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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Monday, October 08, 2007

This is my last post on this blog. Radio Userland has served me well since I started blogging in 2003. I will post more details on the transition, at my new blog - for now I just wanted to make this announcement, and provide the new url and feeds.

New Blog URL - http://dinamehta.com/
Subscribe via RSS 2.0 - http://dinamehta.com/feed/
Subscribe via Atom - http://dinamehta.com/feed/atom/
Comments feed - http://dinamehta.com/comments/feed/

The new blog will also be called Conversations with Dina - it's just a new blogging platform - but the same old blog! I do hope you continue reading and feeding it.

My old blog will be archived at its old url (http://radio.weblogs.com/0121664/) and I will keep the archives going. Stuart, who has worked out the platform for Conversations with Dina on Wordpress has done some neato hacks - one that I love a lot is that the search function will not just search the new blog archives, but also my old Radio blog archives. And he has managed to transfer some of my posts over too. That's so cool!!! Lots more needs doing there ... and that will emerge I'm sure.



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Friday, June 29, 2007

I was driving back from a meeting when I had a few bloggy thoughts ... long drives in traffic and beating rain tend to do that to me! It was a good meeting - regular (I actually said that!!!) qualitative research project among IT students and professionals to understand motivations that drive them to join certain sorts of organizations in a highly competitive field, to figure out a strategy to draw them to my Client's organization. As we were discussing the research, I suddenly felt - wow - this is the perfect case for a social media / new media strategy ---- you have young professionals, in the IT industry, probably heavy users of the internet, a captive target audience that must be familiar with blogs, social networking sites, youtube and the like! When you think of motivations and drivers for this segment, how can you not think of The Influentials, who help them frame their opinions. Am waiting eagerly for my copy which is winging its way here currently. It would be neat to figure out who or what they are in the project I am doing. So somewhere midway in discussing sample definitions, I broke away and asked my client - do you have a social media or blogging strategy - you need one! She was interested I think, particularly since one of her marketing objectives is to build a powerful corporate identity in order to attract the best talent.

Now am hoping it's a qualitative research +++ project!!  Am beginning to believe any organization or brand that is targeting an audience that is 'online' must have a social media strategy.  Social media is in-your-face today, no web user or surfer can really escape it.  



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Thursday, March 29, 2007

A picture named shubs.jpgI've known Shubhangi for almost 15 years. We worked in the same company then. We still do. She's been my mainstay at Explore Research and Consultancy, ever since she came on board way back in 1999. I've never known her to panic, feel out of control and never once has she met any of my requests (however absurd they may seem) with anything less than a smile and a "we can do it". She makes my life so easy really.

Tremendously talented and always looking out for something new to do - yeah - she does yoga, is a full-time mum, rides bikes, paints Tanjore paintings, is an expert in Japanese - and now a fantastic photographer. Match that with her deep understanding of humanity, her strong sense of what's right and not, her ability to question life and you find a precious gem. She has her feet firmly on the ground - and a heart of gold.

Recently, she discovered Flickr - go check out her awesome pictures there - each one has such depth and tells a story. The image in this post is by her - and one that I feel reflects who she is perfectly. She's also discovering the joys in sharing herself as she has so quickly built a community around her images. And now she's blogging and learning the ropes - I am so thrilled about this - welcome huggggggs Shubs. For long, I have felt she hides herself away - not anymore I hope :)


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Monday, March 26, 2007

I was thinking back on my last post ... and asking myself will blogs kill focus groups? I hope not, as that will mean I am out of business as a conventional qualitative researcher :).

And I think not. Because, while both can be research tools, the differences in the nature of these tools is intrinsic to the conversations they foster.

Because, especially in a country like India, a large portion of the 'consuming' population is still not online.

Because, often the focus group is treated as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. Many times, focus groups and quantitative surveys are hijacked by internal client politics, and researchers are not really given the freedom to be creative. A simple example, advertising agency has created two ad concepts, marketing manager likes one, VP marketing like the other .. in two days flat, select the winner doing a couple of groups! QADR again.

Because blogs are conversations on the other hand, between customers, often between marketer and customers - they are emergent and may go off on tangents, as they encourage the telling of stories. Which sadly not all focus group moderators encourage especially when the client is breathing over them from the viewing room. Or because they just don't work hard at getting to the true heart of the matter. Which sadly, some clients feel are inconsequential, especially when they are just 'hearing' what they want to hear, to justify either their position or their boss's.

Because its easier to 'trust' what a researcher recommends based on physical evidence of focus groups (tapes, DVD, transcripts), rather than trust her ability to foster or analyze blog conversations.

Because many times, focus groups are intentionally set up as a conversation between the moderator and 8 respondents - we even call them respondents and not participants! Whereas blogs are conversations across people, where both the questions and the answers come from participants.

Because focus groups are more controlled - usually recruited purposively, with stringent demographic and psychographic criteria, controlled by questionnaires and field supervision - more a perception really, as practitioners we know there is no absolute verification method, and enhanced by one of the largest criticisms against focus groups - that the participant may not always be honest, as there is peer pressure that affects the expression of real behaviour and feelings.

Because blog conversations are viral on the other hand, and often there is no way of 'checking' back on the demographics. Its difficult for an 'outsider' (read marketer who isn't into blogging) to trust this conversation then, although some smart marketers believe, "bloggers' unsolicited opinions and offhand comments are a source of invaluable insights that are hard to get elsewhere".

I think I have sufficiently confused the issue .. which one is better at an absolute level as a research tool - I don't know. Still, I don't think blogs will kill focus groups. I see blogs as playing a large role in supplementing and complementing the information or data gathered around a certain subject. They are ongoing focus groups in real time.  I want to see more use of them in research methods. Nielsen BuzzMetrics and other blog monitoring services seem to be doing just that, but they are not cheap. Some call Technorati the focus group of the web. Others like AC Nielsen ORG MARG are using blogs to validate regular market research.

"Based on our findings of our regular market research on the fashion series models of Nokia and insights on youth, we tried to validate it with the qualitative research conducted through the content found on online blogging sites and discussion forums," said Anjali Puri, director, Winsights AC Nielsen ORG MARG.

What do you feel? Are blogs ringing a death knell for conventional focus groups?

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Maggie Fox has a neat post on How Social Media is Changing Everything

"If you've ever wished you had the budget for a focus group, now you do. All that's required is reaching out to a couple of key individuals and asking them if they would be interested in testing your product or process and letting you know what they think, or posting about it, if they like.

Blogs in particular and social media in general can offer incredible insight for a relatively small investment (your time is another matter!). When I speak to clients about investigating a corporate blogging strategy, I often refer to it as "low cost market research", something I’m sure we’d all like to see a little more of!"

Belonging to the qualitative research industry, this resonates big time with me. Blog Influentials, in July 2005 had called blogs the 'market research of the future'. Again, way back in 2005 I had said:

While nothing beats face-to-face contact, blogs can be a great space to have conversations with customers - Scoble does it every day. In other cases, customers are the ones encouraging marketers to engage in conversation - SkypeJournal is a great example of heavy users of Skype providing constructive feedback both positive and negative, observations and ideas. They're even writing poetry in the form of a Skypku :)

Are marketers listening and engaging in dialogue? Maybe. Maybe not. Are marketing departments afraid of this? I think they are.

Blogs may be one such tool available to us - there are so many more that can reveal and understand the motives and the process of emergence in conversations as they manifest in conversations between marketers and users. I met Jim McGee in Chicago last year and we had a lovely discussion about how blogs might change the nature of market research and how the notion of oral culture in organizations might help explain the relatively slow take up of blogs in the firewall. From his post after our meeting :

"In the marketing research context, blogs are a disruptive technology. Instead of having to generate data by way of surveys or focus groups with whatever artifacts the process introduces, blogs provide direct visibility into customers. Instead of having to connect potentially artificial samples back to the actual market, now you have to filter real market behavior, interpret it, and make sense of it. That presents two challenges to market research functions. First, market research staff have to develop new skills. Second, management of market research needs to spend some quality thinking time what to do with access to this new kind of market data.

The opportunity that blogs introduce into the marketing research equation is to create the opportunity to identify and run multiple micro-experiments in the market. Those that succeed get the resources to scale, those that fail to generate some useful data are quickly shut down. There are challenges, of course, especially given how quickly ideas spread in a connected world, but that should be offset by the speed with which experiments can be identified and run. Worth thinking about."

Almost a year ago, I had recruited participants for some usability testing focus groups through my blog. Am now working with some clients, where we are building news aggregators of target audience blogs. And involved currently in a project where we are evolving a sms-blog research interface as a research tool for participants, in the Twitter convention. And we even have proof of concept now .. a recent article in the Economic Times talks of how blogs are boosting sales of bikes. Keeping track of blog conversations replacing traditional market research survey methods! Giving rise to a new breed of blogo-pologists and the field of netnography!

"What started as platforms to share passions and frustrations of bikers are now being tracked by corporates to fine-tune their offerings. Instead of tedious market surveys and data crunching, companies now get reviews within hours of product launch, courtesy blogs. “The first review of our latest Pulsar was on our table within three hours of its launch in Chennai thanks to bloggers,” Bajaj Auto VP (marketing-two wheelers) S Sridhar told ET. A dedicated team at Bajaj Auto now regularly tracks discussion-boards and review section of blogs and online biking groups and provides feedback to company’s marketing and product development group."

Much better than having professional respondents in a conventional focus group or unwieldy questionnaires which are filled up so superficially isn't it?

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Social discovery, presence, "party-line", RSS for people with not much to say, potential for use in saving lives during disasters, publish on the go, ambient intimacy (link found in a comment at Ross Mayfield's post on Moodgeist, Skype and Twitter IM Overlay], the future of presence, push technology, keeping track of yourself and friends, a false sense of "I'm connected", microblogging and Twitter-only blogging, group or public IM system, swarming and smart mobbing, blogging on 'crack' ..... these are some of the words I've been seeing associated with Twitter in many blogs.

Om Malik links to WebWorkerDaily which has come up with a list of eight ways Twitter can be useful professionally. More mashups and applications such as Twittervision and Twittersearch would be useful. Here's a wiki on Twitter with a listing of comments and views, user stories, mashups and applications, complaints and wish lists too.

I wanted to share some of my feelings on Twitter .. and how for someone like me, I'd like to use it. This post isn't intending to join the hate it or love it debate, rather, to explore and share ideas on what applications and areas Twitter could be used for.

Yet I find myself hesitating to put up too much there, and I began asking myself the question, should I? Like danah, I feel perhaps it takes a certain type of personality to use it. While I enjoy reading updates from some of my closer friends, I find myself wondering whether people would really be interested in what I am eating or doing or feeling at different points in time during the day. My close friends may be, and its making me re-evaluate and 'select' and 'choose' friends more carefully than I do with other social networking sites. For fear of spamming those that aren't in my close circle.

I'd love to have layered messaging at Twitter .. where my messages can be sent out to a few folks, likewise, I receive messages from a few too. I couldn't be bothered to set up private groups for this .. I'd like that control with me.

I'd also love to be able to bring it into my own space, my social network, my own blog, rather than use it as a stand-alone service. I'd like to marry content I publish along with the 'what I am currently feeling/doing' stuff, rather than scatter them across URLs.

Twitter for me, unlike blogs is not so much about conversations. Its more about keeping in touch, or as Liz Lawley says, its about stories told between updates. Then, I do get these updates on the presence or status messages of my close friends on what they are doing, and where they are on my IM clients.

Although I come from an SMS-friendly culture, I had to turn off Twitter from my mobile phone ... I was getting too many updates there at odd hours of the night, and I often found myself not even reading them. Its also a pain to delete them all.

Then there's a practical problem .. I'm not sure how much I would be charged for an outbound Twitter SMS from India. So I find myself preferring using the IM client.

Still it has a strange fascination for me. Like Andy, I feel it could be a powerful tool during disasters.
Its also got the potential to increase sociality in groups of people working together. .. a virtual office or project space.

I also see it as having lots of potential as a research tool. Set up a private group, get real-time voices on a subject or topic. In fact, I'm currently launching into a qualitative research study with a client where we are experimenting with an SMS-Blog gateway to collect real-time updates and answers to research questions among a segment of youth ... and a private group on Twitter would have been just ideal, except the participants would be unwilling to pay for international outbound messages. I'd much rather get responses from participants in real-time, and within the framework of where they are and what they are doing than a cold questionnaire or a forced group situation. Add MMS to it, and you get much richer data. More agile and much cheaper than doing ground ethnography. With the potential to get large numbers in too for statistical validation for a quantitative research exercise.

I'd love to know, what areas or applications you feel it would be useful for?



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Monday, January 08, 2007

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What should marketers be looking at in 2007?


TRANSUMERS from GENERATION C(ASH) living transient, connected, participative lifestyles, showing off their STATUS SKILLS, experiencing TRYVERTISING, masters of their YOUNIVERSE, indulging in TWINSUMER ventures, within the TRANSPARENCY TYRANNY of the GLOBAL BRAIN moving ever closer to CROWD CLOUT.

(Images from the trendwatching website). Go there to find out more on status, transparency and consumer power, the online revolution, more adventurous consumption, and a shift from consumption to participation.


Some excerpts:

"GENERATION C(ONTENT) is joining GENERATION C(ASH). If consumers produce the content, if they are the content, and that content brings in money for aggregating brands, then revenue and profit-sharing is going to be one of 2007's main themes in the online space. It's not like brands will have a choice: talented consumers are going to be too sought after to remain satisfied with thank you notes. Get ready for an avalanche of revenue sharing deals, reward schemes and sumptuous gifts aimed at luring creative consumers."

"TRANSUMERS are consumers driven by experiences instead of the 'fixed', by entertainment, by discovery, by fighting boredom, who increasingly live a transient lifestyle, freeing themselves from the hassles of permanent ownership and possessions. The fixed is replaced by an obsession with the here and now, an ever-shorter satisfaction span, and a lust to collect as many experiences and stories as possible.* Hey, the past is, well, over, and the future is uncertain, so all that remains is the present, living for the 'now'."

"(Oh, and just wait for TRANSUMERS to be amongst the first to accept if not desire virtual goods. After all, the more time they spend online, the less need they have for expensive, fixed, hardly ever used physical goods. But we're getting carried away here...)"

"emerging TWINSUMER trend: consumers looking for the best of the best, the first of the first, the most relevant of the relevant increasingly don't connect to 'just any other consumer' anymore, they are hooking up with (and listening to) their taste 'twins'; fellow consumers somewhere in the world who think, react, enjoy and consume the way they do."

"Now, through an onslaught of new collaborative filtering software, millions of new personal profiles, exclusive communities and what have you, the TWINSUMER phenomenon is turning millions of reviews, ratings and recommendations into truly valuable results fitting one person's very particular preferences or even lifestyle. Whether it's a one-off TWINSUMER union or an ongoing relationship. TWINSUMER therefore isn't about access to reviewings or ratings or even trust in general (those are fast becoming hygiene), but about relevance."

"At the core of all consumer trends is the new consumer, who creates his or her own playground, own comfort zone, own universe. It's the 'empowered' and 'better informed' and 'switched on' consumer combined into something profound, something we've dubbed MASTER OF THE YOUNIVERSE. At the core is control: psychologists don't agree on much, except for the belief that human beings want to be in charge of their own destiny. Or at least have the illusion of being in charge.

"And because they can now get this control in entirely new ways, aided by an online, low cost, creativity-hugging revolution that's still in its infancy, young and old (but particularly young) consumers now weave webs of unrivaled connectivity and relish instant knowledge gratification. They exercise total control over creative collections, including their own creative assets, assume different identities in cyberspace at a whim, wallow in DIY / Customization / Personalization / Co-Creation to make companies deliver whatever and whenever, on their own terms".

"Remember the promises of flawless matching of supply and demand, and limitless consumer power, when the web burst onto the scene a dozen years ago? While the last few years didn't disappoint (consumers are already enjoying near-full transparency of prices and, in categories like travel and music, near-full transparency of opinions as well), 2007 could be the year in which TRANSPARENCY TYRANNY really starts scaring the shit out of non-performing brands."

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

.... has been a great year for me in many ways. Rob, in a recent post, wonders:

"2007 - When enough people leave Plato's cave?
I wonder - Will enough people leave the cave and experience the sunlight to cause a Tipping Point in 2007? Will Life 2.0 take hold? I think so!"

