Globally, the MR Industry is undergoing a Transformation in Terms of Methodologies, Media & Client Engagements, while a majority of Indian MR Firms are still grappling with fairly old issues. For them, time is fast running out

One of my close friends was working on a senior position in a leading market research company for over five years (he has moved on now) and to my mind, he seemed to be having a whale of a time. That was till I actually asked him about his job, and he said, “In my profession, people who work for the length of time that I have worked in the same company are called fossils!” When I discussed this with a few other MR professionals, they did admit that the task of data collection and analysis, when done consistently on a day to day basis with more or less a similar set of clients, can get quite mundane and run of the mill. Employees can therefore develop a certain level of disregard and repulsion towards their work at an agency over time.

Indeed, manpower retention is often defined as one of the biggest challenges faced by Indian market research firms, which ultimately can raise questions on the credibility of the data and insights they provide. But as we went about our quantitative as well as qualitative research on the MR industry, we found out that the work that this industry needs to do is far more than that. During our fact finding quest, we talked to MR firms, clients as well as experts in the field of marketing, and realised that barring the top few players, the challenge for most of the industry is to ensure that clients don’t start giving up on them the way a lot of employees do.

That is because the Indian MR space is quickly getting divided into two segments; the first consists of companies that are part of the globally large networks and Indian firms who are rising to global standards. Globally, the MR industry registered a turnover of $31.2 billion in 2010 (ESOMAR). For comparison sake, the advertising industry was worth $390.89 billion in revenues for the same year (MagnaGlobal estimates). In India, the MR industry is currently valued at around Rs.7 billion and is approximately 8% the size of the advertising industry. MR companies are consistently striving to develop new ways in which to improve their relevance and share in client media spends. A majority of the firms belong to the second category, which is about doing just the traditional surveys like customer satisfaction, brand tracking, post-campaign analysis, et al. For this second category, the road map ahead can prove to be quite hazy or even non-existent if they are unable to come up to the mark. And as industry officials reveal, even the larger players have to be extremely wary of any kind of complacency. Noted author Arthur Conan Doyle once said, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” A similar crisis of confidence may be a real and present danger for the industry at large, where clients often feel that Doyle’s views prove quite relevant in the context of market research firms.

Client perspectives on the global MR industry prove this in no uncertain terms. The Greenbook Research Industry Trends report (GRIT) 2010 highlighted three very relevant concerns of the MR industry in today’s time – worrisome attitudes and beliefs about the marketing research profession, concern about the ability to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change, and a growing tension between desired quality of work and the need for speed. There is also a certain gap between how MR firms and clients view their MR budgets. In the GRIT 2011 report, 73% of research providers anticipated an increase in MR budgets this year as compared to 2010, while the figure for client firms was lower at 60%. Similarly, 58% of providers expect revenue growth, as compared to 38% for clients. It is being widely acknowledged that the MR industry is bracing for some fairly transformative changes, which will soon make their impact felt in India. The challenge for Indian firms is to adapt to these changes and radically rethink the way they still do business.
The first critical change is the manner in which market research is adapting to technology, and the use of increasingly innovative online survey methods. While even global companies are using these methodologies, the more interesting aspect is the pace of adoption that these methods are enjoying. In the GRIT 2011 report, online communities ranks as the most widely adopted new technology with 35% of clients surveyed using it (34% in 2010) having used it. Data mining comes second at 32% followed closely by social media analytics at 29%. More interestingly, 52% of clients are expected to deploy social media analytics and online communities in 2012. In fact, in markets like Japan, people are hardly using offline research for their ends.

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Source : IIPM Editorial, 2011.

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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