Evolution Strategy Advisors Marketing Consultant

TrendZ: Get the best out of research

The FMCG sector uses organised research extensively but this tool is sparingly used by Durable, Food, Packaged Commodities, OTC and Consumer Electronics segment. Large consumer companies who use research regularly have understood the pitfalls in the process and corrected them, while the smaller ones seem to reject the tool itself. A bulk of the smaller fmcg and other consumer companies still need to build faith in research. Even with those companies who believe in research, the same is not used for all elements of marketing mix .
Over a period of time research seems to have become expensive for corporate mainly due to a lack of understanding of research.
Although fundamentals of marketing taught in B schools promote use of research at every step, it is impractical to implement from both time and cost perspective. With shortening of product life cycle, quarterly results pressure and time taken to get research feedback, there is pressure to move ahead without research.
In case of durables, electronics and new age devices the research is done in a large market for features and design and the same products are introduced internationally. It’s surprising how many international products have failed in the mobile, tablet and consumer electronic industry within just 45 days from launch. But this process still continues resulting in huge losses. While some Indian mobile companies have learned through research to deliver what the customers want and have reaped success.
The industry wide practice to use retail audits for market shares and television ratings has an inherent issue. Due to their lower sample size and dispersion their accuracy is low, especially for passively distributed products. The cost of improving accuracy is high but buyers of the data are not willing to pay more. These reports have probably created the greatest waste in media and marketing investments.
We hope to clear some grey areas on what to expect from consumer research and how it can be used effectively with lesser money.

When does research fail to build trust?
1. When objectives are not clear on how will the research be used. It is about setting up your decision options before starting research. Answer, What If? A research can only prove your gut (hypothesis as some call it) wrong or right.

2. When research results vary from your R&D lab. If you are going to make a major decision based on a single research you need to have more rigour and other re- confirmatory tests to check if research has been done correctly. Especially when testing product efficacy and advertising. Increasing sample size is definitely not a solution.

3. Stereotype response or no insights. When the research interaction is long and painful its definitely not fruitful. It’s necessary to keep the interaction short enough without antagonising/ irritating the respondent.

4. At times when the result is contrary to your belief. Accepting the research means all the efforts may be put to waste, which may lead to a bad appraisal and a delay in the project. The team/leader may then question the research.

5. There are cases when the report is totally divergent from previous studies or another set of confirmatory data. This is where the research agency needs to build trust by either repeating studies or checking on the divergent result. A wrong/fake consumer interaction or inexperienced moderator is usually the issue.

Some check points before you decide to research
1. Ensure that there is a clearly defined target consumer. It is no longer SEC A & B, age, female etc but we need to define the consumer with product ownership, psychographics & social profile.

2. Most consumers may not be able to articulate/ express their reasons for behaviour with limited vocabulary or education. Choose your respondents wisely. If you are looking for trends, better approach trendsetters and not current users.

3. Check back on results through a call back to the consumer on what did they say and be personally present during few of the interaction. If you don’t have time to meet your customers for research, drop it. Don’t delegate it to the inexperienced, just out of college trainees.

4. Pay for what it is worth, don’t push the agency on costs to such an extent that they compromise on recording tools, quality of respondents, researchers or the analysis. Work with a trusted research partner.

When the budget for research is low - evaluate these techniques
Most entrepreneurs do their research themselves; they make efforts to understand the consumer needs, they observe and question. But as an organisation grows there are managers who tend to rely more on systems and reports than actually feel and observe the pulse of their customers.
1. It is important to get the feelings of the customer and the same has to be documented. It is only by documentation; cross reference and frequent measurement will we know if we have progressed since the last interaction. Refer past researches as it helps to build on a known insight or trend.

2. Research is best done by the people who work on the product/ brand with a little bit of training in research techniques. With practice, this is a better way to capture insights than a formal qualitative research done by a moderator.

3. Do we need to do a multi city, 1000+ consumer research? Are we looking for 99% accuracy? Probably not, this is where the research agency needs to innovate and help companies come up with the right sample size and technique. The research accuracy can be improved by ensuring that we have the right respondent as per agreed profile.

4. It is best to create an organisation culture where key functions meet the user/ buyers on a regular basis every month. This builds a stronger connect with the changing needs and trends.

The cost of a failure is higher than cost of research thus it is necessary to get a feedback from the customers before investing in a new project.
Like all functions in an organisation which evolve and adapt to an industry, research too goes through the same process. Research is necessary as it is your window to the outside world.

Vineet Trakroo

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