As maybe the fastest growing major economy on the planet, India is on track to emerge as one of the world’s top three economic powers within the next 15 years. And with a population that’s more than four times the size of the U.S. population, it’s no wonder why India – much like China – is a very attractive market for global brands.
But as big and complex as India’s economic potential is, so, too, are the challenges that face marketers as they try to gain a firm grasp on the preferences of Indian consumers. Then again, no one said it would be easy to understand the wants and needs of 1.3 billion people in a country with 22 official languages.
With decades of experience conducting research in India, LRW offers five rules of engagement for any company or agency that’s looking to develop a clearer picture of Indian consumers.
Rule #1: Speak Their Language(s)
We already alluded to India’s 22 official languages. But did you also know that there are 400 different dialects on top of all those languages? That means there’s no such thing as a routine survey in India. The good news is that English is one of the more common languages in India (spoken by 125 million people), and if researchers are willing to sacrifice some representation, they can probably get away with conducting their entire project in English. But if they want a truly representative nationwide sample, they’ll want to include a minimum of four language overlays in addition to English. The top languages to consider other than English are Hindi (spoken by 551 million people), Bengali (91 million), Telugu (85 million) and Marathi (84 million).
Rule #2: Don’t Get Lost in Translation
Working with so many languages and dialects is obviously very complicated, but it’s a complication that must be tackled head-on, especially when it comes to accurate translations. Literal or pure translations often don’t account for true spoken language, and they can often lead to misinterpretations by both interviewers and respondents. That’s why it’s always in the researcher’s best interest to work with an in-country translation partner that understands modern-day idioms and slang. Making this one important investment can maximize their chances to secure strong, reliable, and human data. It also minimizes time and money lost on back-and-forth efforts to clarify questions and responses.
Rule #3: Respect the Culture
There are a number of cultural elements that must be considered before launching a research project in India. First, when interviewing female respondents, it always helps to have a female interviewer. This is done to help female respondents feel more comfortable with their responses, especially if it’s about sensitive feminine topics or if the research involves a home visit.
Religion is another point of consideration. Hinduism is by far the biggest religion in India, but there are also healthy populations of Muslims and Christians. According to Pew, an estimated eight out of every 10 Indians say that religion is very important in their lives, and because religion is so important, it has a strong influence on their perspectives. Any national sample of Indian respondents should reflect religious demographics.
Food culture is another overlooked but important consideration for researchers. Many outsiders stereotypically look at India as a vegetarian country, when in fact 71% of Indians are non-vegetarian. Those who are vegetarian typically do it for religious reasons and are therefore very passionate about their diets. But while meat is more prevalent than one might assume, the real big no-no in India is beef. Cattle are considered sacred in Hinduism, and some Indian states have even banned the slaughter of cattle. So if you’re a fast food burger chain that’s interested in the Indian market, you might want to save your time and money – or at least start innovating some culturally friendly menu options.
Rule #4: Don’t Always Rely on Modern Technology
According to Pew, India has the lowest internet penetration in the world at just 25%. And even where there is internet, it’s not always very reliable. Interruptions in data connections and power outages are common occurrences that force near-complete surveys to start all over again. The issue isn’t just limited to in-home or mobile devices; LRW teams have reported these sorts of issues even with surveys hosted at cyber cafés.
But India is far from the Dark Ages when it comes to tech, and tech is opening up the country’s massive economic potential. After all, isn’t that why you want to study this market in the first place? In large Tier 1 cities (such as Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi) that make up a huge chunk of India’s population, internet and mobile data speeds are much more reliable. In fact, consumers in these cities rely on video streaming and e-commerce just as much as you might find in Western markets. As a result, researchers may want to study behavioral and purchase insights in Tier 1 cities by tapping into big data insights from popular e-commerce platforms like Flipkart and Snapdeal and from video streaming services like HotStar.
Rule #5: Beware of Fraud
Given the technological restrictions above, in-person assisted interviews may be a more reliable research method, depending on your study. But a note of caution: since interviewers on the ground typically get paid by the interview, they may feel incentivized to speed through interviews or even worse, make up fraudulent interviews altogether. This is particularly an issue considering that a 45-minute survey can easily balloon to two hours or more when you factor in travel, wait, and screening times. Researchers will want to take certain precautions such as using invisible programmatic flags to catch interviewers who demonstrate a pattern of “straightlining” questions, or steering the interviews toward the shortest paths of completion.
While these five rules are a helpful guide to conducting research in India, there will always be much deeper nuances and challenges. As the political and cultural realities inside the country continue to evolve, it’s important to work with a partner that keeps in tune with those changes to deliver the most representative insights. India offers a world of financial opportunity if you approach the market responsibly and with the respect it deserves.