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Dr. Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Chief Consulting Editor's Desk
Rajita Chaudhuri
Dr. Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Editor-in-Chief
Dr. Arindam Chaudhuri
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This University is Under Siege!
Usage of Outdated Tools, Wrong Analysis, faulty Reportage, Attrition of key Personnel, lack of Forward Integration – Thanks to its Complacent Approach, IMRB risks losing ground very fast
Issue Date - 16/06/2011
The early birds do catch the worms, but in the corporate world, it’s really about how long you can keep them. Being born in a period (1970 to be precise) when Indian companies weren’t even updated on the real meaning of the word ‘customer’, does provide several advantages to IMRB, a company that’s well known for its customised researches. But when one looks at how it’s failing to set new benchmarks, one wonders how long it can continue to keep its competitive strengths intact.

For a company that claims to be the ‘University’ of the Indian market research industry, it would be quite appropriate to do a quick research on the pioneering work by brand strategy guru David Aaker on Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA). Aaker had said that a company’s assets and skills determine whether it can retain a sustainable competitive advantage.

For IMRB, development of the right kind of assets and skills appears to be the major challenge. A more embarrassing challenge is the fact that faults in IMRB’s reportage and findings have crept up faster than one could have ever expected or imagined – and it’s surprising that IMRB’s management could have overseen (and overlooked) these issues. For example, an IMRB report like the Internet Usage and Habits of Cyber Cafe Users (December 5, 2010) is riddled with numerical conflicts that could fox even the most intrepid analyst – 4Ps B&M has listed one such mistake in the graph at the right.

Some industry players put the blame for such lack of professionalism to be the result of their manpower challenges. Lakshmikant Gupta, Chief Marketing Officer at LG Electronics India, tells us from his experience and interactions, “IMRB is having a tough time retaining people, as they are moving to international MR firms or other sectors for better career options.” Numerous surveys point out lack of growth opportunities as the main reason for employee attrition. For an international MR company, it could be quite appalling if they were unable to provide their performers the right career progression, and it definitely has a bearing on growth prospects.

In general, the malaise starts from the top of the industry ladder. Dhiraj Chaddha, Marketing Head, Voltas Ltd. points out, “I think there’s a big room for improvement in the Indian MR industry. Most of them are following archaic models, which haven’t changed over the years.” Pioneers do have a role in shaping the best and worst in an industry. IMRB proves quite true to the stereotype.

A well known instance of their surveys coming under scrutiny is the entire hullabaloo around TAM ratings, which were developed as a 50:50 JV between IMRB and AC Nielsen. TAM polls some 30000 sample individuals for all towns in India that have a population of over 1,00,000 (company reports). After around a decade of virtual monopoly, the then I&B minister Priyaranjan Dashmunshi expressed his shock at how India’s most populated state UP was left out of the list of homes covered along with Bihar in the TAM ratings. Even, the current I&B minister Ambika Soni is backing the setting up of an independent regulator to assess viewership numbers, since they are the source of billions (TV accounts for around Rs.257 billion in revenues in India) being spent on media investments by companies. In particular, TAM has been criticized on not only the sample size it uses, but also various anomalies in its findings. TV penetration has reached around 500 million, but TAM research has yet not adapted in a similar fashion. Shruti Bajpai, Country Head, HBO Asia, agrees, “TRP ratings are skewed because the sample size is absolutely unrealistic. But invariably, we have to keep a tab on them because there is no other option.” Besides, the ratings ignore the simple fact that in an intensely dynamic environment, timely information is of utmost importance to the media planner. Competitor aMap claims that it has a better offering for its clients, particularly due to overnight data availability rather than the weekly rankings posted by TAM. Jiniti Shah, VP, aMap, comments to 4Ps B&M, “If one gets previous day’s ratings today, we can evaluate our future steps to generate maximum out of the opportunity available, thereby getting 3-5 times return.” IMRB officials were unavailable for comment on this story when contacted by 4Ps B&M.

Naresh Gupta, National Planning Director, Cheil Worldwide, comments on the changing trends in the industry, “The reality is that marketing and consumers are in midst of a huge change now. The research process in large numbers is still driven by conventional means which are slow and time consuming. The challenge that is facing the industry is to cope with the speed of change.” Although specific numbers are hard to find on how the pecking order stands and how it is changing, IMRB also carries a perception of being too large and bureaucratic in its own industry, traits that restrict it from providing what marketers of today need. Critics also point out that IMRB is using standardised approaches across industries. On condition of anonymity, one competitor pointed out how the Customer Satisfaction Management & Measurement (CSMM) unit of IMRB is using seriously outdated tools since years. The unit is supposed to provide companies with the ability to track brand loyalty, channel loyalty, supplier relations, customer satisfaction, et al; but it has apparently not kept pace with the evolving marketing process.

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