I think so too - and its not just me - I think I had left the cave a few years ago. The nice thing is I see I am not alone in the sunlight - and people from all spheres of life are beginning to see. Clients, friends, family, acquaintances and so many unknown faces that are beginning to bask in the same sunshine. I have been guided by some, have guided others - and still found my own little spot.

This year has brought a certain convergence in my 'traditional' qualitative research work and blogging and social media. More of my research work is in the area of tech and social communication - mobile phones, software development - and I've been able to use my research skills and marketing experience in bringing about workshops on how brands and companies could build communities through conversations that empower their customers to infact become their marketers. And, as in the last few years since I began blogging, much of the new and exciting work is coming in because of my blog connections. I really am looking forward to engaging in more of these conversations and I've already got some projects lined up for 2007 that are exciting.

Looking back on 2006, I thought it would be nice to do a recap (even just for myself) on how its unfolded - and give thanks for all the people I've had the opportunity to meet, and for the projects I've worked on this year, the conferences and unconferences I have attended.

It started off with the Brand 2.0 workshops I conducted with Stuart - thanks Vamsi from Starcom and Rajeev at Western Union for trusting us and giving us this first opportunity. More Brand 2.0 in 2007.

I attended BlogHer earlier this year in San Jose - a wonderful experience.

Thank you Liz Lawley - for inviting me to the Microsoft Social Computing Symposium in May.

I've also been so fortunate to be part of a pure Open Space Meeting coordinated for NPR by the amazing Rob at the New Realities Forum in Washington DC in May. The agenda was set completely by participants - if I remember right, there were more than 300 participants. However, it had a core theme - a very clear objective - and was really well-organized in terms of a lot of care taken in figuring out the venue, the rooms, making it easy for people to navigate through the free-flowing structure, and run by a real maestro in Johnnie Moore, who Rob describes as "an exemplar of calm courage and astonishing presence" which is a really perfect description of Johnnie. Thank you Rob - and Page and Dana from NPR, for allowing me into this amazing space you have created and for trusting - we hadn't met face-to-face until then! A picture named blogcamp.jpg

I was part of a large team that helped organize BlogCamp India in August - here are my reflections

The other area that my blogging has taken me into is activism of sorts - which started in December 2004 with the tsunamis blogging efforts - and this year, we formed collectives and groups to battle internet censorship and help out when we had the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai. Here are some links: MumbaiHelp blog and wiki. The Bloggers Collective was formed and we fought against blogs being banned, against censorship, and demanded our right to information.



A picture named kh2 (1).jpgOn research projects, I've done some interesting work for Unilever this year - have spent many days in rural India, facilitated a creativity session for one of their product groups, and I think (I hope) managed to sell them the idea of doing Brand 2.0 workshops :). I'd also say here I have thoroughly enjoyed working regularly with Pat and Lizzie at Social Solutions Inc and Gerald Lombardi at GFK-NOP through whom I've enjoyed working with Dean Gaylor, Chai Ki Lim and Sharon Asker at HP, who had come down to India. Also through SSI - I've done work for Kraft.

Some of my new clients this year - Nicole-Anne Boyer, a colleague from Worldchanging got me to do a learning journey and a few sessions with a bunch of French retailers here in Mumbai. Smita Pillai and Sanjay Gupta of Vistakon for whom we did a study, where we merged approaches from ethnography and more traditional motivational research. In November, Stuart Penny and Jude Rattle from Flow Interactive UK contacted me through my blog, and I did a small study on cell phones for them.

Its all paid really well - and most importantly has been a lot of fun! Thank you all for making this year a really fun and productive one.

For me its also been a year of change - with joys, frustrations and disappointments too. Many many thanks to my family and friends for supporting me through a really busy and somewhat difficult year.

End of mush :)

Looking ahead to 2007:

  • More Brand 2.0 workshops where I'd like to involve more collaborators and facilitators. Am currently talking with Euan Semple about a possible series in April this year in Mumbai.
  • A fall-out of the Global Voices Online Summit and a meeting with the awesome Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala- has resulted in the setting up of a pilot outreach programme in rural India where the objective is to get a person from a village to prepare a story about any aspect of life in his or her village every day (25 days a month) and post it.A picture named Smalldina123.jpg
  • Developing further on my series of cultural insights and trends
  • A consulting gig for an MSM publication in India that would like to go Web 2.0. This would include research as well.
  • I'm going to be in Indonesia for 10 days beginning Jan 20th to facilitate the Open Publishing Track at Asia Source II - Free and Open Technologies for NGO's and SME's. This is an initiative of the UNDP Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme.
As I bring in the New Year at my place in Khandala ... I count my many many blessings :). A very Happy New Year to all.




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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Wow .. this is just fantastic.  The folks at Savage Minds have set up an open access wiki on anthropology journal articles and papers, and have created a discussion list and IRC channel for those interested in anthropology to hangout at:

Learn about the issue
openaccessanthropology.org is now up and, while it's still very much a work in progress, it is the best place to go for an overview of the issues - and will get even better as we all help grow it.

Sign up for updates
There is an Open Access Anthropology group which people are using as a mailing list - you can sign up today to share your ideas or just keep up to date with what is going on. So far the list is not very high-volume, so you won't be drowned in email if you sign up.

