NEW DELHI: Brand owners and research agencies are seeking to enhance their consumer insights capabilities in India, where shopper habits are developing quickly.

Hindustan Unilever, the FMCG group, has taken a direct approach to dealing with such a problem by implementing a scheme whereby employees from across its operations spend time with customers.

"These rapidly changing times put an even higher premium on an organisation's ability to embed consumer and customer centricity in everything that it does," Nitin Paranjpe, its CEO, told Research Magazine.

Among the complexities facing marketers trying to understand a growing, and diverse, population of 1.2bn people spread throughout 28 states are varying languages, traditions and purchase trends.

"Culture and religion varies considerably between regions, which must be factored in before going into the field," Simon Everard, chairman of research firm Kadence International, said. "When researching alcohol brands, for example, answers could differ considerably due to local attitudes towards drinking."

Pia Mollback-Verbic, the director at Quipper, another research company, also suggested that certain widespread characteristics in India did give researchers some advantages.

"India is a country built around a collective culture - people want to have their say because it is culturally rewarding to do so and puts them on a par with their peers. For Indians, research is an experience built around engagement," she said.

Digital media is also increasingly important, as 121m consumers now use the web, including 38m in the countryside, a figure set to hit 45m by the end of 2012, according to IAMAI, the internet industry body.

"The big change over the last decade has been the introduction of new tools and new technology," said Raj Sharma, co-founder of MRSS. "Some of the demand for these innovations is coming from the clients – they know what tools and technologies are available in other markets and they want them here too.

"What's great is that market research in India isn't seen as just something you have to do. It has won acceptance among businesses and increasing numbers of them have very good in-house research teams."

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has also reported there 699m active mobile subscriptions in India, with Hindustan Unilever and Procter & Gamble having already used this channel for gathering insights.

"The majority of Indians still own feature phones rather than smartphones so it's vital to adhere to best practices for mobile survey design in India, such as a maximum of 15 questions and questions limited to 140 characters," Alistair Hill, managing director of On Device Research, said.

Data sourced from Research Magazine; additional content by Warc staff