ESOMAR: Clients demand integrated end-to-end solutions from research agencies

By Ravi Balakrishnan , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | July 03, 2009
At the first edition of the ESOMAR in India, the eminent panellists discussed various topics such as the minuscule size of the Indian research industry, the impact of recession on research, and making the discipline more client-friendly

At a mere US$151 million, the Indian market research industry is just 0.5 per cent of the global industry, estimated by the ESOMAR to be worth US$28 billion. Even the proportion of global research practice outsourced to India is larger at approximately US$220 million, and growing fast. The minuscule size of the Indian research industry vis--vis the global industry was the topic of discussion at the first ESOMAR (the world organisation for enabling better research into markets, consumers and societies) meeting in India in 15 years.

The impact of the recession on research and making the discipline more client-friendly were some of the other topics bandied back and forth at the event.

& #BANNER1 & #Jasal Shah,chief executive officer and managing director, Markelytics, said in his introductory speech that in many countries, research in sectors such as banking and the automotive industry were cancelled this year. Studies in other sectors were postponed as well, and clients were demanding 'more for less'.

According to the ESOMAR, some of the major challenges faced by global research include engaging respondents in a Web 2.0 driven world; dealing with falling response rates; and strictures against direct marketing that are inadvertently affecting market research as well.

Shah stated, "It's going to be a challenging year for research worldwide." While online research was something that clients have traditionally been suspicious of, marketers in Australia were beginning to opt for it to cut costs; this trend was expected to spread to other countries as well. There were more takers for syndicated research than customised studies.

Many of these subjects were raised in the course of a very animated panel discussion. While the panellists included Thomas Puliyel, president, IMRB; LV Krishnan, chief executive officer, TAM; Pravin Shekar, co-founder, Dexterity; Arun Jethmalani, managing director, Value Notes and Saurav Sen from Colgate, the debate frequently spilt over to the audience.

Partha Rakshit, managing director, The Nielsen Company, initiated the discussion by asking if the recession was in fact as much of a reality in India as it was elsewhere. Opinion was divided, with Puliyel stating that conditions in India did not conform to the text book definition of a recession, but India was still not immune to the impact of global trends.

The myth of rural markets being recession-proof was also addressed. While these markets have been perceived to be purely agrarian, they are in fact a lot more globalised, with non agricultural income coming from export oriented industries. Krishnan said that the recession was yet to impact TV spends, with the elections proving something of a godsend for news channels, and sports channels getting an infusion of Rs 600 crore and growing by more than 60 per cent.

Clients were fairly vocal about their dissatisfaction with market research firms. High on their wish-list from agencies was an integrated end-to-end solution. They made it clear that they would only pay more for a genuinely differentiated offering. As it stands, research agencies were losing ground even on activities traditionally handled by them. Some aspects, such as product testing, are being dealt in-house by many clients.

Jayant Jain, vice-president, consumer insights and market research, Godfrey Phillips, was the most forthright and said, "The industry is living in denial. We need much better quality in data collection and presentation. It's time the industry started to introspect and come up with things that are useful."

On the other hand, there were also a few instances of research companies in India innovating around the recession. In the telecom sector for instance, IMRB was praised by clients for taking the initiative to offer services such as a syndicated offering on the potential impact of number portability and customer satisfaction. Krishnan made a case for a consortium of research users coming together to form a universal service fund. A percentage of the budgets of all participants would be channelled to the Market Research Society of India, which in turn would interact with the government to create a database available to all research companies.

Dr David Smith, director, DVL Smith Group and the ESOMAR representative in the UK, delivered the keynote address. He admitted that too often, research presentations were an endless barrage of numbers and statistics collated from very divergent sources. Currently, there were more avenues of hard and soft data than ever before, including blogs, social networking sites, online forums, ethnographic observations and purchase records.

He proceeded to make a case to integrate all of these into a compelling narrative. To bring it all together, atypical skills - such as that of being a good story teller - have to be developed. He recommended that researchers move from "presenting research findings to telling the consumer story".

The goal of the researchers was to apply their own experience and knowledge to the findings, to apply creative enablers to stretch and enrich the literal meaning of consumer research. He recommended the 7 frame approach to research, an elaborate system of evaluating objectives and presenting a more holistic and interesting set of results.