Join the conversation
We've started an IRC channel where there’s been a fair amount of chat about OAA (although really it is just a place for anthropologists to hang out in general). It's #savageminds on irc.freenode.net. If you are unwise in the ways of IRC just go to IRC at work type in a nickname, for 'server' put irc.freenode.net and for 'channel' put #savageminds and then you should be good. If you are looking for an IRC program, we recommend GAIM (PC) or Colloquy (Mac).

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

"A camel is a horse that was designed by a committee. In my experience, market research can sometimes feel very much like "design by Committee", which can spell disaster with a capital D. Your product, or service, can't be all things to all people, even those within your target market. So beware of embracing the committee mentality. Sir Barnett Cocks said it best: A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled."

Danielle Rodgers reminds us of some of the challenges in traditional Market Research and shares some boobytraps to watch out for.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I discovered and enjoyed a series of qualitative user research reports by Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase, who takes some amazing photographs and blogs them with observations at Future Perfect. [link via Chetan Kunte via Adaptive Path]

Interesting to read about informal repair cultures in India and China ..

A picture named Nokia_RepairCultures_vFinal-thumb.jpg"What sets these locations apart from cities in more 'emerged' markets? Aside from the scale of what's on sale there is a thriving market for device repair services ranging from swapping out components to re-soldering circuit boards to reflashing phones in a language of your choice , naturally. Repairs are often carried out with little more than a screwdriver, a toothbrush (for cleaning contact points) the right knowledge and a flat surface to work on. Repair manuals (which appear to be reverse engineered) are available, written in Hindi, English and Chinese and can even be subscribed to, but there is little evidence of them being actively used. Instead many of the repairers rely on informal social networks to share knowledge on common faults, and repair techniques. It's often easier to peer over the shoulder of a neighbour than open the manual itself. Delhi has the distinction of also offering a wide variety of mobile phone repair courses at training institutes such as Britco and Bridco turning out a steady flow of mobile phone repair engineers. To round off the ecosystem wholesalers' offer all the tools required to set up and run a repair business from individual components and circuit board schematics to screwdrivers and software installers."

Not so different from what I had described in this series on culture of business in India.


And more - some observations and insights into non-literate communication practices - wow - this is a staggering fact -
"Everyday many of the 800 million non-literate people in the world use phones and mobile phones to communicate."

"We noted that textually non-literate users of public call offices often took a scrap of paper with a phone number scrawled on it to the owner and asked them to dial the number. This system is open to errors caused by inaccuracy, either because the number was not clearly transcribed, or simply because the paper on which the number was written was worn and faded from being carried.

User interface designers often talk about the user's mental model of a system, and how it maps to the reality of how a device actually functions. It is typical for designers to use metaphors such as the 'desktop' or 'soft keys' to support the building of an accurate model. Textually non-literate users will not have access to textual cues, so their mental model may well be poor. Whilst a poor mental model is not a problem within a limited range of (rote learned) tasks, if and when errors occur users may adopt the wrong strategies to correct the problem. Designers use a myriad of audio, visual and textual cues to support the user's understanding of how the mobile phone works. Literate persons are able to quickly absorb (and subsequently ignore) this textual information and apply the knowledge in practice. A positive outcome reinforces their understanding of how the system works and helps build an accurate mental model. Textually non-literate people are required to make assumptions for the textual prompts based on how the device responds to their actions. A plausibly positive result is sufficient to believe that is how the system works regardless of how well it maps to the actual system."

A picture named mobile-essentials-02-thumb.jpgThere's also a brief report on 'Mobile Essentials - Field Study and Concepting' (download paper, 0.4mb). The paper introduces three interrelated ways to understand human behaviour - centre of gravity, point of reflection and range of distribution.
"The second idea is the Point of Reflection - the moment when leaving a space when you pause current activities turn back into an environment and check you have the mobile essentials. Typically this involves looking at the Center of Gravity, sometimes tapping pockets, sometimes speaking aloud. Not seeing the objects where they are supposed to be (the Center of Gravity) can be a sign that they are already carried."

Great stuff ... and no wonder then that Nokia is always stretching the boundaries of mobile phone usage in India. All images here are from Nokia and Jan's blog ... thanks for sharing these reports and observations ... it is is not what most 'corporates'
believe in or do.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

This is the last in the series of Cultural Insights for doing business in India. Just wanted to say these observations are based on learnings over 18 years of doing qualitative research in India. It's interesting to see how some things have changed, while others remain constant, over generations.

Part 4. Technology Perspectives

  • Technology adoption doesn't always follow trends in the West
    • India is leapfrogging the PC stage - cell phones are becoming our gateway to the internet
    • From no cameras to cam phones - digital cameras are being squeezed out
  • 4.5 million cell phones are added every month, 95 million subscribers in March 2006, 200 million projected in 2010; landlines a little over 50 million
  • Most turn off power to hardware when not in use to save electricity, and avoid power surges due to fluctuations. Less of an 'always on' perspective in India.
  • Belief that cost of technology is dropping - so no point planning purchase in advance.
  • Little DIY - cheap service is available
  • Assembled goods and second hand goods are freely available from the grey market
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  • Upgrading is not a natural habit - the average consumer is not tech savvy, and technology products are usually used until they break. (Exception being cell phones, esp.among youngsters as they can be a status symbol).
  • Upgrading often needs to be driven by buy-back/replacement schemes offered by
  • Choice of brand and model often made by price/discounts/deals
  • Celebrity endorsements rampant for tech products - playing on image and low role of product or features
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  • Trend towards 'all-in-one' gadgets - e.g. cell phone + camera + mp3 player. PCs play multiple roles, for instance as the household DVD player, communication medium, gaming system, etc.
  • Trend towards laptops which is the fastest growing segment - costs dropping, mobility, status associations are key drivers.

