Field research brings benefits in India

7 February 2013

NEW DELHI: Major companies such as Hindustan Unilever, Coca-Cola and Maruti are emphasising field research as a means of capturing vital insights in India.

Hemant Bakshi, executive director, home and personal care for Hindustan Unilever, the FMCG giant, reported that visiting consumers is an "incredibly eye-opening" experience.

"Today, mothers want to educate their girls and want a better life for them. The consumer's aspirations are growing and evolving at a remarkable pace," he told the Economic Times.

Indeed, Hindustan Unilever requires that all staff working on its brands – like Lifebuoy, Dove, Lux and Surf – spend 100 hours engaging in such on-the-spot research upon joining the firm.

Coca-Cola, the soft drinks group, found out through this process that rural retailers often sold its goods from ice boxes with little ice in them due to erratic electricity supply. It has since rolled out solar-powered fridges to keep its drinks cool.

"Most businesses – and more so the food and beverage business – are a people's business," Atul Singh, president and chief executive of Coca-Cola India and South West Asia, said.

"We need to be engaged with our consumers and our customers at all times to ensure that we give them what they need. Modern day companies must start from the consumer's requirement and then work backwards if they have to run a sustainable business."

Mayank Pareek, managing executive director, marketing and sales for Maruti, the automaker, has travelled to over 500 districts across India, reflecting a belief that significant change occurs every 50km.

"You can't do marketing from the corner office," he said. "Their idea of comfort is very different from those of us who live in the cities."

Around a third of cars sold in the countryside are made by Maruti, a result of five years effort. It now boasts over 7,500 staff serving these markets, and who are recruited from the communities they visit.

Despite the tremendous variety observable across India, some traits are almost constant, from a love of cricket among men to a desire to look good among women.

"I have been to remote villages of Punjab and Haryana where no matter how poor the women are, they always wear bright red lipstick when they come for any rural activation. They are highly beauty conscious, that doesn't change with geography," said Samir Gupte, president of Ogilvy Action, the agency.

Data sourced from Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff