In an interview with exchange4media, Richard Ingleton, COO, Kantar and Preeti Reddy, CEO, Kantar Insights, South Asia, talk about the sheer diversity of Indian consumers posing as a challenge to market research businesses and the global importance that India commands when it comes to the business. Excerpts:
How popular has the use of big data become in the Indian context and which industries are driving that trend?
Preeti Reddy: Big Data is today’s absolute buzzword. Most of our clients are using it in one way or the other. Largely what they have been doing is using their own data which includes transactional data, sales data etc. Lately clients have started talking to us about using primary data and other multiple sources of data with own data, which is something the big data is all about. What we are finding is that the usage of big data for strategy and for bringing better options for consumers is higher among the service businesses like telecom, finance and retail. Our FMCG clients have been a little slower in coming to it. Moreover, India is a very large backend market and provides backend services like advanced analytics on big data to markets like the US and the UK. So, the use of big data is common among the non FMCG clients, the FMCG clients are just getting there.
Richard Ingleton: What you see happening, almost everywhere, is clients struggling with the volume of data. The concept of big data is nice but applying that data to specific business problems is still something which we have not yet codified. In marketing, I think people are still struggling to bring multiple data sources to predict brand strategy, they are still struggling to find out which part of the consumer journey they can best influence. In many cases they are struggling to use it to calculate price points. Some businesses, which are big data businesses, are generally good at it from a functional marketing perspective. However, it’s still hard to see codified, consistent solutions anywhere in the world.
Does the sheer diversity of Indian consumers pose as a challenge to market research businesses? Also, what are some critical areas in which market research firms have evolved over the years?
Richard Ingleton: We are increasingly trying to move towards helping the marketers to make decisions in the moment. The ability to understand a consumer’s context and to send a message which is relevant to a particular moment is the trick that many marketers are pursuing. When you look at India, given the diversity of this place, having one marketing method alone isn’t going to work and it often is challenging to understand consumers with such limited approach.
As we know, market research firms are chiefly concerned about what people buy and why they buy. Historically, the only way to do market research has been through surveys and there are many different ways to do that. Now, I can know not just why people buy what they buy, particularly the why factor, simply because there are a lot of things I can do now, like mapping consumption patterns, using smart technology and many other things. The way the market research is conducted is evolving fast and we have dedicated teams to figure out how we can keep moving forward. What I have observed is that in less mature markets or the non-western markets, people don’t want to spend too much time on strategising. They want to know what to sell, where and at what price now and are not spending time on strategy like the western markets would, but with time that may change soon. Moreover, when the world is changing so fast and it is almost too complicated to understand sometimes. Earlier, the path to purchase was relatively simpler, but now the situation is entirely different. So, for marketers, the consumer behaviour complexity has become bigger than ever before and so we have to move faster to understand the insights that we offer to clients.
Preeti Reddy: What Richard said applies to India, especially when it comes to need for speed and need for greater experimentation. This has shrunk the strategy time for clients. A client today is saying that I would prefer 80% accuracy faster than to have 100% accuracy slower. So, those are the kind of trade-offs that we are making in the interest of speed for clients. It is also important to use the data that we already have than to generate new data every time. So, the ability and skill to look at multiple data points and connect them is the other change that we are witnessing in the case of what we offer to our clients.
How enduring are the insights that you offer and what kind of lifecycle do such insights have?
Richard Ingleton: If you look at the market research data closely, it is the context which changes and that gives rise to new data possibilities. So, understanding how I can go after those universal desires in a context makes sense for my consumers and those are the insights that we share with our clients.
Preeti Reddy: Even clients now can predict how long certain equilibrium is going to last and they have competition coming from all sides. So, while there are some enduring principles or fundamentals, however, there is also need that the tactic of that strategy is much faster and for that to happen we have to create a lot of agility.
Has digital complicated the data gathering game?
Richard Ingleton: It has got more complicated for sure. When you add a new variable to any equation it gets more complicated. We have added e-commerce and social media to the things that we need to understand the consumer, so it has got more complicated. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that we can’t solve it. Many information industries are evolving at the moment in the way that they have become more complex and the fact is that we have got to deal with it.
Preeti Reddy: I keep saying that this new empowered digital consumer is like friends with benefits. At one level they are far more empowered, while on the other hand they are giving you information voluntarily and we have to develop the ability to make sense of all the information that they are giving us. Earlier, we had to give incentives to people for their opinion and here are these digitally empowered people who are voluntarily doing so. Now, we are working towards harnessing and leveraging that information in a holistic way.
How would you explain the future trends in market research?
Richard Ingleton: The fact that we are in the business of understanding consumers will never change. For me there are two things that will change, one is about not just bringing together these disparate data sources in a coherent way, but also being able to analyse them. The second one is to what extent can we automate everything--from data collection to insights delivery. As the machines get more intelligent, you can expect to do more in the automated way. So, these are the two big changes that I foresee for my industry.
Preeti Reddy: The other trend that we will see in the coming time will be related to the kind of people that we will need in the research industry. Some of the old divides of the research business like quantitative, qualitative and analysis, all of that may actually disappear. When you will have data so freely available and data becomes a commodity, the value that we add to a client has to be the meaning that you extract from that data and the ability to do that will become extremely important.
What are Kantar’s plans for India?
Richard Ingleton: India is one of our nine focus countries and there are many reasons why it is so. One is the quality of people that we can develop in India. The second is the economic opportunity. But most importantly, it is the social opportunity by improving the life of the people through the public work that we do, like the sanitation schemes or the schemes related to infant mortality. We are also witnessing the emergence of local giants in the developing markets which is a good development and India is witnessing it along with markets like China, Indonesia and Mexico.
Preeti Reddy: Talking about India, you can expect greater use of technology in the way that we work. As Kantar in India, we are the largest when it comes to the research business with all the big brands that we have here. Some of the changes that we need to bring to the industry, Kantar in India will drive it, because we have the scale the will and the wherewithal to do that.