MANAGEMENT DECISION CASE
Outline India: ENABLING THE JUMP FROM DATA TO DECISIONS
In more developed countries, having access to market data that is both high in quality and high in quantity is a given. High ownership rates of smartphones, tablets, and laptops, along with high rates of Internet connectivity, make it easy to gather data from people anywhere in the country. But most of the world is not so developed! Hence, a key question is how can you apply modern marketing analytic methods to make informed choices in countries where it’s a lot harder to gather data? A firm called Outline India is working hard to successfully answer that question. But before we can understand why Outline India’s work is so important, let’s delve into how more developed countries collect data.
In the United States, commercial data vendors of many types provide demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal data on consumers. In addition, the governments of the United States and many European countries fund research that involves data gathering, intended to aid government agencies and officials in making better-informed decisions, and with results made available publicly at little or no cost. A prime example of this type of data gathering is the U.S. census, which is updated annually through sample-based surveys and statistical extrapolation of trends, and once every decade door-to-door data gathering from every person in the United States is completed. The data gathered on U.S. citizens as part of the census helps establish a factual basis on which estimates are made and by which policy decisions are informed. (As an aside, it has been demonstrated empirically that taking a statistical sample would be more accurate than attempting a full census, but that’s another story.)
This works well for a country like the United States, which has many resources at its disposal. But let’s go back to the question we asked in the first paragraph: How can we apply marketing analytic methods when a country struggles to collect valuable data? Consider India. More than 1.3 billion people populate the country, but only 35 percent have Internet access, and in some rural areas only 25 to 35 percent have electricity.52 This makes data gathering difficult, and the data that does come in tends to be biased toward urban areas. This is where Outline India comes in.
Started in 2012 and based outside New Delhi, Outline India trains locals to gather and record key data elements sought by Outline India’s clients. So far, its grassroots effort has been successful. Data have been gathered from more than 2,300 villages to help commercial and governmental clients answer pressing questions about the needs of Indian consumers and constituents. For example, if your company’s marketing objective is to identify locales in India that have a need for solar water pumps, you’d call Outline India. Outline India works in rural areas to improve data gathering, so firms that support corporate social responsibility (like H&M, through its Conscious Foundation), start-ups and commercial businesses, and government agencies can get the analytical results they need to make informed decisions.53
Outline India’s founder, Prerna Mukharya, learned how to extract value from raw data at Boston University, where she earned her postgraduate degree, and through research done at the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi. Mukharya says data have always been a useful and valuable tool for combating poverty, gender gaps, child labor, and other social issues in India, and one of Outline India’s goals is to help clients apply data through the use of more advanced analyses.54 In addition to gathering data, Outline India performs descriptive and predictive analyses on the data it gathers, and then communicates the analyzed results directly to its clients. The data are also often made available to nonprofit organizations.
Thus far, Outline India has built a team of 250 surveyors, with an ability to reach 1 million individuals. But while the reach is impressive for a company that is essentially a start-up, and the data it has collected so far has proven to be useful, Outline India still faces challenges. Outline India certainly helps provide a greater quantity of data, but due to the size of India’s population it still covers only one-tenth of 1 percent of the country’s population. Data quality—how accurate and complete the data it gathers are—is another important issue. To address this, Outline India not only trains locals on how to gather data but also qualifies them through testing—individuals must undergo different levels of professional examination depending on the complexity of the data they will be handling, and thus are proven to be proficient.55
Outline India faces further barriers to gathering more and different types of data, barriers that are pertinent to any marketer entering a developing country. One of the main communication channels in rural India is cellular, and although basic cellphone use is very high in India (upwards of 77 percent), smartphone usage—which would allow more sophisticated data gathering apps—is relatively low, at about 12 percent.56 While basic cell phone usage creates an effective “last mile” connection to consumers (and potential data touchpoints), it limits data gatherers to very simple tools and makes it difficult to communicate large amounts of data, due to a lack of reliable high-bandwidth connections. Furthermore, large, unstructured data—such as aerial
Questions for Consideration
What general and specific types of market data would you need to perform an analysis of the Indian market? Which of these data might be less available in a developing country?
If you were faced with the problem Outline India faces—trying to gather not only a large amount of data, but making sure that data is of high quality—how might you go about helping to ensure that the data are accurate and complete?
What are some non-technological barriers Outline India may face when trying to gather data in the field?
To perform any analysis in the Indian market, quantitative data is very important. It is very easy to get qualitative data, but the usage of it is minimal in coming to any conclusion in a certain matter. Being a huge and diverse country, demographic, cultural, attitudinal, behavioral data are required. Most important is to understand the differences among them at various parts of the country.
Attitudinal and Behavioral data might be less available in developing countries like India. This is mainly due to the following two reasons –
a) Lack of tools – Developing countries definitely lack the tools and technologies to do a good survey and capture the actual data because of less prior experience and also less known methodologies.
b) Inability to cover a substantial percentage of the population as a sample size.
Even though it is true that the works of outlier India does speak volumes and truly are making roadways into the workings and the data that are stuck in the rural villages of India but it does seem quite impossible for them to really cover the thousands of villages that are present in India and do a meaningful all conclusive work in a logical time. But fortunately, India does now have certain measures that can help outreach actually to reach their target. If placed with outreach I would try to tie up our company with the all identity finding programmes like the Aadhar that would have helped me to identify almost all the people in India, and it would have been accurate too. By merging this with other databases like ration card as well as that of outreach India itself would have created a strong platform for us to have a jump start and truly create a systemized all conclusive data both supported by a zealous organization like Outreach and backed by the government
The two biggest non – technological barriers that Outreach India may face while trying to gather data for the public of India comprises of the following
- Mistrust and superstition – In following with the constant fear and corruption that many people in the rural people have to face on a daily basis leaves them with very little trust for any sort of government initiatives as well as NGO drives. Without any prize or possibly monetary benefits for themselves, they might feel this sort of thing as some sort of propaganda and resist from helping the workers of outreach India on field
- Lack of Education – The lack of education and literacy in many of the villages leads them to be the very hard customer as well as the varied religions, customs prevalent in many parts of the villages requires a different strategy each time to be able to make it a success which might not always be possible for a company
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