a leading market research company, in Kathmandu, Palas Bhattacharya brings with him a long experience in the field of research and marketing. An MBA and a graduate in chemical engineering from IIT-Kharagpur, Bhattacharya has been in Nepal since 1993. Happily married, with a three-year-old daughter, Bhattacharya says he has a great relationship with his wife who is a Chartered Accountant. He shared his experiences with Navin Subedi for Nepali Times.
Could you tell us briefly about your company?
AC Nielsen is an American multinational company, and the largest market research company in the world with offices in 110 countries. Last year it virtually took over ORG MARG and owns 100 percent of the company. Now we are known as AC Nielsen ORG MARG. We have been in Nepal since 1993.
What is the total size of market research in Nepal?
If you divide research into two parts, market research and social research, then the size of the market research here is roughly worth Rs 10 million.
How do you differentiate between market research and social research?
Market research deals with the marketing problems and certain business problems also in terms of investment. The research we do for Nepal CRS Company and Family Health International (FHI) are very similar to market research. They are social organisations we take their activities into social research.
And, what is the difference between customer research and retail research?
Customer research is basically looking at specific problems for the client, which could be related to any of the dimensions of marketing. Totally focussing on a particular problem and arriving at suggested solutions for that. Retail is like a barometer, which on a monthly basis monitors the market trends in different product categories. We will be starting the monthly monitoring of the rural market very soon.
What are the major problems that you encountered during your nearly a decade long stay in Nepal?
Our team was very small for the first five or six years and we were not very ambitious in terms of growing or attracting a lot of business. So whatever business came our way, we did it. It was only in 1999 that we had targets and thought of expanding significantly. Since then we have done visibly better. But the last one year has been has been a very difficult.
What has been the effect of being part of a world leader on your portfolio?
When the Soaltee Group divested its stakes, divestment was done on its initiative. We were very keen to retain Soaltee as our partner but they were not interested to be in a business, which is not their core competency. When they were our partners we had a lot of access to various sectors and alleys of research and marketing. With Mr. Siddhartha Rana as our chairman, we used to have a lot of influence also which is definitely not present at this moment. It has not been easy since Soaltee left us. Of course, there are a lot of marketing tasks that need to be done.
What were the major problems you encountered while doing market research here?
One of the main problems has been sometimes many of the large companies are not serious about doing business in Nepal, as they would be, possibly, in India or Bangladesh. Their drive to sell hard is relatively low. Even if their brands have declining sales, and their market share is receding, they don't seem interested to take any initiative. They just hope things will improve one day.
Why, would it be different in India or Bangladesh?
In Bangladesh, the population is 130 million and the market is relatively larger. Because of the comparatively low population of Nepal, the drive to increase market share is relatively low here, which creates some sort of problems for our profession because we are not exposed to very sophisticated tools. We use our own tools and techniques and give our clients the results, as they may not be very open to our techniques. I, however, must say that the awareness regarding market research in Nepal is definitely ahead of the entire belt of eastern Indian states, as well as Delhi, Maharastra and Uttar Pradesh.
Which companies did you find more worried about their market share?
Multinationals are the leading companies. Coke is the largest followed by Nepal Lever. The multinationals are fiercely ambitious. For example, if Coke lose a fraction of their sales, the entire Nepali branch goes upside down. In family-run businesses there isn't that much accountability. Gorkha Brewery is relatively better and has spent a lot of money on market research.
Why is it that there is very high turnover among your employees?
The turnover of our recruits and relatively experienced people has been very high over the years. That is definitely unfortunate. We don't want our employees to leave us. ORG-MARG was taken over twice in the last five years. First, it was the Business India Group, which resulted in a total change in our Nepali company too. Before we could stabilise, the company was taken over again by Nielsen. Technically we can't be taken over any more since we are the largest company now.
How do you view your job?
I enjoy working in market research because the profession gives me a lot of learning experience and enables me to help some of the largest corporations and social development organisations in attaining their objectives. It is a very fulfilling experience.