Home / Opinion / Columns /  The changing face of market research

A large packaged consumer goods company created a sample of a few connected homes in three different global markets including an Asian country. The idea: Understand the usage of some of its products in a household. This entailed embedding sensors in the electronic appliances in the house. For instance, it had sensors in place to ascertain the usage of laundry detergent for each cycle in a washing machine. Other than the laundry room, the bathroom and kitchen had connected devices too.

“This helped us observe consumer behaviour and go deep into the ‘why’ of those behaviours," said Jennifer Hubber, global chief client officer at research and analytics firm Ipsos that piloted the study for the firm. Increased use of technology for deeper consumer connect in market research is the way forward, said Hubber, who was visiting India last week as it is among its top priority markets for growth. Information collected through such pilots is used to develop innovations.

“Asking consumers questions on their product usage and habits does give some information, but it may not give you those ‘aha’ moments (of revelation)," Hubber said. Using tech to understand usage patterns also highlights the pain points which may be useful if you are trying to develop either product or packaging, she added.

For another consumer goods firm keen to act on its ESG (environmental, social and governance) goals and looking to save water, Ipsos installed meters in showers of sample homes. The idea was to measure water consumption and correlate that to the type of product and water to figure which kind of a product would give a quick rinse and save water. Although a lot of interactions in India still happen offline, standard questionnaires may have outlived their utility and market researchers need to upgrade their tech tools to collect data, Hubber said.

Last week, the Market Research Society of India (MRSI), an autonomous, not-for-profit body, in a new report said that India will move towards increased usage of technology in research. AI and analytics are still in their infancy but “these will be the new economic currency for the market research and insights industry. Rapid digitalization will pervade more sectors and create more data trails," it said.

Additionally, the report highlighted the emergence of specialists in Q&A based research, and others who would excel in listening. However, the ultimate success would be one where the best of both these are blended to land powerful stories about why consumers are doing what they are doing, and how their choices can be influenced. That would lead to the creation of a new breed of researchers—consumer data scientists—who understand marketing, research and technology and have the ability to distil all three to deliver powerful insights, it said. It also emphasised that insights and data will become even more important in a radically changing world and that speed will become a core competence.

Hubber, too, agreed that companies are looking for speed, especially post-covid. “While the basics of what they’re asking for are the same, what we do see is two things. One, a general acceleration of rhythm, where everything is much faster. Since companies are under pressure from stakeholders, they’re looking for speed of action from market researchers," she said. Second, there’s a greater requirement to go into deep understanding of people. “We see an increased need for human connection. There’s work around bringing the consumer into the boardroom. That’s because of the understanding of how quickly behaviours can change and how quickly people can adapt to new situations. So, there’s need to be very close to that kind of revolution," Hubber said.

But is market research still required given that social media has democratized consumer access to companies and vice versa? Ipsos that counts big tech platforms such as Amazon, Google and Meta among its clients proves that there’s room for market research, Hubber said. “The tech platforms have access to an enormous amount of data, but they still seek our help because the ‘why’ behind the data is not so obvious," she said, adding requests for behavioural observation go beyond what a consumer can say directly to a company or the data that a company can collect directly on a consumer. But market research firms need to evolve with new techniques.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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