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Peter Mouncey Blog

Marketing research in emerging markets

04-02-2014
‘Listening to Consumers of Emerging Markets’ -2014 IIM (Lucknow) conference, Noida, India.

I’ve just returned from the second conference on marketing research in emerging markets organised by the Indian Institute of Management (Lucknow) held at their campus in Noida, part of greater Delhi. We were a publishing partner for their first conference in 2012, and again last month. 

I’m splitting coverage of the event between this blog and my Editorial in the next issue of IJMR (56/3). 

The format was a mix of plenary sessions and paper presentation sessions - up to seven of the latter in parallel, for academics and practitioners to present summary presentations of research (over 400 submissions for these sessions, with 170 selected for presentations). 

One of the main virtues of this conference is that it is designed to bring academics and practitioners together, with plenary and paper presentation sessions covering perspectives from both communities. 

Altogether, a huge and rich range of content but, as is becoming so common, the ‘footprint’ left behind might be difficult to discern. 

Slides from the plenary sessions, where used, were not made available to delegates, and, unlike the first conference, there is as yet no collection of summaries from the paper presentations in a printed form, or even a CD as is becoming the norm at conferences. 

Therefore, despite all the wise words, innovatory research projects etc., what it might add to the body of knowledge in this important field could be limited – which would be a great pity. 

Of course, some of the presentations may end up being published as papers, but not related to the event itself. The internet age doesn’t necessarily mean that everything becomes more accessible. 

I may be old-fashioned, but I’d like to think that the hard work by all concerned, whether as organiser or speaker, was not simply kept in the moment, as seems to be becoming increasingly the case at many conferences. ‘Proceedings of conference XYZ’ as a citation reference are becoming increasingly rare. 

I still hope that we’ll publish some papers in due course as we did in 2012. We’ll see.

So, here are four top-line highlights:

The inverted pyramid

Prof Jagdish Sheth pointed out that well educated, Indian urban nuclear middle class families, ‘call centre couples’ (a new geodemographic segment?), are struggling economically, needing dual incomes to survive. They are having to pay for outsourced services to replace the role played in traditional extended families and therefore limited discretionary income. 

In comparison, towards the bottom of the pyramid, rural families, although with lower incomes, retain the values and support of the traditional extended family, have gained major economic benefits from technology and therefore have a proportionately greater, and growing, level of discretionary spending power. 

They represent a big, rapidly developing market for products and services, ignored by many companies. ‘Bottom of the pyramid’ consumers are the future, but researchers need to employ innovative methods to reach, engage with and understand them. Where this has happened, the benefits to all stakeholders have already been immense, illustrated by reference to a Gillette case study in the male shaving market.

‘De-marketing’ 

A term believed to have been first coined by Philip Kotler decades ago, 'de-marketing' was a feature of ‘green’ oriented presentations. Is this coming of age in today’s world of increasingly scarce resources and pressures on the environment?

Qualitative methods

Speakers amply demonstrated why qualitative methods are essential to understand consumer behaviour and cultural influences in emerging markets (e.g. Gillette). However, the myth that journals only favour empirical based research was alive and kicking in the minds of delegates, vigorously denied by myself and Prof Linda Price (President of the Association of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Research). 

This was despite a lively, and very interesting, pre-conference two-day workshop devoted to qualitative and ethnographic methodologies for doctoral students, delivered by Professors Russell Belk (Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto) & Güliz Ger (Bilkent University, Ankara), who also presented a plenary session on the role of qualitative research in emerging markets. 

Ger used a fascinating case study to illustrate why ethnographic and other qualitative methods are vital in exploring and understanding consumer behaviour and attitudes in emerging markets.

Indian marketing prowess 

Only this week, George Osborne (UK Chancellor of the Exchequer) has warned that the EU is losing out to Indian companies. S.P. Shukla, Chief Brand Officer, Mahindra & Mahindra, demonstrated why they have been so successful in penetrating different product sectors, in both western and emerging markets, by employing extensive research to understand local needs and conditions, and building appropriate strategies. 

In comparison, a visit to Delhi Railway Museum shows the western manufacturing heritage, with rows of old locos built in Europe and the USA, including examples from the Vulcan Foundry in Newton le Willows whose products I used to see leaving the works for railways in the UK and abroad as a child. 

Vulcan Foundry, after well over a hundred years of production, is now long gone, together with all that expertise and large scale employment. Some plenary sessions focused on creating value for specific market sectors in emerging markets. 

For example, in one on affordable healthcare services, D.R. Mehta, the founder of Jaipur Foot, a clinic specialising in prosthetics, focussed on how medical procedures costing tens of thousands of dollars in the west are provided in India for a fraction of this (an interesting conundrum), with similar stories from Dr. Mathur (Shroff Eye Hospital) and Prof. Kalha (Institute of Dental Studies & Technology). 

However, the focus was on the challenges of healthcare provision rather than on listening to consumers.

Finally, Research-live has already mentioned that the Indian State is to start regulating TV ratings firms. One objective is a bigger sample size to deal with fragmenting audiences. The story broke the day after I arrived, and was front page news – not the day’s headline, but very prominent. 

Would this be front page news in the UK – I doubt it! 

What do you think? As ever, comments below are wholeheartedly encouraged.

Comments (2)

  • Peter Mouncey | February 20, 2014 5:10 pm

    Thanks for your comments. IJMR has in fact a long term relationship with India as years ago the then JMR was the publishing partner for some conferences run by MRSI. So, I hope I'm continuing a long tradition of partnership. As the case studies we published following the 2012 IIM conference show demonstrate, there's some very innovative thinking out there. Might the engineering company be Simon Carves, which was T&T Vicars, makers of biscuit making machinery? My uncle worked there until the early 1960s, following an apprenticeship at the Vulcan Foundry.
  • Michael Ashfield | February 19, 2014 3:04 pm

    I agree that markets within India offer many opportunities; but it is my experience that some British firms - including in B2B markets - continue to do well there. I had a small business (for 15 years starting in 1989) researching Indian markets for some of them. I was also the first foreign member of the Market Research Society of India, attended a number of their conferences and can vouch for the high standards of Indian researchers. Bryan Bates and Peter Bartram are even better referees than me. And in 1963 my first job was in a British engineering firm which had its factory at Earlestown - we should meet to compare notes!

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