Within 20 years of Independence, economists were eyeing Pakistan as one of the fastest emerging economies; countries like South Korea were studying its model to replicate it. It was in this time of prosperity that Pakistan’s first market research company began operations.
Their first office was a humble setup on Tariq Road in Karachi in 1966. The proprietor of this innovative enterprise was Mahmoodul Hasan, a young graduate of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA). His tenet for the business was that there could be no compromise on the quality of data because clients would be making strategic business decisions based on this information. The company thus ensured that the data collectors were well-trained, but it was also important to guarantee that the sample selection was scientifically done and representative of the universe under study and that the questionnaires were designed in a way to make sure they asked the right questions to get the right answers.
The people attracted to this field were comfortable with numbers and with inferring learnings by deploying statistical and mathematical tools. The pioneers were graduates from Ivy League universities, such as Dr Ijaz Shafi Gilani and Dr Javed Ghani.
Initially, clients were multinational companies, familiar with market research. In fact, companies like Unilever used to have a market research department as big as any research agency. This was the case until the nineties, when Unilever, along with other multinationals, moved away from this model and outsourced to specialist agencies.
This development led to the growth of the market research industry. Many local advertising agencies opened their doors and the industry saw a boom. It was around this time when mainframe computers were introduced, a development that saw a change in client expectations, as they then began to demand faster turnaround times and reports that would give them learnings rather than outputs. In fact, clients expected their market research companies to have ‘marketing’ sense and this created the need for a new a mindset, whereby numbers were interpreted to generate insights. As technology gathered pace and new tools were introduced, clients wanted their research companies to be their partners rather than data providers. They were demanding insights with a clear direction on how to meet their business challenges.
However, market research companies failed to step up to the plate and the emphasis remained on sharing data, with their output lacking focus, as the ‘data miners’ were mining sand rather than sieving for ‘diamonds’ (insights) and stories.
Market research companies require a paradigm shift. They need to transform themselves into marketing consultants. They need to understand the business, use the right design to test hypothesis and present findings that are relevant to their clients’ needs. Of course, market research practitioners need to be comfortable with numbers, but they also need the ability to create ideas that can break through the clutter.
This transition is important in terms of how the future is shaping up. It is expected that the market researcher’s job will be replaced by technologies and androids due to AI and machine learning. These machines will master what humans are good at by using their ‘left’ or their ‘rational’ brain. However, this does not mean that technology will replace humans. Humans will still be superior because of their ‘right brain’ or ‘emotions’ and will continue to interpret data and offer recommendations to grow brands based on insights and stories. Market researchers will have to become strategists and planners.
First published in The Dawn of Advertising in Pakistan (1947-2017), on March 31, 2018. At that time, Noaman Asar was MD, Kantar Pakistan.
He is now CEO, Oula.