NEW DELHI: Hindustan Unilever, the consumer goods firm, is seeking to enhance the strength of the market research insights it receives in India by setting precise standards for its agency partners in this area.

As reported by the Economic Times, the company, which makes products like Dove, Lifebuoy and Lux, has launched an accreditation programme in the country covering individual researchers working in the qualitative field.

"Qualitative research is an integral part of getting consumer insights and getting better consumer understanding," Manish Makhijani, Unilever's global consumer insights director, said.

"So unless we raise the bar on qual research, unless we raise the bar on the quality of insights we're getting, we're not going to be able to achieve our ambition."

Participants can attain two levels of accreditation, those of "research leads" and "moderators". One element of this process is to complete a mock brief and live focus group, and then discussing how to present the findings, taking three hours in all.

Similar initiatives are already in place in nations such as China and South Africa, as well as India. In these three countries combined, Unilever has handed out 50 accreditations to date, including 15 in India.

Inconsistency in the debriefs provided by agencies was one motivation in introducing this scheme, as was a lack of focus on "communication ideas". "There were concerns like that, and yes, they were bigger in the developing markets," said Makhijani.

Alongside identifying the best researchers, the aim is to train Hindustan Unilever's in-house insight managers on what constitutes the right kind of qualitative information, and to show marketers how to deploy it.

"It works beautifully for Unilever but it also works well for agencies too because they get to have better conversations with us, and it works for researchers because there is a sense of acknowledgement and achievement that the best marketing company in the world will only work with you," said Makhijani.

Meena Kaushik, the chairman of Quantum Consumer Solutions, one of India's biggest research agencies, was broadly supportive of Unilever's efforts.

"The accreditation programme is critical to raise the qualitative research standard across the world," said Kaushik. "I feel it is a good start and will raise the overall standard of the industry and motivate agencies to focus on training in a concerted and systematic way.

"Ideally it should have been a process that the Market Research Society in each country should have undertaken to ensure that qualitative researchers have the requisite calibre and training."

Data sourced from Economic Times, Research Magazine; additional content by Warc staff