Market research · Developing markets

Is there a need in Europe for better market research about India?

Kariappa Bheemaiah Consultant and Affiliate Lecturer

April 13th, 2015

I was recently informed by a colleague that a number of companies based in Europe were dissapointed by the quality of data provided and the efficiency of indian market research companies. Considering the fact that this market will soon have the largest consumer population this seems quite pertinent. Has anyone else witnessed the same conundrum with indian research providers and what could be a way to fix this ?

Alison Lewis CEO/Creative Director

April 13th, 2015

Yes. I paid for some research and got a bunch of thrown together data dump of information and charts that were based off of random info. Wasn't really worth it. 

Benjamin Olding Former Co-founder, Board Member at Jana

April 14th, 2015

So, short answer: yes.  

However, don't assume that the need means there's an easy startup opportunity here for you.  This is the type of need that should give you pause; make sure you figure out *why* there is a gap before you assume you have an insight that can fill it.

We (Jana) were a market research company focusing on the developing world, mainly on India.  I have a phd in stats - the problem is not lack of understanding on how to gather data or of data quality.  The issue is cost.

Market research (in general) is seen purely as a cost center.  This isn't quite fair, but it's reality.  The largest companies have the biggest budgets, and you will want to engage with them.  They will pay (seemingly) pretty well too... until you realize that they want a representative sample of a specific demographic.

You'll get paid seemingly boatloads of money (on a per sample basis) for finding 1000 women who have recently had a child and have heard of the "Tide" brand and are willing to answer a 20 minute survey, as an example.  Problem is you're not going to sell them 2000 samples: if they actually have 1000 random samples from this niche, then they are trying to figure out if they can get away with 300 samples next time - they don't need the precision if you can provide the quality.

Unless you have a very clever way to find niche demographics on demand, you're either stuck with screener questions (which will cost you money - and will encourage people to lie if they figure out you are paying more for one answer than another) or you need the scale to be constantly polling less than 1% of your base.  If you had this scale, then the marginal profits on generating a high-quality data set are terrific.  If you don't have this scale, it's cost prohibitive to generate an actual random sample.

A purely digital market research company is simply unlikely to have this kind of reach - you need to have a way to keep a broad base of people engaged even though you really only make your money on the niche.  So, we struck out to find a way to engage as broad a base as possible rather than focus on market research.  We're now on about 10% of Indian smartphones and growing.  I think we're the top 5 app in India; certainly top 10.  

At this point, we could likely circle back to create a high quality market research product... but this would be add-on revenue given the scale we're at - it would be a distraction right now to our core business.  It makes more sense to keep growing our current product than worry about other ways to monetize it (which would require a second sales organization, marketing organization, etc).  So even though we now *could* solve the problem we tried to solve originally, we're unlikely to offer it as a product.  (We do sometimes use our scale to post data in our blog that's pretty unique to the market.)

There likely is an opportunity for a Forrester-like company to thoughtfully produce reports that are useful to a broad base of clients, but the per report cost you're able to charge is pretty modest relative to the big companies' price point - you have to invest in your data, counting on the fact that you know what people want and be able to sell the identical report to many, many people.  This would not really be a product company, which means you're unlikely to get enough investment to really spend the money to make your first reports particularly high quality & survive making a few mistakes in judging the information people need.  You might be able to raise money convincing an investor you could become a product company, but the internal pressures to perform are going to hurt your ability to create high quality data sets.

There is almost certainly a personal opportunity to curate existing reports and do no (or very little) unique sample generation, if that's of interest.

Anyway, India is an extremely interesting country to become involved in, but of all startup opportunities it represents, I would not recommend market research - there are 10 other aspects to its growth you could get involved in right now, all of which have much more potential to scale, at least based on our experience.

Also, before we tried to be a market research company, we were trying to be an outsourcer.  Market research actually looks pretty awesome by comparison, I'm afraid.  It's the same trap in terms of looking from the outside in and thinking there's a huge quality problem you might be able to solve: there absolutely is a huge quality problem, no question, but it's wrapped up with how people buy the product and bizarre corporate expectations of unit cost, not their need.  

Solving a sales problem as a startup is just tough all around; you ideally want to be selling a better product at the same or less price, the same *way* as everyone else.  If you adopt this viewpoint, a lot of these low-quality industries become a lot less interesting to be involved in, as it's quickly clear the best thing you could do is change how people buy things.  There's opportunity in these industries for a Google, or a Facebook or an Apple or perhaps soon an Uber - someone with huge scale already that can shrug and change the way people buy something overnight.  

It's an uphill battle for a startup; but feel free to prove me wrong! :)  It would be wonderful if data quality improved in the market research industry in general.  Before we pivoted, there was a similar company that started in the UK, OnDevice Research.  They have kept at it, and do continue to grow.  We've been very happy with our decision to pivot away from the industry however.

Anyway, long answer, but this has been my life the last 6 years or so.  Good luck!  If there's one cool thing about India right now, it really is changing on a *monthly* basis.  So my experience may no longer be relevant; but do worry more about how you're going to sell than how you're going to improve the quality of data if you do decide to bravely go down this path.

Kariappa Bheemaiah Consultant and Affiliate Lecturer

April 14th, 2015

@Benjamin...Short  answer: awesome reply!
Thanks for the detailed response. Very useful to have your experienced insights. It definitely gives me some fat to chew on and look at this situation from another perspective. Hopefully things change in the future. 
Much obliged