There’s more emphasis on impact rather than just quality of insights in MR: Amit Adarkar
Market research provides detailed insights into the competitors, helps businesses understand customer pain points, taste and preferences, latest marketing trends and consumer buying patterns, economic shifts and demographics. That’s why most of the smart business owners and marketers never underestimate research and give a lot of importance to it as it helps them formulate the right direction and strategy for their businesses. Sectors across various industries are fast moving towards using research to get a better and sharper understanding of the market.
Research today is the backbone of building a strong business in a market which is highly dynamic and challenging. In the complex world of business that we operate in today, it helps to gain a deep insight into the target markets, gather detailed information about the customers, understand competitor strategies as well as to get a clear picture of the market environment. Every marketer today has deep faith in research – be it for creating a new ad campaign or to further fortify their brand in the market.
As part of our series on Talking Insights, this week Adgully features the conversation with Amit Adarkar, CEO, Ipsos India, who shares some deep insights into the growing importance of research for brands and businesses, the level of data collection digitisation in the post-pandemic world, codifying consumer behaviour change, and much more.
Market research has evolved in the last two decades. How is research as a catalyst helping brands today and what are the trends one can expect in the next few years in the research domain?
Over the last two decades, there have been significant changes in the research process as well as research outcome. Let me first talk about the process. MR today is much more agile and digitised. Our industry has adopted technology at every stage more than before. Thanks to digitised data collection, one has far better control on quality of data. Even data analysis has become much more sophisticated than earlier. Let us now look at the research outcome. Traditionally, MR was meant to provide our clients with actionable insights. Now, there is greater emphasis on impact rather than just the quality of insights. We encounter many more ‘non-standard’ research briefs that require us to be more business oriented.
Historically, MR has focused a lot on survey research centered around attitudes as they were seen as harbingers of future behaviour. In today’s highly digitised world characterised by System 1, I expect MR to deal with behaviour data much more in future. I expect MR to transcend mere survey data and use transversal data (social, secondary, behavior) as an effective supplement to survey research. I also expect a lot more predictive analytics and trend spotting in the mix we offer in future.
How has the pandemic disrupted the activities in research? How did your company navigate and collaborate with teams during these times and ensured that research activities were carried out smoothly and findings were shared with clients on time?
Before the pandemic, India was one of the few large MR markets where significant data was getting captured ‘offline’, that is, in person. The pandemic proved to be a game changer for the industry. The level of data collection digitisation and use of mobile/ online surveys has gone up 5-10x within a short span. This was not easy. We had to build these alternate resilient methodologies during the lockdown itself to keep the business running. Our global expertise in running online/ mobile researches in 60+ countries was critical in this. We also launched a slew of mobile/ online solutions riding on these methodologies. The response has been overwhelming. We were also the first one to launch Ipsos Digital – our fully automated DIY MR platform – in India. And finally, we expanded our own online panel in India as well as the network of our panel partners.
The most difficult challenge was to nudge our colleagues to adopt change. I am really proud of the way our staff took up the gauntlet and delivered.
There is a new normal that everyone is talking about with behavioral changes happening among buyers. Can you share your views on what kind of behavioral change is expected and what is your advice for brands to face some of the challenges?
Yes, people do talk about the new normal and how things have changed post the pandemic. To me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Most visible changes such as sanitizer usage, mask discipline are just early indicators. We are yet to realise the far-reaching impact of what is yet to come. At Ipsos, we use the MAPPS (Motivation, Ability, Processing, Physical & Social) framework to codify behaviour change. Let’s take ‘Ability’ as an example. The pandemic has given the ‘Ability’ to work remotely to many white-collar workers. Before the pandemic hit us, CMIE estimated under 20 million Indians to be employed in white-collar jobs located mainly in large urban agglomerates. Even if 20% of these choose to work remotely in perpetuity in future, we can imagine the impact on urban de-congestion, migration, in-home consumption, home improvement, etc. Obviously, a lot of mega changes depend on government regulations or corporate policies after the pandemic threat has gone down. Even without such big macro nudges, I see a lot of potential for wellness products & services, technology products promising efficiency & convenience, personal medtech, entertainment and home improvement. Our research shows that ‘trust’ will play an even bigger role in brand choice. Also, people will be more open to premiumisation due to increased ‘experiential’ proclivity (Let me try. There is only one life). This will be a good time for marketers to play on trust & Genuity and also to bundle/ unbundle/ re-bundle propositions to maximise acceptance.
What are the various steps and processes you follow after you receive the brief from your client on a research assignment? How do you ensure that the end objective and client expectations are met?
The initial stage of engaging with the client to fully understand the business requirement (and not just research requirement) is extremely critical. A badly designed research cannot be salvaged at all! Our senior researchers are trained to uncover the ‘why’ behind the brief and ‘what next’ after the research is delivered. After reaching alignment, our team works out a proposal encapsulating what we have understood to be the requirement and the appropriate design involving multiple data collection methodologies. After we get a go ahead, our project management and operations team take over the execution. Post execution, our research team takes over the process to put together findings and our recommendation. Senior researcher involvement and continuous client engagement are key to delivering as per objectives. We build in a lot of fail-safes at every stage to ensure everything is on track.
Getting the right research panel forms the crux for most of the research that is done. How does one go about the choice of panel and ensure that the final output is correct and credible?
Panels play a critical role in delivering mobile & online research. For offline (that is, in-person research), typically we use geography or voter lists as a guide in working out sampling frames. We have an internal global division that centrally manages all owned panels as well as panel partners across more than 60 countries. This gives us a high degree of consistency and control over quality. The expertise doesn’t stop at building the panel. The real test is in managing and nurturing panels over time to deliver high fidelity data. Based on the profile of people we want to speak to, we may use a blend of cocktail or panels. This expertise is owned in-house. Sample validation exercises, regular churn to reduce fatigue, automated checks on responses are just some of the checks that we run.
There are tons of data available today which need to be carefully studied and used. Do research agencies effectively use AI/ ML and leverage to get more accurate, useful and insightful findings?
To be honest, we could certainly do a lot more than what we do right now. The survey data we typically handle is ‘deep’ rather than ‘big’. Training of AI/ ML models works more efficiently and effectively with big data. Surely, when we deal with social data, AI/ ML plays a critical part. But for standard survey researches, researcher role is critical is connecting the dots. We are exploring how AI/ ML could be an aid to our researchers when they deal with complex data (for example, analysing videos or images).
In today’s scenario, sectors like hygiene and healthcare must have explored research in a big way looking at the pandemic situation. Which are the other sectors that have used research to get a better understanding of the market during these times? Any trends noticed in the new sector?
We see a lot of interest in technology/ start-up space. Increasing digitisation has led to substantial activity in this space and a lot of our clients are launching new technology-based products/ services that are in-a-way new to the post pandemic world and hence, the need to conduct MR. Our automotive clients are very active as the post-pandemic world has started looking at ‘safe personal traveling spaces’ with interest. EV is of interest too. Finally, we see a lot of interest in the entertainment space, which is expected to cater to a cooped up population with very less to do.