Fabricating Surveys

Making a mountain out of a molehill is a recurring practice of most of the marketing executives. However, if the same modus operandi becomes a standard norm for any marketing research company, it debases the repute of the organisation and the very purpose of the research. Several research companies are operating in the rural domain and releasing data on regular basis. While some are meeting the highest order of standards, there are others who are just fudging the surveys to the delight of their clients.
Fabricating Surveys

From the time when NDTV, a news channel, filed a lawsuit against Nielsen Holdings late last month, claiming that the latter brought out corrupt data, there has been unremitting babble on the issue. Now, as the clatter dwindles, the feeling within the Rs 33,000-crore Indian television business is, “How can we rapidly migrate from here?” says a managing director of an electronic channel. Advertisers resonates that sentiment. Says Manish Raj of LG India, “It is high time we built faith and belief in the process.”

While in India, the Rs 11,600 crore of TV ad revenues hang in the balance. There remains a big question unanswered as how surveys and ratings are being wheedled in order to seek business out of it.  On the similar lines, there has been huge rush among the marketing research companies in the rural domain to conduct surveys in order to help their clients in reaching the rural masses. Says Ajit Kumar of Radiance Media, “While some of these research companies are genuinely involved in conducting an unfailing research, others are simply making massive proceeds out of these make-believe surveys.”

He explains that India’s growth story is undeniable. “But, most of these companies have their marketing division to bring round the business in rural areas and based on their research division they bag both the projects of research as well as marketing the goods in the rural areas.” On the authenticity of data, Siddhartha Dutta, VP, Indicus Analytics, says, “No data can be 100 per cent true and factual. All individuals are run by perceptions and many a time the ground realities are different from what is assumed at the headquarters.”  He explains that the most authentic data is that of government’s and there are negligible chances of manipulation of generic data. In terms of genuineness, he adds, “It is possible that during any particular survey data can be doctored.”

While India’s rural markets present opportunities that companies are seeking to become high-performance businesses they cannot afford to ignore, there are these marketing research companies which are conducting research on behalf of their clients in order to help them out in understanding the market and reaching the rural bases. Describes Kumar Amitabh, a rural marketing consultant, “Before launching their products in rural areas, companies conduct market research through agencies. It’s the role of these research companies to provide data to the product launching companies so that they can understand the brand positioning and draw up marketing strategies.”

Here comes the role of the research company to outline the exploration in such a way that they bamboozle their clients and show them the bright picture without properly authenticating the ground realities. “They give rosy picture to their clients, even without checking the veracity about the tangible figures,” explains Amitabh. Endorsing his views, V Pujari of Indo American Tourism Ltd, says “While most of these companies who trying to get into rural areas are unaware about the ground realities, they innocuously get trapped by these research agencies and swayed by their improbable surveys.”

While rural consumers are evolving in the growing rural market and therefore one cannot ignore the need for rural research. Pujari points out that the real difficulty in rural research today is that the companies are approaching it with an urban mindset, which now needs to be changed. “The issues of regional dialects, cultural differences, sampling of thousands of villages, presence of ‘fake’ brands are few other challenges which need to be tackled while conducting research in rural.”

There are challenges in conducting research in rural by urban oriented market researchers. They face operational issues due to their pre-conceived notions, city influenced perceptions and lack of understanding of rural semiotics.  Vibhas Jha of NCAER says that the need for designing appropriate sampling plan in rural research is because the probability of sampling error is high in it. “An appropriate sample size and a representative sampling is a challenge in a highly diverse rural population,” he says.

According to Anurag Batra, MD, Exchange4media, there is the need and importance of rural media planning and research. “Currently the reach and impact of mass media is being measured through IRS, NRS, TRP, etc. in urban markets. But similar impact measurement tools do not exist for below the line media activities which are most effective in rural. There lies a huge opportunity of developing the right methods and tools for impact assessment for below-the-line media,” he says.

Describing the complexity of the research process in rural realm, Ashish Pherwani, Associate Director, Advisory Services, Ernst & Young, says “Keeping India’s diversity in mind, data collection is a gigantic and complex task. We will not be getting high quality validated data for next 10 years as there are barriers like internet access, financial viability of rural markets, cost of data collection, diverse methodologies, etc.” Jha supplements, “Getting acclimatised with the socio-cultural regions and rural ecosystem, adapting to capture the rural consumer’s way of responding, and using observation based methodologies really helps.”

Experts believe that some interesting solutions are like use of localised data collection tools and hybrid methodologies, and exploiting local talent like the educated rural youth for data collection purposes. The researchers need to educate and sensitise themselves about rural behaviour, while at the same time give up their superiority complexes. Stressing on the significance of the research, Pradeep Kashyap, CEO and founder of MART says that there is a growing corporate need to understand the rural markets and therefore research plays an important role in the process. He explains that the research industry has to innovate with research methodologies appropriate to understand this emerging market. “The marketing research fraternity has to move towards offering business solutions to their clients who plan to go rural, rather than providing them with only the research findings.”

Stressing on forward innovation, Kashyap says, “The need to innovate for the consumers in the emerging markets and not for the already matured developed markets. ‘The future is in the emerging markets.” He explains that the concept of ‘Rural Dividend’ for India’s economic growth as India is a young country with 50 per cent of the population below 25 years and it is the youth which consumes new products and brands. “Rural India constitutes three times the urban population and it is projected that by 2017, rural will consume equivalent to urban consumption today. ‘Imagine the consumption driven by rural youth and the market growth,” he adds.

He proposes that a collaborative approach for rural market research is necessary as the size of the market is too vast for any one research agency to be able to do it alone. “All research agencies, academia and industry to form an association and develop an agenda for rural market research,” he stresses upon.

To tap this huge potential of rural markets successfully, marketers need to know…who is the rural consumer and what is his profile? Where does he live? How to segment them, understand their consumption patterns, price points and many more questions that need to be answered to design successful marketing strategies. Surveys are very essential aspect that help in identifying the problem areas and in general awareness that helps in rural development. Survey experts travel from one village to another and conduct surveys on various aspects and pick up the ground realities. To conclude, we can say that the companies need to develop their own point of view on the Indian rural market, as relevant to their business categories and strategy. It is important for businesses to define “my target”, because data on rural India are more often than not are baffling and contradictory. However, we do not expansively shelve it as bad data but, because of the heterogeneous market comprising people of varied tastes, custom, traditions, etc. the companies need to keep their eyes open and not guilelessly buy what their marketing research companies claim.

The Changing Face of Rural India