Integrating Consumer understanding with Business strategy – In conversation with Manish Makhijani, CMI Director – PDC, Unilever

  • Mrinal Gaur
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  • Published Date : 3 February , 2021
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  • Updated Date : 24 May , 2021
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    • 7 min read

“Consumer centricity comes from talking to consumers every few days and that should be a part of your organization culture” True words spoken by Manish Makhijani during our insightful webinar session with him.

Manish Makhijani is the Global PDC Director at Unilever and he is the Vice President of The Market Research Society of India(MRSI). He has spent more than twenty years in the research industry on both agency and client-side. Apart from India, he has worked with Unilever in the UK, Singapore, and Thailand across different categories and brands. Before Unilever, he worked on various brands and clients in Starcom and Kantar TNS. He is known for his expertise in the field of insights and analytics and is passionate about enhancing the insights capabilities of the organizations. He has written various papers for ESOMAR and MRSI, presented in different industry forums and webinars. He has helped many budding researchers in their journey as he has also been a visiting faculty and guest lecturer- from MICA in Ahmedabad to the London School of Economics. In 2013, he was awarded the prestigious Ginny Valentine Award for Courage in Research.

 

Market research should inform Strategy development. How do we ensure that they remain integrated from starting from research initiation to strategy execution?

" The journey needs to happen within an organization. The insights function needs to evolve from being a research provider to a strategic consultant to an advisor.

For that, you need to build that credibility with the marketing team and advertising agency first, by offering them a genuine market research insight as to why something like say a particular ad wouldn’t work? Apart from being good thinkers, insight managers should also have leadership capabilities - they should be able to drive a change agenda and be able to stand up and say - look this product is not going to do very well in the market and this is the reason behind it. The talent you hire, the grooming you do, and how insightful you make the team, it all makes a difference to the journey of a research function"

 

Do you also get into the kind of mapping that figures out the pillars on which a brand is built so that, no matter what the piece of communication is, you ensure that it stands on those pillars?

"We do see what are the various category drivers like how do people choose a brand within a category? Then we look at the brand drivers – for instance, the fundamental driver of Surf Excel is to be able to clean clothes properly, then comes the fragrance, and then we also need to see how our brand is performing on those parameters. There might be other emotional hooks as well. So, even before you show your brand in the ad, people should know that this is a Surf Excel ad and then you know that this is what the advertising of your brand is all about."

 

Could you paint this picture for us in terms of the needs a product addresses and the psychographic profile of the people who use it?

 "Talking about beauty soaps, generally speaking, in India, women in the slightly lower than middle-class category don’t have access to too many makeup products because they don’t want to spend on makeup. They tend to feel a little guilty about spending the money on themselves. A strong part of femininity is that you want to feel good about yourself, not that men don’t want to feel good, but women want to feel soft skin, they want to have a good fragrance, and they want to smell nice because that gives them a sense of wellbeing. Now, can you provide all this in a bar of soap - a soap that keeps you smelling nice for a long period and makes your skin soft, that fulfills the need state of your mind – that is what beauty soaps like Godrej no. 1, Lux, and santoor do. Santoor takes a slightly different angle - it targets slightly older women and for years, they have been showing an ad where there is a young girl and a child suddenly appears and says, mommy. The surprise element is that she does not look as old because she is the mother of a young child. 

 For a simple humble category like a soap, where people switch brands without even blinking, they need to think about the need state of the consumers they are targeting and do their advertising accordingly. The point is to be consistent over time so that you own that position."

 

In the current environment, there is a deluge of data and information available. How do you deal with this amount of data and derive intelligence and insights out of it?

 "It is very easy to get lost in the data that is available today. Hence, a sharp focus of what you are looking for is extremely critical and a clear understanding of where you are going to get it from is important as well and that is why your skill as a researcher comes in. For example, if I want to know why my sales are declining and I have loads of data coming in, I will run through a hypothesis similar to a typical critical thinking method. Let's say  I identify the reason that I am not available anymore as much as I used to be – Now, I need the distribution data, like details about who is selling my brand and who is not selling it, and I will focus only on that data. I think the ability to think critically is far more critical today than it used to be 10 years ago because that gives you the ability to filter out what you don’t want to see and filter out what you don’t need to see. As human beings, we have got our own biases and filters which we need to be aware of and therefore set filters accordingly."