The complete series:

Part 1. Culture of Business, Service and Consumption
Part 2. Attitude towards Rules and Regulations
Part 3. Value for Money Equations
Part 4. Technology Perspectives

Many thanks - to all those who have commented and linked to this series of posts - I love the conversations around these issues - keep them coming - and I will add my two-cents shortly!

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Continuing the series on Cultural Insights from India ...

Value for Money Equations

  • The Indian phrase is - 'paisa vasool' - equivalent to 'bang for the buck'
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  • Indians don't mind spending large amounts on premium cars, cell phones, big houses, land, etc.; but it should be visible and overt to all. For instance we buy the latest technology equipment, but 'squirm' when we have to pay for software.Software is assumed to come free with the machine.The worth of the software is 'intangible'- others can't see it, and Indians don't understand what they are paying so much for. Regular software like Windows, Office, etc. comes free loaded with every machine (usually pirated). Indians also buy pirated CDs for as low as $2 rupees. The attitude is, why pay when it comes free. If you pay for standard software you are a fool.
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  • We will buy the most expensive box of mangoes for hundreds of rupees but will haggle with the vegetable vendor over a 2 cents reduction on the price of potatoes.
  • We will happily spend $9 rupees on the movies for a family of four, but complain bitterly when the 'cable guy' wants to raise the fee for his offering of over 120 channels from $6.5 to $9 a month.(Only when there is a cricket match on TV, would we be willing to dish out the money!)
  • We pay for a DVD player, but balk at the price of a DVD, buy cars worth $6600, but stop using the authorized service center after the first 3 free services.
  • We religiously sell old newspapers and magazines, and even empty bottles and plastic containers every week, in order to recover even a little of the money spent buying them.
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  • We are accustomed to squeezing maximum value out of products and services - we don't often replace appliances until they break, and always expect that little extra from the banker or vegetable vendor.And the service culture dictates that we are used to getting it.
  • Size matters - when buying gifts for others people like to buy things that are large in size. My field guys always tell me that gifts to respondents must be large in size - and prefer giving a large ugly flower vase, for instance, over a more tasteful and equally expensive smaller vase. Brides are laden with layers of gold jewellery, even though that discreet diamond pendant she really wanted to wear was more expensive. This does not apply however to computers, printers and cell phones where small is expensive.
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

This is the second in this series, the first post on Culture of Business, Service and Consumption is here.

Attitude to Rules and Regulations:

  • No rule is absolute, everything can be worked around, finding loopholes in regulations is perceived as smart
  • Paying hard earned money to government as taxes is considered dumb.
  • Attitude towards wealth - Goddess “Laxmi” resides in your house in the form of wealth; if you please her and are attached to her she will flourish, if you let her "slip through your fingers," she will desert you.
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  • Bribery is rampant everywhere: from acquiring a birth certificate to getting into a good school - it is 'commission,' almost like a service charge paid to the concerned person for doing your work
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  • This type of approach to rules and regulations has deeper cultural roots; Brahmins had to be paid 'dakshina' - fees to conduct rituals to invoke the gods, they were 'brokers' to reach God
  • Indians paid 'lagaan' - taxes in the feudal system, which went first to the Rajas and then the Moguls and British
  • Hierarchies are important to Indians - but at the same time, knowing how to work around them and the system is considered smart and right
I'd love to have your adds on this series ... examples, insights, anecdotes would all be wonderful to read and collate!

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Monday, June 12, 2006

My colleague Shubhangi and I put together some cultural insights on a recent project for an International Client. I thought I'd share some of these on my blog ... obviously, any reference to the Client's product has been removed. These are our views, and while, by no stretch of imagination are complete, they try and hopefully go beyond what your Business Etiquette manuals tell you about doing business in India :). Guilty on the images that are all 'stolen' off Google images and Flickr.

I'll be doing a series of posts on these:

  • culture of business and service
  • culture of consumption
  • attitude towards rules and regulations
  • value for money equations
  • technology perspectives
Here are the first two in the series.

Culture of Business and Service
  • Business is not a means of livelihood; business is life
  • The relevant God or philosophy is Krishna the pragmatist, not Ram the idealist. Krishna holds the philosophy that there can be several versions of the truth. Advocates running from the battlefield, in order to be alive to fight another day
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  • 'Juwari ramto bhalo, vyapari bechto bhalo' - the wisdom for the gambler is to keep playing, the wisdom for the trader to keep selling
  • Profit & loss are momentary things, if he stops plying his trade because of some loss he will. Thus even at times when profit margin is low they believe that to keep doing business, is life
  • Reputation and positive word of mouth are critical for success - and most transactions are done on this basis. Manufacturer speak comes second.
  • Indians are very enterprising in their approach to business and service . For instance, in summer in Delhi, people set out little carts selling cool water for 2 cents a glass. Or you can get any service delivered home - even vegetable vendors have cell phones today and deliver vegetables to the home
  • Indians also have a 'chalta hai' attitude: nonchalant, 'anything goes' - fatalistic Indian philosophy - because you cannot control your destiny, you go with the flow
Culture of Consumption
  • Traditionally business in India has been 'give & take,' and NOT 'the customer is king'. The customer had to accept whatever level of service was offered. Increasingly, however, service is becoming a powerful differentiator - products and organizations that enable 'any time, any where' service are valued - with a powerful tool being the cell phone. A picture named consumption3.JPG
  • Indians are NOT in the habit of 'DIY' - for the most part, consumers in India would rather someone else fixes things. Labor is cheap and abundant, and skilled too, without the formal qualifications.
  • Critical mass is important - Indians as customers tend to be followers by nature - there is comfort in buying products that are tried and tested, and friends and family know.
  • Always on access and personalized service is important for customers in India. The prevailing attitude is that "I'd rather call up my local photocopy neighborhood store and get 'acceptable' quality with great service (with pick up and drop off) than go to an impersonal large store to get it processed." Here are some visiting cards I have of my local cold storage, vegetable vendor, grocer, chemist, photocopier, furnishing store.
    A picture named consumption2.JPG
  • As customers, Indians have multiple touchpoints - there is almost always a cheaper alternative, and haggling is a rite of passage!
A picture named consumption.JPG
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Friday, May 26, 2006

