FoMR 1: Where the growth is.

Living and working in India, this is probably an obvious place for me to start – but I also would have thought it should be an obvious place for all of us to start, though it seems that’s not the case.

If we are asking ourselves where the Future of Market Research (FoMR) lies, it’s probably sensible to consider where the future lies for the brands and businesses of our clients. Many of our major clients will be looking towards the BRICs (and the next markets behind them in the queue), where there is significant scope for rapid growth amongst a burgeoning middle class with increasing disposable income and an appetite for spending it. The not insignificant upheaval of recent years in more developed markets can only have accelerated this process. If marketing budgets are increasingly being moved in that direction, then research budgets will almost certainly follow.

Yet when I read about the FoMR, the things being discussed are almost totally irrelevant to the realities of MR here in India.

First, you read an awful lot about how people are living their lives online. Social media is transforming people’s attitudes to privacy and the survey is about to die a death as we’ll just be able to mine the reams of data that people trail behind them in an ever more complex web so we won’t actually need to ask anyone anything. Well, depending on who you want to find out about, there’s plenty to say to argue against that view even in the most developed of markets – but here, you’re lightyears away from being close to the truth.

Landline telephone penetration in India sits at somewhere between 30 and 40%, so the chances of the bulk of her 1.2 billion people living their lives online anytime soon is fairly remote. Yes, there are 400m mobile subscribers, but the bulk of them have simple handsets that just make calls and the roll out of 3g is tied up in your standard Indian bureaucracy anyway. If you’re looking at very high end consumers in the major metros you may get some joy from twitter, Orkut and Facebook but very few brands target groups are quite so refined as to target only these welathy few. Further, the real growth now is in rural and semi-urban areas and our likely data source there is going to be PAPI for some time to come.

Which brings me to another thing you read a lot about – there seems to be quite a groundswell around online data quality with all the big players rubbing their not inconsiderable skulls together to come up with a consensus on how we best manage panels to deliver quality data. No doubt, this is admirable and important work, but without digressing into a long and depressing rant about my travails over the past year or so, suffice it to say that I would love to have the problems that come with panel data in place of the quality issues I’m grappling with. The questionnaire building tool we have in MB defaults to PAPI – if you ask it why, the rationale is that the majority of interviews we conduct are still PAPI – given the rapid growth of research in markets where PAPI remains the norm, I can’t see that changing for some time. So, I wonder, where are the pan-industry working groups tackling the issues of interviewer quality (starting with paying a decent enough rate), field management and so on. It may be counter-intuitive – but much of the FoMR will be PAPI.

Finally on this – we’re very good in Market Research at not practicing what we preach. The way we have globalised is a prime example. We’re all aware (or should be) that to be a real success on the global stage it is likely that you will need to tailor your offer to meet local customs (whilst staying true to its core) – official MB blogger and all round market research hero Nigel Hollis has written a very good book on the matter. But I wonder how well the industry has done that with the branded tools and techniques it offers. I don’t think there are fundamental differences in the way people make brand decisions or process advertising based on culture – but their comfort and ability with telling us about how they do those things in unquestionably different. The former means that the tools we have exported work, the latter means that they could probably work much better. Undoubtedly, better tailoring of our tools and approaches to the needs of different cultures should be part of the FoMR debate.

So, I recognise the very real importance of keeping the home fires burning and making sure some speccy kid with an algorithm and a design degree doesn’t steal all our thunder in developed markets – but please, when you’re thinking about the FoMR, think about what’s happening in the markets where our industry is relatively healthy and growing and how we might keep it that way.

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