Posts filed under ‘Market Research’

Does this smell ring a bell ?

About the link between fragrances, our memories and emotions, and buying behaviour.

Our last post described the phenomenon behind ‘petrichor’- that marvellous freshly wet mud smell, and why we love that smell so much. In this post, we intend to touch upon a few other such fragrances – natural as well as man-made.  But first, a few facts about our sense of smell.

Humans have five to six million odour detecting cells ; if that sounds like a lot, consider the fact that your pet dog has about 100 – 220 million, depending on the breed ! Multiple sources mention that the human nose can sense about 10,000 distinct scents ; though a paper published in the journal Science in 2014 stated that this number was closer to a trillion scents ! Incredible, isn’t it ? So how does our sense of smell work ?

When an odour enters the nose, if affects the olfactory epithelium that is made up of millions of nerve endings ; the nerve endings pass the ‘message’ along the olfactory tract to the olfactory bulb and it then enters the limbic system. The limbic system comprises a set of structures within the brain that are regarded by scientists as playing a major role in controlling mood, memory, behaviour and emotion. This is why fragrances have such a strong link to our memories, emotions, and moods. Hence the soothing influence of some fragrances (e.g lavender) and the energising effect of others (e.g lime).

This article goes a step further and mentions that smell sensations are relayed to the cortex, where ‘cognitive’ recognition occurs, only after the deepest parts of our brains have been stimulated. Thus, by the time we correctly name a particular scent as – for example – ‘vanilla’, the scent has already activated the limbic system, triggering more deep-seated emotional responses.

This explains the phenomenon often noticed in consumer research on fragrances ; even people who struggle to name a fragrance or to describe it in simple terms like fruity / flowery / lemony / woody / musky etc., can often describe how it makes them feel or what they associate it with –their first girlfriend, grandmother’s morning prayer rituals, a sun-dappled garden with rows of brightly coloured flowers, a hike to the top of the hill in the rain, cake baked by mum fresh from the oven, you get the picture, right ? This is noticed far more during consumer research in India than abroad, as our vocabulary for fragrances is not as developed ; everyone recognises sweet / flowery and citrus / lime, but few can tell a woody fragrance from a musky or a green one, making the act of decoding through associations even more important.

To return to the topic with which I began this post, apart from petrichor, which other fragrances are universal ones, that all or most of us recognise ? In India, jasmine would be one recognised by everyone – whether by the name ‘chameli’ in the North or ‘malleepu’ in the South; sandal would probably be another – calm, soothing, eternal. There probably are a lot of man-made fragrances that we all recognise too. For instance, some of the most common scent associations are those related to food. Ever stood near a shop selling freshly-made chhole-batoore and inhaled deeply before reaching for your wallet ? Or walked past Mysore Concerns in Matunga area of Mumbai and felt the fragrance of freshly ground coffee beans waft up to your nostrils and languorously beckon you to the counter? Maybe it’s just me, but I can think of loads more – fragrant biriyani, or cardamom chai (any masala chai, actually), ripe mangoes, the smoke from a tandoor, garlic naan are among the few that come to mind. Some of this understanding is used commercially too – noticed how there’s often a baking smell that you inhale as you walk past a cookie-shop in a mall ? That’s to make you feel hungry and tempt you to loosen your purse-strings.

But not all universal scent associations are food-related. There’s the salty tang of the sea, mild but still perceptible even in the polluted waters off Bombay, the smell of wet khus on coolers in North India during summer, the smoky smell hanging in the air after a lot of fire-crackers have been burst, the strong antiseptic smell associated with hospitals, the warm n’ fuzzy ‘awww’ inducing smell of a freshly powdered baby after a bath.

There are powerful stories and anecdotes about the way consumers’ relate to the fragrances of products and their strong connection with the same. For instance, consider Johnson’s Baby Powder, a product with one of the most recognisable scents in the world. Introduced in 1893 to soothe irritation on plastered skin, it was soon being used to help alleviate diaper rash too. The aroma of Johnson baby powder is so strongly connected to the image of a happy, clean baby that it is often identified as ‘the baby smell’. In fact, close to a decade ago, a baby products brand trying to enter India found this an impassable barrier and had to retreat – while young mothers liked their products and were happy with them, the grandmothers were rejecting them as ‘the baby didn’t smell like a baby anymore’. What the grannies were missing, in fact, was the smell of the Johnson’s baby powder on their precious grandchild, but their identification with it was so complete that it was ‘the baby smell’ to them.


fragrance - iconic products, some ingredients 2Scents are such powerful triggers to our emotions – thence to our loyalty, and commercially speaking, our purse-strings – that many iconic brands have kept the initially successful fragrance unchanged for decades or more. Examples of such instantly recognisable fragrances are Johnson’s Baby Powder, Pond’s Cold Cream, Dettol antiseptic liquid, Old Spice cologne, Pears soap etc.  Of course, a challenge faced by such brands is remaining contemporary and relevant to their audience while retaining the physical product attributes such as fragrance. But that’s another story, meant for another post altogether.

  • Zenobia Driver


July 7, 2016 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment

MR Muddles

Market research (MR) is always interesting, sometimes eye-opening, and occasionally vastly entertaining; it is a few of the entertaining situations observed by my friends and I that I am describing below.


Often people complain that market research is useless because people do not do what they say they will do. Quite true, and that is why observing and making inferences from actual behaviour in various environments is so critical.

Once though, we didn’t even need to enquire about a respondent’s past behaviour, or observe her daily routine and purchase pattern in order to spot the anomaly, it was quite evident during the interview itself.

