A Dummies Guide to Marketing and Research

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 2489 , Published on 05 December 2013

1. Consumption data of a nondescript village in northern India, showed spikes in consumption of sugarcane for a particular quarter. Researchers burnt the midnight oil trying to analyze decadal trends, in the process using complicated statistical techniques to explain the consumption. Turned out, a new goods train had been commissioned on the route dissecting the village. Youths ransacked the train (which transported sugarcanes to a nearby sugar factory) from an overhead bridge, looting kilograms of sugarcane and sold it for peanuts in the village’s open and unorganized market.

2. A recent social research showed hand washing habits had spiked in a central India state. This spike was being attributed to a recent hygiene and welfare campaign run by a world renowned NGO. Just before the results were to be announced to the media, came in news that a FMCG major had been running a massive promotional campaign in the state. The core activity of the campaign was free distribution of soaps.

What is market research?

Consumer research in its purest form implies studying, understanding, evaluating and prioritizing a firm’s consumer/s. Branding and advertising have been served as the poster boys for marketing since Mr. Ogilvy’s claim-to-fame ad campaigns.

image: KROMKRATHOG, freedigitalphotos.net

In India, Advertising is a $ 15 Bn industry, while MR celebrated ~ $ MN 200 milestone lately. Majority of these revenues come from the traditional MR clients like Unilever, ITC, P&G and select NGO’s who research for policy framing and subsidy disbursals. Growth also comes from new age entrepreneurial ventures, existing clients expanding product portfolios and overall economy growth.

Going forward the MR industry (assisted by MRSI-Market research society of India, which is the Indian conglomeration of research providers, buyers and users AND ESOMAR, the global industry body) expects breakthrough growth rates in the near future.

A recent MRSI function in a swanky up-market hotel in Gurgaon, had an entire day reserved for lectures on use of Mobile technology in market research. Applications of new tools like online and mobile surveys are making collecting and maintaining data easier and faster.

The structure of Market Research:

Market research can be broadly segregated as represented in the flowchart below. This is a simplistic structure. In reality and in recent years, multitude of functions like online panels, gamification, neuro-marketing, et cetera have entered MR’s purview.

It is clear from the chart, that majority of the industry’s revenues is Quantitative research. Qualitative commands relatively lower value shares because of the limited sample size of these researches. Ad hoc quantitative researches are the favorites for less often MR indulging clients, who seek research only at specific junctions of their product’s life cycle.

The Role of Market Research in marketing:

To understand how market research can add value to an organization, let us analyze MR’s role from the perspective of a new product launch, as described in the chart below. Descriptions on the left are the research inputs and on the right is the action points derived from the research at each stage of product launch.

Given the increasing competition (New players, new communication avenues, plethora of options, etc) the consumer is continuously inundated with product benefits and reasons to buy from multiple brands. Previously mundane categories like hair oil, now boast of hundreds of variants, SKU’s, specialized products.

Hence brands need to continuously vie for consumer attention, by engaging in several different formats and fronts. A lot of a brand’s effort to occupy mind space is around new product development, targeted advertising and benefit branding. To gauge the effectiveness of such activities, traditional yardsticks like sales and repeat purchase rates no longer hold as the only measures.

Curious case of the Beer Shampoo!

Take the example of the recently launched “beer shampoo” by Park Avenue. One of the primary objectives is to deliver stronger “youth centric, modern and sexy” image for Park Avenue brand. Such perceptions will help in differentiating the brand from competition like KS, Axe, etc in Park Avenue’s core category of interest: Perfumes, Deodorants and Soaps.

How is this interpreted? If you have observed the brand’s merchandize strategy in super markets, it is placed strategically near the cash counters. Not in the store’s dedicated shampoo rack. As consumers await their turn to pay, they inadvertently turn attention to a “familiar” brand with an “unfamiliar product”. Some make an impulse purchase, while for others the brand gets embedded unconsciously.

Such strategies are results of long and engaging market research insights. It is rumored, that the product is the brain child of a focus group discussion. When asked “what does youth mean to you?” respondents chorused adjectives like “Crazy, out of the box, daring, et cetera” (As expected). The marketing managers were able to extend the expectations of the youth, to create a product which would act as an ancillary to the brand’s core portfolio. This is not to say, that brand managers were unaware of what youth meant. However the possibility that a shampoo can be positioned around this theme and be acceptable to consumers, was the insight.

Thor and Vayu: Airbus versus Boeing

Farther away from home, in the skies, another battle pans out. Boeing and Airbus through independent researches have come out with two very different insights and future views for the aviation industry.

  • Airbus believes, that going ahead passengers will continue to prefer the hub and spoke (Multiple stop journeys).  Lower fares for the traveler, better airplanes and more airports and more markets
  • Boeing envisions a future where passengers would prefer Point to point travel more. Saved time will gain precedence over saved costs.

This has led to the development of the Airbus 380 and the Boeing 747 designed to cater to future consumer needs. Billions of dollars have been poured in the research and design already, and this is touted as the biggest bet in the non monopolistic, capitalistic world. Ever!

Which one of these future views pans out to be correct remains to be seen. Note that this case presents a paradox of MR. Research is supposed to give directions based on limited consumer interactions which can be extrapolated to the universe, based on which expensive marketing decisions are taken. How two players in the same industry managed to come with diametrically opposite future views, is a question which has driven industry participants insomniac.


For the select few marketers and sales personnel, who have survived the sands of Rajasthan and Ice flakes in Kashmir in their endeavors to speak (As opposed to interpreting sales trends, relying on complicated statistical tools and incomprehensible inferences from line/bar/pie/stacked graphs!) will tell you how at various consumer-brand interaction points, the aura created by branding and advertising loses precedence, often becoming unnecessary, to reality.

From the perspective of an employee in a MR industry, days ahead seem challenging and exciting. With lots of data (Numeric, verbose and mix: referred to as Big Data); the challenges lie in interpretation and grey matter band width. “Data scientists” is already a new profession. If you are enamored by data analysis, consumer behavior and human psychology this is a specialty you should consider.

Deciding whether you would like to be a quantitative or a qualitative researcher is another debate altogether, best reserved for another post!

The article has been authored by Shriram Ramesh of IMRB International, a leading MR agency, based out of Bangalore. Shriram has 3 years of experience in the industry post completion of PGDM in Marketing and Operations.


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