 

Can you tell us something about the PDC so that we can get an idea of how it is organized to be able to draw insights from multiple sources?

 "There are two streams of insights in the people data centre out of the three streams - one is the social listening part, the second is the consumer engagement centre and the third is digital marketing. We use social listening tools extensively to listen to the conversations that people have on social media, of course, which are public - what people are thinking and how their emotions are changing. For instance, initially in the pandemic, people were excited about being at home for a few weeks because they thought they will have a better work-life balance then people started getting tired of that. This was all available on social media as a conversation. You need to make sure that you’re listening to people of different profiles, people from different parts of the country, enough men and women of different economic strata, and so on so that you’re not being biased by one segment. But you complement this with the primary research as well. This is one part of what the new way of doing research is, the other part is through the call centre route which is our global vertical that I lead. There, when we speak to millions and millions of consumers across the world, 30 percent of the time they spend reaching out to us is because they have a problem and they want to complain about a product, but 70 percent of the time they are reaching out to ask a genuine question or give a suggestion. That tells you how interested they are in these products and brands and that itself is a sign of involvement. The insights that we get from those unprompted conversations are huge, so we agree we have brought products back into the market which had been delisted due to this "

 

 Can you tell us if there was a clear progression of how people were responding to lockdown and were you able to do something in terms of insights for marketing?

" Yes, we did through Analytics and Social listening. We couldn’t do research fieldwork for a few months so we recruited some panels of people and started having a conversation with them through WhatsApp every week. We were doing video calls with those ones who were affluent. Women, for instance, who were working but who were now at home because of the lockdown went through a really big problem. They said that at least they could get out of the house for eight to ten hours earlier. Now, they are expected to do all the housework along with the expectations for work from home. Their problems multiplied and incidences of home abuse went up dramatically, So, we did activities not just in terms of launching new things like surface cleaners and toilet cleaners which are very obvious recommendations but we took initiatives for their mental and emotional trauma and helped communities too. We took those kinds of initiatives where we look after people in terms of their well-being."

 

How can small businesses do research? Is it more like a DIY approach?

" It is not that you don’t need skilled practitioners but at the heart of it, market research is about understanding your customers, what is it that drives them to buy, when do your people leave and go to the competition. You can do it yourself by talking to a few customers and making your organization more consumer-centric or customer-centric. For example, in Unilever, we have a full consumer centricity program where people go and meet consumers and we call it a consumer connect program and even the leadership team spends at least 10 to 15 hours every month meeting and talking to consumers directly. We talk to them asking what they are using? How are they using our products? Have you seen our new ad? Thus, if you spend every month talking to consumers, it gives you a thorough understanding of the real situation. I think that consumer centricity is all about an organization's culture."

 

Today several brands do purpose-driven advertising - when do you think that would work and when would you recommend it?

"There is clear evidence that purpose drives a brand and in the last 10 years, brands with purpose have grown a lot more than brands without purpose. But it works only if the brand truly means what it says. This can happen only when the purpose is truly integrated into the brand. For example - Surf Excel's purpose is to provide the right parenting guidance so that they provide the right environment for their children. That is integrated into what the brand stands for and aligns with the brand philosophy, then it doesn’t feel like you are doing something else whereas if you just once in a while do some promotion then it doesn’t work. People will forget about it quickly. "

 

Does one need to know data science and have the technical knowledge to understand consumer insights? 

"Consumer insights are more about the innate ability to connect the dots – For instance, if I see somebody eating ketchup and I see the same person watching Netflix, I should be able to understand if there could be a connection between these two? One gets very random pieces of data, the point is how do you connect them. Of course, you should have the technical knowledge and you might need to use analytics as well but that is not enough. It is only a foundation but it is your ability to connect intuitively and understand consumers is that matters. Insight is a true integration of both science and art."

 

Watch the complete session of this webinar on Youtube.




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