Face Off

by Madhumita Chakraborty and Mukesh Kumar – both will present on 11 September during the 70th ESOMAR Congress

Not unlike Hollywood, a young Marketing professional and a Market Researcher meet, fall in love and get married. And when they kiss and lightning strikes, their souls exchange bodies. What follows suit is a comedy of errors as the “non –believer in market research” soul of the marketer has to reside in the body of researcher’ and the “… but the data says” soul of the researcher switches to the body of the marketer.

Together they have to explore the muddy grounds of the world of marketing and research, each with its own prejudices to launch a new product

SHE: I will never forget that fateful night when I said YES to him. I had recently returned from the ESOMAR Congress and was brimming with the possibilities, the passion and the belief that everything that was wrong in the world of pen and paper research was going to be set right through Virtual Reality. That plus a bottle of champagne sealed it for me. Here was my own sample to convert, my very own personalized respondent who was belaboring in the world of marketing , making decisions using his gut rather than all these fun possibilities I had to offer him – from conjoint to digital ethno to big data – there was so much to convert him to. And, after all a marketer needs a market researcher to complete him. And so I said YES.

HE: It was simple really. She had a great sense of humour that connected well with both adults and kids, was always direct and unbiased in her response back to my creative plots and a real asset in landing a media plan. Not that she did these for me, but the fact that she worked on our account meant she really understood what I went through on an everyday basis. So when she came back from that 3 day party she called ESOMAR Congress, I was ready to take the plunge. But boy little did I know what she had in store for me.

6 months on

SHE: I don’t believe it , today was really just the last straw.

I didn’t say anything when he said “conjoint modeling.. I thought that was the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition you were talking of… whatever does that have to do with pricing. Pricing is a simple equation of my costs + my profits.”

I even swallowed my pride when I was told that there was no need for ad testing , they were bringing on board Justin Bieber and the Belieber had already decided what he was going to say, wear and look like in the ad… there was no point testing scripts, it would feel like an insult to Mr Bieber. (I mean seriously MISTER Bieber)

But today was bordering unethical. I would imagine any sane person would know that significance levels are always at 90 or 95%. I never expected him to say to me what he did today… “well if the product is not meeting criteria at 90%, how about at 75%? That still means a majority prefer my product to competition.” So why ever not?

HE: It’s like I have got a personal GREENPEACE activist at home. Sure, research is important, but surely marketing is more art than science. I mean, hey I spend 10% of my budgets tracking market share data, I look at those excels every day, day in and day out, and there is yet to be a day when that is in line with my sales billings.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate research. I really do. I mean the best way to convince the management committee that we have a winner is those cute little videos we put together of people drooling over our products. Even better when you can get a small child with stars in his eyes at mention of our brands.

I really do enjoy those home visits and group discussions, gives you a complete sense of just how immaterial we are in the larger scheme of people’s lives… and which means they won’t care if we swung 5% price here or there… which means they don’t care whether my product tastes just the same, marginally better or significantly better on a 7 point scale on some obscure measure like “duration of aftertaste”.

But there is a reason why marketing is called an art… it’s an art in negotiation with customers, image management with the media, and blood pressure management in dealing with celebs. So when we practice this art, research should provide inspiration, not prescription. I mean hey, it’s great to tell me “the utility scores don’t allow you to take pricing,” try telling that to the supplier who just increased my commodity costs by 15%.


1 year down the Line:
 HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

SHE: I can’t believe it’s been a year already. And how far we have come now. I feel like we are connecting at whole new levels now. I mean does it really matter whether he knows what conjoint is, so long as he understands that I can help him make trade-offs like he never thought possible. Does it matter that he thinks WhatsApp groups are meant for teens? No, what matters is that we were able to land the brand positioning. So what if he thinks TOM and Spont are really good people who follow his campaigns. The fact that there is an issue with the awareness translating to trial is something that we could not have known unless we had interacted with the sales teams.

No, these are minor details in an otherwise tumultuous year. I mean little had I imagined that attending the Brand Plans and Joint Business Plan meetings would place in me a great empathy for him. I mean we do tend to speak in our own language at times, we could do well to move from our own code language with words like respondents and sample, to simply saying people. But mostly it’s made me realize the power of selling a story. I mean I would never undervalue the power of our findings, but maybe there is merit in finding a creative way to tell the story vs laying it out clinical and cold… especially when you are laying out the bad news… I mean would I ever have said point blank “I hate the pie, I think you burnt it”… no I would say “this wine is changing my usual taste buds…”

And oh well, ultimately whether or not he listens to me the first time round, the satisfaction of being able to say “I told you so” is like a powerful sword one should never let go of.

HE: a year… feels like so much more. If we can survive twelve rounds of brand equity presentations which successfully each month show my brand losing equity, then we can get through anything.

It’s not like it’s been easy, but it’s been a learning experience for sure. I mean, who would have ever imagined placing her in front of our biggest customer would win us laurels for being consumer centric, and let me collect their store card data. And then there was that time when we wasted 4 months developing a new flavour and had to go back to the starting point because we had failed to take care of the aftertaste. Not to mention the time Justin Bieber changed his haircut because 5 giggling teenage girls thought he looked like One Direction in that storyboard.

Yes marketing is an art, but there is a science to the human brain and decision making that I never thought possible. And no, neuro and big data don’t scare me anymore. When you can get past the statistical googlies, you realize that it’s like unpeeling an onion , there’s tears upfront if they reject you, but ultimately the human mind is programmed in a way that is made of simple rules of engagement… something a great research partner can unveil for you.

 

Madhumita Chakraborty, Pepsi, India and Mukesh Kumar, Nestle, Switzerland

Hear ‘Face Off’ and other ground-breaking content at ESOMAR’s 70th Anniversary Congress in Amsterdam, 10-13 September

 

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