Saturday, March 11, 2006

Market Research and the Media

{Also cross-posted at the Indian Media Bash Blog. Read Here }

Having recently joined the media advertising industry, I now have to deal with an overwhelming amount of data pertaining to various market data. In the print industry certain figures hold a lot of value; they are the Audit Bureau of Circulation figures called the ABCs and the National Readership Survey figures called the NRS-es. These data provide an estimate of the number and habits of people reading newspapers and magazines. This is very relevant for marketing the newspaper or magazine to the advertisers because most decisions about media buying are based on these figures. It helps the advertiser ascertain the kind of readers who will eventually see their advertisements and if it will provide them with expected response.

Targeting the Decision Maker

With the demographics of India showing a considerable skew towards a youthful populace and as youngsters with larger disposable incomes become independent decision makers, more and more advertisers are now very interested in knowing the habits of these decision makers. While the ABCs and the NRS-es give the data about the reach the media instruments have, the DMS or the Decision Makers Survey, now presents a very important value proposition to the advertiser. What this mainly describes is the kind of readership the publication has among decision makers, whether it be in terms of corporate decisions or day to day household purchase decisions. For instance FMCG companies selling a product like Sunflower Oil would rather advertise in a family channel like Star Plus which is watched by a large number of household purchase decision makers, the housewives rather than CNBC which is watched more by business men.

Experiential Media

What is also relevant in the media today is a shift towards more experiential platforms of advertising. Advertisers today are looking at providing the customer with an experience with their brands and not just the product. This is based on the psychographics, or attitudes and behaviors of the consumer. It has been ascertained, for instance that due to the rising attention deficiency syndrome amongst readers of a newspaper the time spent by an average reader with a newspaper is significantly lower than before. What this means is that, the print advertisements although reaching the audience indicated by the readership figures of the NRS-es and ABCs, are not actually providing brand connect. Hence it becomes imperative for the advertiser to look for media which does not only provide an Opportunity to See, but actually an Opportunity to Experience.

So its market research then?

So it is clear that market research and surveys is an integral cog in the wheels of the media decision vehicle. But can all decisions be taken based on these surveys? Although generally when one is presented with such a question, we usually disagree and say that not all marketing decisions can be taken based on market research; there are very few arguments which disapprove of it as a useful tool. But, I was recently introduced to a rather potent argument about how market research is not all powerful as claimed by the statisticians and hardcore data junkies. Consider a scenario where a toothpaste company conducting a market survey about its product, poses various questions to its users about the taste, smell, color, package ergonomics etc. The kind of response which can be expected could be about wanting a higher mint flavor, a fresher smell, a greener color and so on. But what the argument contends is that by conducting such a conventional market survey, what the toothpaste company is getting are only incremental improvement suggestions for their product and not very significant experiential changes. For instance, because of a restrictive question set in the market survey pertaining to the past and current experiences of consumers about the product, the company loses out in tapping aspirations of the consumer for newer experiences like that of a teeth protecting chewing gum.

Capturing Relevant Audiences

This above situation is a very relevant discrepancy in terms of a market research exercise because of its reliance on past and current experiences as the basis on which the future is to be extrapolated. While these suggestions are predominantly incremental improvements in nature, what is more relevant today is capturing the experiential aspirations for the future. Also important is the need to make the advertising reach the relevant audience more than anybody, and with values becoming more and more embedded in experiences than in just the product, market research has to be redefined from being survey figures to being portals to experiential aspirations of relevant audiences.

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