I'm currently working on a study for a Client around building new applications on Skype, that would be of benefit to users for both business and personal use.  To this end, we're organising some focus group discussions with dinner or lunch as appropriate, on June 2nd at 7 pm or June 3rd at 10 am. The discussion will be for about 2.5 hours, with about 6 persons, and will cover three basic areas:

  • a detailed understanding of your current communication habits and patterns
  • a demo of the new application, and your responses to it
  • an exploration into how you might find it beneficial to you
I'm looking for active Skype users in Delhi and Gurgaon who would be able to participate in this exercise ... we want people who have more than 25 contacts on their Skype buddylists.  If you fit the bill, and are willing to participate, please do drop in a comment here or get in touch with me at explore(at)vsnl.com or Skype me at dina_mehta. 

Many thanks!



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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Or web-ethnography. Corporate India analyzes content on blogs and online forums as a form of research:

Recently, Nokia India, through its research partner AC Nielsen ORG MARG, conducted web-ethnography (webnography) based on blogging sites and online discussion forum to get a feedback on its fashion series models.

“Based on our findings of our regular market research on the fashion series models of Nokia and insights on youth, we tried to validate it with the qualitative research conducted through the content found on online blogging sites and discussion forums,” said Anjali Puri, director, Winsights AC Nielsen ORG MARG.

“Largely the findings were validated and that too at a much lesser cost. So, now we are taking the research methodology of webnography to other clients too,” said Puri.

Through web search engines, the research firm used a simple methodology of finding relevant content in a natural context on online blogging sites and discussion forums. As these contents occurred naturally on the web, it was real consumer context as opposed to the contrived/constructed contexts of focus groups used in qualitative research.

After the content was collected, it was processed through the regular marketing research methodology. Then the respondents were identified and informed about their opinions expressed being used for analysis. But there were no questionnaire put up before them to maintain original views.

The pilot project research conducted by the research firm validated Nokia’s earlier findings on the functionality of its mobile phone model 7260 and 7280. Similarly, webnography also validated youth insights such as growing social consciousness found in earlier research. Ruchika Gupta, consumer insights manager, Nokia India said, “Webnography could work as an early warning system and identified issues can be further taken forward for traditional research.”




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Monday, March 13, 2006

Charu is sick of Focus Group bashing, and feels, Don't Shoot the Messenger!

It's a debate that's been going on for years ... its funny .. I feel a little caught in-between ... as I do more and more ethnographic research, I'm getting less fond of focus groups. Still, traditional FMCG sort of clients rely heavily on focus groups as their preferred method, and I work with many such Clients.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Clients and Researchers don't really look at these tools as data collection tools but as ends in themselves. How many times have you heard the brand manager or the account planner say ... we've done the 'mandatory' focus groups. Both researchers and clients adopt one or the other method, depending on their own comfort levels, rather than the requirement or need from the project.

Focus Groups are a bad word among many anthropologists and ethnographers ... and Ethnography is seen as the latest hyped buzzword by many motivational researchers. It's about hybridization and we need to be flexible as researchers in adopting these tools ... I remember during a recent project that involved Ethnographies, there came a point when I felt a couple of quick focus groups might help our understanding of an issue ... luckily the Client, although a workplace Anthropologist, felt the same. We did them, and they added lots of value to the Ethnographic Study.

I'd rather think of myself as a Qualitative Research Practitioner or Consultant ... than a focus group moderator, or an ethnographer !


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8:33:45 PM    comment []  trackback []

Some think not.  Including Henry Ford, who said:

"If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse." 

-- Henry Ford



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Reshma Anand, a young qualitative researcher who's recently moved to the UK, has a nice blog called MindSpeak. I loved this post on A Research Metaphor , where she leans on The Quilting Bee as a metaphor to describe the differences between qualitative and quantitative research. Just borrowing her qual and quant quilts here .. go read her post for more details. Can you guess which quilt is for qual and which one represents quant ? It's not rocket science !!!


A picture named the qual quilt.4.jpgA picture named the quan quilt.3.jpg








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Thursday, March 02, 2006

My friend and client, Tracey Rankin in Australia, sent me mail :

I've been asked to prepare a talk for the Australian market research society on interviewing techniques. The audience is mainly young and less experienced qualitative researchers. I thought it would be nice to provide some input from other experienced qualies around the globe on what you would recommend to a young moderator.
So, if you all don't mind, would you answer these brief questions...
  1. what tips and hints would you give a young moderator/interviewer on running (A) a focus group or (B) an in-depth interview?
  2. what makes someone a really good qualitative researcher (not just an average one)
  3. is there anything specific to your geographic market that you believe might make this different?
My response below :

