Interview with Quratulain Ibrahim, MD, Nielsen Pakistan.
AYESHA SHAIKH: What prompted Nielsen to move towards a more digital approach for market research?
QURATULAIN IBRAHIM: Nielsen is the largest consumer and market research company in the world and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Nielsen Pakistan started operations in 2002 and ever since, we have been innovating and growing in technology and capability development. Last year, as part of our digital journey, we shifted from traditional methods (pen and paper) to automated methods of data collection using hand-held terminals (HHT). Our new HHT devices are top-of-the-range, with the capability to scan product codes and make store audits more accurate and robust. HHT devices have helped improve the accuracy, reliability and efficiency of data, thereby allowing companies to make informed decisions. The shift to HHT is a big leap forward for Pakistan, which has a very spread-out trade market with 674,980 shops carrying consumer products in 470 cities and 16,000 villages (as per Nielsen’s latest retail census). Another significant change has been the revamping of our operations and systems teams. The team leads now are data scientists with expertise in data collection and interpretation, which allows them to recommend changes in a client’s business model. As Nielsen Pakistan adopts more digital technologies, we have also changed our processes and functions.
AS: What kind of data do clients have access to?
QI: We are a full-service marketing agency with primarily two types of research offerings: Retail Measurement Services (RMS) and Consumer Insights & Innovations (CII). Clients who subscribe to RMS have access to retail-level information, such as the volume and value of product category sales, brand share, product availability, stock levels, shelf space and hypermarket sales data by category. This country-wide data is further organised by the type of retail channel, province and city, to make the statistics more meaningful for businesses. Through RMS, Nielsen Pakistan’s clients also gain access to store census data. A new service that has been added to the RMS umbrella is an advanced analytics solution, which uses store census information to identify distribution efficiencies. Included in the domain of CII is information on new product concepts, pricing, packaging, promotions, campaigns, brand equity, consumer satisfaction and more. This information helps marketers make the right strategic decisions to achieve optimal brand growth.
AS: Nielsen recently introduced ‘DigitalMR’. How will clients benefit from subscribing to this service?
QI: Nielsen works with DigitalMR (a London-based tech market research company, specialising in web-based market research) to provide clients with digital solutions via online data acquisition. This is a paid service comprising two tools. The first is Listening 247, which analyses brand-related posts on social media, blogs and websites, in order to gauge brand sentiment, loyalty and image. The second is Communities 247, which allows clients to engage with consumers through interactive, online discussions. The tool develops online communities for different brands and product categories comprising members who fit the target consumer profile.
As per the ESOMAR Market Research Industry Report, Pakistan’s market research industry grew by almost 17% last year and currently, we are working with more than 120 companies in Pakistan. There is no global average of the number of clients Nielsen has; this figure varies based on the size and whether a market is developed or not.
AS: What are some of the advanced research solutions that are being used globally that will benefit clients if offered in Pakistan?
QI: Nielsen has a number of advanced research solutions that are available globally. Those considered to be the most beneficial for Pakistan (based on current market and industry trends) have been introduced locally. A recently introduced tool is the Advanced Analytics, which assists clients in identifying and short-listing retail stores where product availability is crucial. If this is ensured, clients stand to benefit not only from increased sales volumes, but from improvements in distribution efficiencies. Innovations is another tool which has been introduced which helps our clients in deciding which new product launches will have the most feasibility. The tool also provides information on the expected ROI, which marketing tools are likely to have the most impact, and what the optimal price range should be for a new product.
AS: In your opinion, how has the importance of market research changed in Pakistan?
QI: Market research is about keeping tabs on changing consumer needs and market trends. As competition among brands intensifies, so does the need for market research and data experts. Brands are trying to control costs, yet grow, which is where market research can play a crucial role. I can safely conclude that relying on ‘gut feelings’ and anecdotal knowledge is no longer sufficient; if businesses want to grow at an accelerated pace, there is no option but to research consumer behaviour trends and industry statistics.
AS: Are brands in Pakistan aware of the value of market research?
QI: To answer this question, I will have to divide brands in Pakistan into three buckets: international brands, large national brands and growing local brands. Brands of MNCs such as Unilever, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and P&G, are heavy users of research; in fact, most of the decisions taken by brand custodians are almost always backed by consumer feedback. Large national brands, such as Dalda, EBM, National, Shan and Ufone, have evolved and rely on market research to guide their strategic decisions. The last category, that of growing local brands, including Oye Hoye, Kurleez and Mayfair, use our services sporadically and adjust their spends and marketing plans accordingly. Over the last two decades, we have seen a significant growth in the number of clients and industries which use and value market research data. We expect the awareness and appreciation of market research to increase in the coming years.
AS: On average, how many clients in Pakistan take advantage of the services that Nielsen offers and how does this number compare with the organisation’s global client base?
QI: Nielsen is the leader in the market research industry, both globally and in Pakistan. Every year, our market expands as brands are launched and new industries start using market research data. As per the ESOMAR Market Research Industry Report, Pakistan’s market research industry grew by almost 17% last year and currently, we are working with more than 120 companies in Pakistan. There is no global average of the number of clients Nielsen has; this figure varies based on the size and whether a market is developed or not.
AS: An often-quoted statement is that “there is a severe lack of research centres and hence, localised data is not available in Pakistan.” To what extent is this true?
QI: This statement may have been true a few years ago, but since then, a number of local and international market research agencies have established a presence here. According to business and industry reports released at the start of 2018, Pakistan has been identified as one of the fastest growing markets in the ‘emerging markets’ category, with more than 200 million consumers. The market research industry in Pakistan will continue to evolve and it would not be surprising to see more research organisations come into the picture, as well as an improvement in the quality of data and insights.
AS: What are Nielsen Pakistan’s plans going forward?
QI: Innovation will continue to remain a priority. We will be introducing Quality Control Towers this year, which will, in conjunction with HHT, help us supervise data collection at retail stores as sales happen. The auditors are immediately notified if the data collected is skewed (compared to the previous records). This allows us to recommend instant measures to our clients. Whenever a global software is launched, and if we believe that it will work in Pakistan, we take immediate steps to implement it here.