Preponing Your Research in India?

Map of India isolatedWhat do you do when your client wants to do their research ahead of its scheduled time? Quite simple; Prepone it! ‘Prepone’ is a word coined by Indians and is defined in the New Oxford Dictionary of English as: “to bring forward to an earlier date or time”.

How can this be achieved? This is not a simple task, especially for researchers outside South Asia who are carrying out their research for the first time in this dynamic market. Just as there are some English words that are used in a distinctly Indian way, there are other local differences that need to be considered in order to deliver relevant and reliable information in this culturally diverse market.

India is one of the fastest growing research markets and is currently the fifth largest in Asia. It saw an annual growth of 8% in 2014 according to ESOMAR, with nearly 40% of its sales coming from consumer goods and services. Understanding this particular market, then, will certainly be a key advantage in navigating India’s highly competitive business landscape. To learn more about this unique market, Ankesh Saxena, India’s SSI Business Development Manager, shares some important things to consider when planning research in India.

Can you set the scene for us in terms of demographics? What types of demographic groups do researchers usually set quotas on?

With more than 1 billion inhabitants, India ranks second to China as the world’s most populous country. Its people are culturally diverse, and religion plays an important role in the life of the country. About 81% of the people practice Hinduism, a religion that originated in India. Another 13% are Muslims, and millions of others are Christians,
Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains.

Eighteen major languages and more than 1,000 minor languages and dialects are spoken in India, thus making languages a significant criterion for demographic segregation as well.

When setting quotas, age, gender and income are mainly used for general population and consumer online research studies. As India is extremely diverse in its population and spending by region, administrative regional tiers to classify communities i.e. Rural, Urban, and Tribal, are also factored in.

What are the important things to keep in mind when sampling in India?

India is a large consumer economy but it does not accommodate everyone, at least not yet. That means concepts like ‘Nat Rep’ (to which researchers usually refer when they would like their sample to reflect the structure of the entire population of the country) need to be reconsidered, though in an Indian context. What ‘nation’, for example, are we trying to represent? It is very likely to be a consumer with some level of disposable income and this does not include everyone.

A report by McKinsey & Company (2007) graphically shows the income pyramid in India and its development over time. McKinsey projected around 55 million households in 2015 from about 11 million middle class households in 2005, and they see this figure to grow to half a billion middle class households – over a third of the country’s current population – in another ten years. That is a massive number, but it is still not ‘Nat Rep’.

Market research in India is almost always a pragmatic solution, just as it is in other countries such as China, Russia and Brazil. You can only interview the people you need with the resources that you have. For example, landline telephone research in India would be restricted to about 15% of households that actually have a landline. Face-to-face fieldwork would most likely be conducted in urban areas, far from the poorest neighbourhoods, which are usually of little interest to most consumer brands. In addition, the number of India’s Internet users is about 12% of the total population, and these tend to be very young, well-educated and in higher income groups.

What about carrying out an online survey across the mobile network?

A recent report by IAMAI and IMRB indicates how India is steadily moving towards a more Internet friendly and exploratory mind-set. Increasing Internet-enabled device penetration and decreasing handset prices and data plan tariffs are helping to create a suitable environment for the rapid growth of mobile Internet in India. While 3G and 4G may continue to be a primarily urban phenomenon over the next few years, rural growth will likely be seen through 2G technologies in the near future. At that point, we will see some serious possibilities for national sampling with self-completion surveys.

Can you give an insight into how to define the middle class in India?

There is no standard definition for India’s middle class. However, from the methodology adopted by India’s National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), we can define the middle class as households with a disposable income of 200,000 to 1,000,000 rupees ($4,380 to $21,890) a year in real 2000 terms. That might seem low for a developed country, but because the cost of living is lower in India this range of income buys a recognisably middle class lifestyle. In Purchasing-Power-Parity terms, the range is comparable to an income of $11,650 to $23,530 in a developed country such as the United States.

What language should I use in my research?

There is no one common language spoken in India. Hindi and English are the country’s co-official national languages, and both tongues are used as the lingua franca in various regions. Hence, either can be used for research. However, we have to be aware of local differences. Certain words and phrases are not used, and conversely some things that we say may sound odd to researchers from the West. Often, this is less of a problem for self-completion surveys because there is time to read the full questions and answer list before making a decision. But you need to be able to clearly formulate the questions and answers, and this can be quite challenging if you don’t understand Indian English. A few examples of distinct Indian English words are: air-dash, time-pass, bad mash and prepone. So it is really important to have a local expert that can help you to get a better understanding of people’s opinions and the overall market.