1. Tips and hints for moderation/interviewing
  • Regardless of whether you're conducting GDs or DIs - I feel the key to a good discussion is in being completely comfortable with who you are and your own physical and mental makeup - only then can you put respondents at ease, and more quickly bust through barriers and 'masks' they may have.
  • Mirroring as a technique to draw them out - if they are sitting back for instance, you start bending forward a little - and you will see that they will come forward too. Non-verbal communication - body stance, tone of voice, light in eyes etc can do wonders - so as trainees they could familiarise themselves with some of these.
  • With interviews in particular, you must spend more time making the respondent feel really easy about talking to you - in a group situation the dynamics are different - and you could play different roles at different moments, to take advantage of the dynamics, rather than let them 'rule'
  • Also, as my colleague Shubhangi says, get respondents on your side - get them to gamely participate in your techniques - "help me with this - this may seem strange to you but it has an important purpose - humor me". Sometimes, it pays to be the Devil's Advocate.
  • And finally, learn to handle clients who are viewing you conduct the group - they can be most encouraging at times, and most intimidating too, especially when you're starting out. Be firm with them, let them see you as the expert, don't get upset by voluminous notes being sent in, don't ever compromise your findings to 'suit' their requirement, educate them if need be. For instance I've had clients who've said a group was a flop because people didnt talk too much - that's ridiculous really, unless you're a pathetic moderator - I've had to educate them that a quiet group is not a bad group - try and understand what they are not saying - it may just show that the topic under discussion is totally irrelevant to them, or the advertising we are showing them leaves them cold.
2. What makes a really good qualitative researcher - tied into point 1 - and extending thoughts there - I feel some of the key qualities in really good qual researchers are :
  • first and foremost integrity - we must be true to the data - we aren't working with hard numbers or yes-no sort of responses. Integrity is in all aspects of your job as a qual researcher - its in being aware of and understanding your own biases towards a brand or product or service you're researching, its in your moderating skills where you must stop listening for responses that match your own feelings, its in analysis where you don't just look for consistencies - embrace the inconsistencies and work them through - even if one person in a group has a differing viewpoint, consider it in your analysis. This I believe is the key quality I'd look for in a qualitative researcher - every other skill can be learnt
  • at the same time, and this may seem a paradox, you have to be able to play roles when moderating - sometimes I feel it pays to be a good 'actor' - small eg, in a warm-up session, when we talk of TV viewing and if your respondents are talking animatedly about a TV serial you personally detest, you cannot start making faces at them !
  • creativity - yeah we do need to stick to certain parameters - but don't let the discussion or interview guide 'rule' you
  • reading between the lines -- dont just go with what they 'say' - look for non-verbal cues that really tell you what they 'feel'. Also, try and understand the rationale behind what they say - laddering down to end values is something that always helps. It doesn't pay just to know that a Toyota Corolla = Amitabh Bachchan - we need to understand why the analogy is made
  • agility - you've got to be so quick in your mind - pick up cues from what respondents say - and take them forward. Listen well and react quickly - you should never feel when you listen too your tapes - oh how I wish I had probed this a little more.
  • if you don't have an MBA degree, and most of your clients do, don't get intimidated by marketing jargon - it's something you'll pick up as you interact with more and more clients
3. In a country as diverse geographically, culturally and linguistically as India, its important to have good 'teams' of qualitative researchers who can pick up on local nuances. I remember one of my international clients, Debeers, was so stunned in discovering the diversity in jewellery culture and traditions across the different regions in the country that they said India is more complex and diverse than all of Europe put together. It is so important also, to understand and be aware of local mythology and popular culture -- I remember my boss at IMRB telling me I must read the Ramayan and Mahabharat for instance, before I could use some projective techniques efffectively, otherwise i wouldn't be able to pick up nuances -- she even gifted them to me :). Thanks Kamini !

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

I finally got around to doing some housekeeping on my blog. Have edited the categories and links - am hoping they will render alright. The nice thing is each of them acts as a separate blog - so readers can subscribe separately to specific categories that interest you!

Here they are - links and RSS feeds :

Weblog Home : (all categories) subscribe


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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Hemant just told me a little anecdote that made me smile and despair at the same time. Smile because I've experienced much the same and despair because it begs the question of who is literate in our country, and how many.

There was a discussion today among senior market research industry heads around definitions of literacy, socio-economic status, affluence etc. The Government of India in its Census reports defines literacy very loosely (see page 11 of this PDF document), in some cases translating into the ability to sign your name, while the marketing research industry defines it as the ability to read, with understanding (which is possibly ambiguous in its stringent definition!!!). The government uses one definition for projecting it's success in social development, while market research reports are used by advertisers who pour in huge amounts of money to fund publications.

They were trying to explain this difference to a client, who didn't quite know how to resolve this difference - and wanted to essentially figure what is the bang for his bucks. But he just wasn't able to grasp it (I don't blame him!). After trying all the technically 'correct' angles to this issue, Hemant says he threw his hands up in the air, and a senior industry leader took it upon himself to explain it - and was tremendously successful at it.

This is the gist of what he said (he needed 15 minutes to get his point through). He has a maid who has been with him for over 10 years now - everytime she takes an advance of even as little as Rs. 10 (less than 25 cents - USD), and this happens every other day, he makes her sign a receipt which is like an IOU. She signs it in perfect English although she can't read or write anything else in English or in any other language. And everytime she irritates him, he gives her a piece of his mind in the Queen's English, she is completely impervious to it, stares back blankly and goes back to doing just the thing that he was berating her about.

Is she literate .... or not .. or just very smart? What do you think?



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Saturday, October 15, 2005


Testing ... i think my blog is back :).

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