New Delhi: Peter Snell is a British national who has lived in Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan and Singapore for over 25 years. He’s been the CEO of Synovate Business Consulting (SBC) since 2006. SBC, formed in 1994, is the consulting arm of market research firm Synovate.
A Synovate veteran, who has been with the organization since 1992, Snell is a strong proponent of “fact-based market analysis”, which uses on-the-ground investigation and understanding garnered through interviews, as a tool in serving Synovate Business Consulting’s clients. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What is your view about doing business in the developing world, especially Asia, where you personally have vast experience?
For SBC, there are just two Tier-I markets, and those are India and China. We classify geographies in Asia as Greater China, Asean (Association of South-East Asian Nations) and India. India came away unscathed by the Asian financial crisis of 1997, which gave it additional strength as a place to do business. With regards to the rest of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), we are actively trying to set up presence in Brazil, but are hindered in terms of costs because of the high employment tax rate in Brazil. In the case of Russia, what we have found is that in Russia business is driven from the outside—for instance, we can help European or US companies wanting to enter Russia. Synovate’s acquisition last year of Comcon, a market research company in Russia, has enabled us to execute our reporting and analytics plan which is, in the case of Russia, typically conceptualized in the country where the client gives us the business. An apprehension that is well known about Russia is the high cost of business related to the risk factor. In Asia, we also see a lot of business potential in South Korea, and Indonesia, which is known as the Brazil of Asean. Similarly, Middle East and North Africa (Mena) has a big business potential for us, and we have started going after these markets. We already have a strong presence in the US and the UK which also acts as a gateway for business in other European countries such as France and Germany.
Is the term ‘Asian tigers’ still relevant?
Not anymore. Because places like Singapore and Hong Kong that constitute the four Asian tigers have economies and infrastructure that are at par with the developed world.
How have you seen market research in India evolve? How do you differentiate yourselves?
In the early days of market research in India there was MODE, IMRB and ORG-MARG. These got lapped up in acquisitions when multinationals started entering India. Synovate, too, re-branded globally in 2003 in an effort to integrate its various partnerships and acquisitions. Prior to 2003, it was operating in India through its acquisition of Blackstone Market Facts. The renamed Synovate is a fusion of synergy and innovation.
The consulting sector, which SBC operates in, can be looked at as a pyramid. You have the BCG’s and Bain and Co. and Booz Allen and McKinsey at the top. The big four, Accenture, Ernst and Young, KPMG and Deloitte, come in next—whom we consider our main competitors. Frost and Sullivan also comes up a lot against us in deals. The next level is represented by the subject experts such as IDC and Gartner and the final layer is data aggregators such as Indicus Analytics who are experts in things such as city-level information. We will look at Indicus data, for instance, if a client present in Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities is planning on moving after BOP (base of the pyramid) and wants district level information of rural areas. We will look at district econometrics from Indicus.
We differentiate by calling ourselves business consultants, and not management consultants. Our research wing compliments our consulting wing. Many times, clients approach us with what may sound like a research problem on the surface but actually turns out to be a deeper consulting assignment. We help find what we euphemistically call “hard to get information”.
Can you elaborate?
For instance, take the queries we’ve received in industrial market research. A company may want to know about the plywood market in Malaysia, or may want to find out about getting spare parts for power generation in a remote area. The assignments usually extend to helping clients understand the size and structure of the market, consumer attitude, brand positioning, supply chain and consumer motivation.
Engineering, heavy machinery companies need us much more than a Proctor and Gamble (P&G) does. P&G may need us if, for instance, they were entering Cambodia and wanted us to scope out the market for them. However, once we did that, they have enough internal resources to size up market segments and study consumer behaviour etc.
We usually help our clients with their unstructured problems. Structured problems are much easier to tackle. For instance, if your marketing department reports that advertisements are not getting the desired traction, the reasons can be deciphered in clear-cut categories—one, the ad does not appeal to the target segment, or the media buying is not making the right decisions or, thirdly, that the ad’s appeal has worn out.
A recent assignment we’ve worked on involves a large global IT storage company that was worried about a shrinking market, and that they were losing market share faster than the market was reclining. Research reports confirmed the reality of the reclining market, and the reasons thereof. But there was an internal problem, too, that the company was facing on a local and regional Asia Pac level. The IT storage company though had a unique problem, in that its servicing of SME clients was not up to the mark. We helped them with that problem.
How are you set up organizationally?
Our verticals are auto, healthcare, BFSI (banking and financial services industry) and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods); but we are functionally focused in providing market-related strategies. We have made significant headway with engineering, construction and industrial good clients.
Two key aspects of our methodology are ‘path to growth’ that provides exploratory, competition, distribution, thinking for market strategy help and ‘partner compass’ that helps clients enter new developing markets through the greenfield, or merger and acquisition route.
What we have found is that short projects typically of three-four weeks duration bringing in $10,000 to 15,000 in revenue are especially valuable for our young consultants to cut their teeth on. Larger projects have a bigger stake lasting four to five months and bring in $600,000 to $700,000 in revenue.
In India, we have 25 consultants, and our overall head count here, including research, is 300.