As Nielsen’s country head, Piyush Mathur presides over the fortunes of one of the largest market research companies here. In recent months, Nielsen, which provides market share data to fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies, has been in the eye of a storm over accuracy of the numbers provided. Its joint ventures with GFK in consumer durables and WPP's Kantar in media have also been marred by allegations of inaccuracy and rigging of data. Mathur responds to Viveat Susan Pinto’s questions on how it proposes to address these issues, besides throwing light on the way ahead. Edited excerpts:
What are you doing to address advertiser concerns over inaccurate market share data?
We are open to all the criticism that comes our way and willing to sort out our differences with clients. Retail measurement services constitute a quarter of our business. That in no way means we will ignore this business. In that business, we have formed a client advisory council, which includes 18 companies that we meet either on a quarterly basis or three times a year. We jointly decide on how the product should evolve. It is unprecedented that the retail audit goes from 16,000 outlets to 25,000 and now 40,000. The first phase, from 16,000 to 25,000, was completed last year, while the second phase, from 25,000 to 40,000, will kick in early next year. This is an over two-time increase in panel size, which we have never undertaken anywhere else in the world.
All of this is happening jointly, with the investment from us as well as the industry. We realise that not only the width but also the depth of coverage must increase. Whether it is increasing our coverage in rural areas or small towns or covering more categories, we are making the effort to address these concerns. Having done all this, will the picture be perfect? I doubt it. A number of variables on the ground come into play. So, to answer, we are trying, are open to criticism and are working jointly with the industry to address the concerns they have.
Will you consider looking at more alliances in India, something you have done over the last few years? Or, will acquisitions be the way forward?
We will look at both. While there were acquisitions early on, of ORG, MARG and MRAS, all of them research agencies, we have in the last few years moved ahead with alliances or partnerships, whether in media, consumer durables, social media (with McKinsey) or mobile phones, where we have a tie-up with Informate to understand the behaviour of smart phone users. However, that does not mean we will not look at acquisitions at all. Shopper marketing and analytics are two areas where we are exploring acquisitions. These are two areas where we see prospects for growth and are open to the idea of acquiring companies in these areas.
Besides retail measurement services, which other segments give you a significant amount of your business?
The other two areas are traditional consumer research and analytics. Traditional consumer research gives us 50 per cent of our business and analytics another 10 per cent. But analytics is growing the fastest, at 60 per cent yearly. This is waht gives us the confidence that this market will grow and hence the need to consider inorganic opportunities in this area.
What is your assessment of social media? Are research agencies doing enough to address the information needs of advertisers who are keen to tap into these?
Most research agencies are merely touching the surface. Thanks to social media, opinions get formed and broken in no time. That also puts pressure on advertisers on how best to communicate in a dynamic environment like this. With our tie-up with McKinsey, we are looking at providing insights into consumer behaviour on social media platforms.
What is the content that drives them, how best can these platforms be utilised by advertisers, what can they communicate on these networks etc. It is the beginning but the first tentative steps have been taken. Social media is booming and if you fail to understand how this engine works, it can be detrimental to you. Most advertisers realise this and in a sense, their eagerness to learn and understand this medium is also driving us to push the bar when it comes to providing insights on social media.