; there are higher barriers; like sexuality. And depending on the periods the barriers on political issues are also higher.”

Tell us about the research sector in Turkey. It does not have such a long history I assume.

Indeed; it rather started to flourish after the 1980s.

The history of the research market goes in parallel with the liberalization of Turkey, both in terms of politics and economics. A decade after the 1980 military coup, people started to feel more at ease to express their views and we started to transition to a liberal market economy.

And thanks to the liberalization of the economy we have seen the entry of multinational companies in Turkey. That led to the need for data and this in return has speeded the development of the sector. I can even say that these companies have thought research to

Turkey; in terms of methodology and transfer of know-how. But currently, when you consider that, with a population of 80 million, Turkey has the world’s biggest 16th economy, the research sector’s market share stands at 450 million Turkish Liras ($76.4 million); one tenth of that of Poland’s, and there are too many actors in the market.

Is it difficult to conduct research with the Turkish people?

People of this region have their own specific characteristics. On the one hand, it is easy to approach them, but on the other hand, it might not be enough even to double-check their answers.

To give you an example; we conducted a research for a European company for their snack product. In the tests for tasting, we got 3.75 points over 5 which made the company very happy and ready to enter the market. They told us this was 2,6 in Germany and they had a big success in the German market.

We explained to them that Germans are more objective; they can easily say I like it or I don’t. But Turkish people don’t give a negative answer when you offer them something; even if this is a test for taste. So for the Turkish market, the normal rate is 3.80. This is simply cultural.

Depending on the subject, Turkish people will provide you with an answer easily; the non-respondent rate is much lower than the Europeans.

If you approach them and give them the feeling that their views are important; they will open their door. But we have to cross-check the answers.

On certain issues though; there are higher barriers; like sexuality. And depending on the periods the barriers to political issues are also higher.

What do you mean by that?

Following the coup in 1980, the non-respondent rate was high, in fact, the rate of response was around 30 or 35 percent.

We also see a similar trend recently; especially since the coup attempt of 2016 which was followed by a period of emergency rule.

Then let’s start talking about the trends of these recent years. What would be the first observation you would make, looking at the past 20 years?

If I were to give you a spontaneous answer and in fact, the word spontaneous evokes one of the key observations I have; spontaneity is replacing planned shopping for instance.

Let me explain. Until recently we have been analyzing behaviors based on this equation: Values-convictions-stance-behavior. In other words, we have a theoretical approach which dictates that people’s political or consumer behaviors are shaped by their stance which is shaped by their values and convictions.

But with a digitalized and faster-turning world, we have started to see that this equation is not working for the past 20-25 years. People started to develop stances based on their behaviors. Their behaviors are more automatic then planned; they are much more spontaneous.

In the past when we needed a coat; we would go shopping for days. We would take a friend with us to see some magazines; it was also a social activity. We used to go the next day as well to see other alternatives. We call it planned shopping. Currently, people are getting away from planned shopping and there is more tendency for spontaneous shopping.

What does this tell us?

First of all, this is telling us that big retail shops have to close, and in fact, they are closing. In the past 10 years hypermarkets spreading over 7,000 square meters have been losing money. We see smaller markets.

And why is that?

There is a change in the production structure and that changes everything from trade to governance to ethics. We are talking about what Alvin Toffler has named as prosumer. People want to be in the production phase of what they consume. People are getting away from ownerships. Most probably our grandchildren are not going to understand why we are working all day and spending our life to own a house. There is a trend to pay as much as one’s consumes; sharing economy will be more important than the conventional economy. We are going towards a world where you don’t define yourself with what you own.

This is also shaping political relations. We are on a transition phase and currently as researcher we are trying to understand the people who are on the transition phase.

Well, then how does all this affect politics?

As of now, we cannot observe the reflections on political behavior. But when we are in a period where the individual wants to take part in all aspects of all the processes, we cannot exclude the political domain.

We have political parties that are developing policies for people with common needs. Think about the workers’ movement of the 60s, 70s. The actors have run all their lives after the same ideologies, have participated in the same demonstrations, eve wore the same outfits. But look at the demonstrations in the world and Turkey.

It is impossible to define them with demography, with their world view or their position in the political spectrum. These same people will not come together afterward; they will join other people in other demonstrations.

So there will not be an ideological homogeneity.

Indeed, we see spontaneous situations and the political parties remain behind as conventional institutions. They keep mulling whether they should address the center, or the nationalists or the left-wing. They still see people in segments according to demography or ideology. Yet they have to see the individuals.

But it is difficult to address all individuals one by one. How can you have custom made politics?

We say public opinion, there is no longer public opinion. I am not talking about touching each and every single individual. I am talking about understanding human beings, not the society, not the ideology. We are talking about involving the individual to the political process, it’s not about the individual it is about the human being as a concept. Political parties are for understanding this transformation.

You have conducted recently an opinion poll for Kadir Has University. How come the majority of the people have said there is no political vacuum?

Actually this confirms what I am saying. What we need is not an ideology or these are conventional instruments, what we need is a new approach.

*Who is Halil İbrahim Zeytin?

Halil İbrahim Zeytin is the founder of Akademetre Research, which is on its 20th year in the sector, and a board member of Turkey Researchers Association. Zeytin is also currently member of the academic staff of the Marmara University’s Communication Faculty, where he is giving lectures on research and marketing.

He served between 2006-2011 as the head of the Research Methodologies department at the Communication Faculty, of the Marmara University. Zeytin has been conducting opinion polls and research since 1994. For the past 10 years he has been conducting opinion polls to reveal social political and economic trends in Turkey for Kadir Has University.

He is an advisor for several international companies on branding, advertisement, consumer behaviors, image, corporate reputation as well as market research.

Hurriyet Daily News

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