One of the most fundamental aspects of marketing is the need for brands to understand their consumers. As a student within the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Analytics and Insights, I had the tremendous opportunity to learn with the rest of my class from one of the leading market research and consulting companies in the world – Ipsos. Ipsos is a global marketing insights company that provides clients from a variety of industries with actionable insights which drive strategic marketing initiatives. For our visit to India, we were given the opportunity to observe the ethnographic process up close in their homes and learn more about how Indians snack from a cultural perspective, a stark contrast from the typical company visits where we are situated around a conference table in a corporate office. As our bus neared the neighborhoods where our consumers lived, we formed small groups of four and awaited our drop off point where we would meet with two representatives from Ipsos.
The setting for my group’s interview, while small, had the characteristics of a well-to-do Indian household – a multi-floored, high-rise home that allocated its space vertical rather than on one level like we see in the USA. As our interviewers approached the door, we were greeted with a smile and slight bow from our participant. The overarching theme Ipsos was looking to explore was not an explicit research question with measurable outcomes, but rather a cultural analysis to gain a deeper understanding of the attitudes, behaviors, and habits that revolve around meals and snacking within India. This was particularly pertinent for me given my studies in qualitative research methods and conducting interviews for the purpose of cultural analysis. The interview started out with what is known within the research world as a grand tour question – a question such as “Tell me a little bit about a typical day for you”, designed for the interviewer to both build rapport with the participant and add context for the rest of the interview. Following these series of biographical questions, Ipsos dug into the client related questions related to food: “What are the occasions for snacking?” “What is your definition of packaged foods?” “What senses come to your mind when thinking of (insert brand)?” Following the interview, we were given a short tour of the kitchen and pantries.
What I found most valuable about the experience as a spectator were the different non-verbal reactions the interviewee displayed. When talking about her role as a mother, I could see the pride as her eyes widened and the pace of her speech increased. When answering questions that could be inferred as challenges to her judgment and ability as a caretaker, she crossed her arms in a defensive position and her tone softened. Qualitative research is all about discovering the themes and patterns that manifest themselves in the form of rituals and attitudes and linking together these themes in a way where it can be determined where a product or service fits. As a future insights manager, it is in these moments where a cultural truth is often discovered, and I felt invigorated following the interview as I reflected on these subtle behaviors.
India is a vast, diverse, and culturally rich country with an incredible intermixing of religion, social class, and education. Furthermore, it is a land whose identity is becoming more and more fragmented as we observe how changes in attitudes concerning spirituality and tradition are shifting, making the field of marketing insights both challenging and exciting. I hope to have many more international opportunities as my career progresses, and I’m thankful to the Wisconsin School of Business for providing me the chance to grow both personally and professionally as a result of this trip.
This article is part of the series describing the Marketing Centers’ International Trip to India in January 2020. The international trip is the culmination of a two-credit course with the overall learning objective of expanding student knowledge of marketing and other facets of running a multi-national brand in high interest markets beyond the U.S. While on site we visit the marketing offices of several companies and receive engaging case studies on the local consumer, company operations and the challenges of ‘local’ marketing outside the U.S. Students walk away from the trip with a different perspective that prepares them further for working in global marketing and general management.
The 2020 course and international trip focused primarily on US based multi-national companies in India.