This interview was being conducted to understand health – consciousness and related habits; it was being recorded on camera and we were watching it on a TV in another room. Right at the outset, the respondent claimed to be very health conscious and careful about what she ate, but she was more than a bit overweight, that gave us observers the first reason to doubt her claims. There was about 30-40 minutes of discussion around the work she does, where she shops, the kind of products she buys, etc. At some point, the young lady started feeling hungry, proclaimed that she’d had a very busy day, rummaged about in her handbag, took out a bar of chocolate and proceeded to eat the entire bar! Not five minutes after she had earnestly told the interviewer how she prefers to buy juice rather than aerated drinks for health reasons, and eats a lot of fresh fruit regularly! Yes Ma’am, we believe you.


Picture a focus group composed of middle-aged women, being conducted for a company marketing a regular consumer product  – say a soap, powder or detergent bar. At some point, the respondents are asked about the reasons for selection of a brand, how their preferred brand is better than other brands, do all members of the family use the same brand, what do the others like, etc. Then the discussion veers around to which brands the husbands like, product attributes that the husbands prefer, and how they influence their husbands. At this point, one woman throws a googly into the discussion that leaves the moderator and the observers totally stumped. She coyly explains, “main bachhon ko kisi aur ke ghar bhej deti hoon aur unhein ‘khush’ kar deti hoon” (“I send the kids out to someone else’s house and then make him ‘happy’”). Disclosing this to a group of strangers during a discussion on quite an unrelated topic, this woman was either more frank than the rest, or worked harder at influencing her husband!


And if you thought that only the respondents were entertaining, it’s not so, often one’s own colleagues prove themselves capable of providing dollops of entertainment too!

Market research with Mr. Maths; a young enthusiastic colleague, eager to use the Logic and Quant fundas obtained through years of rigorous study at a premier institution.

[A bit of background – The portion of the discussion described in the paragraph below pertained to understanding affordability and willingness to pay for a product. Now, research on price is complex and accurate answers cannot be obtained through a simple qualitative research alone. Most people find questions about the price they are willing to pay for a product difficult to answer, especially if it is a product they haven’t purchased before and hence lack a reference frame for thinking about.]

One of our respondents answered the questions put to him by Mr. Maths as best as he could, but his answers did not tally too well with his stated income. Our intelligent inquirer, on the other hand, would permit no falsehood and insisted on understanding how the respondent could afford to pay Rs. x as EMI when his annual income was actually ‘only’ Rs. y and expenses were as at least as high as Rs. z. Not a conversation anybody would enjoy, and understandably, our respondent’s temper began to rise and the tone of his answers grew sullen.

After a few minutes of this, the interpreter decided that he’d rather intervene now than be stuck in a police case later; he gently pulled young Mr. Maths aside and pointed out two salient facts – a) the respondent was known to be very hot-tempered and often got violent when annoyed and b) he was known to carry a weapon. Survival instinct trumped the urge for data-gathering and that interview came to an abrupt end.


Market research with Mr. Diligent:

Diligently covering every bullet point from the discussion guide, he asked a poor farm labourer whether he would like to improve his living conditions and quality of life; this, when they were standing in front of the labourer’s hut which had been battered by several monsoons and was visibly close to falling down, and the labourer’s several malnourished stick-thin children stood nearby. Unfortunately, Mr. Diligent also knew the local lingo so there wasn’t even a translator who could modify the question and make it less frustrating. The labourer, tired at the end of a hard day, decided that he had endured enough inanity for one evening. He pointed at his house behind him, said, “aankhen hain tho khud hi dekh lo” (“if you have eyes, then see for yourself”) and walked off muttering to himself, casting aspersions on both the young man’s education and his intellect.


And sometimes the research venue is entertaining enough.

For some product testing research in the South, the venue was the big hall of a Kalyana Mandapam (marriage hall). It was simply surreal – five sets of tables and chairs were set out in the hall, where various respondents sat trying out different products and giving their opinions about them. Beaming beatifically down on everyone as if blessing them were portraits of happily married couples, complete with big floral garlands; in between were scattered statues and sculptures of various gods and goddesses. Quite an auspicious venue for a research, wot!

And, of course, we had a stage, with an arch covered in plastic flowers – in case the product got a thumbs up from respondents, the company folk had the option of breaking into an impromptu victory jig, there was even a sound system available to provide musical accompaniment.


  • Zenobia Driver

(Disclaimer : This is not an entirely original post, some of these anecdotes were related to me by folk working at various companies)

August 21, 2012 at 6:05 am Leave a comment

Why Nuances Matter

The consumer may not always be logical, but understanding his/her thought process is critical to success. Consider an example.



Real Junior juices were launched in 2004 and were targeted at children under six. The juices came in a smaller size (125 ml; the school packs were 200 ml), 2 flavors – Mango and Apple, enriched with calcium, and promised low acidity. The vibrant packs with animated fruit characters were intended to appeal to children by highlighting the taste and nutrition of Real Junior. Despite the different marketing efforts and clear benefits for the children, the brand did not contribute much to the business and was pulled back from the market in 2006.


The reasons :

We think, back in 2004, the market was just not ripe for health foods. It is only recently that this health and wellness foods and beverages market has opened up so much because now people have gotten more aware of health problems and perhaps now would be the right time to launch such a product.

Also, during our research on the connection of health and wellness benefits from various products and formats, when asked about the connections they make of nutrients with their source, the consumers said, “Juice with calcium makes no sense, if a milk-based product made a calcium claim, it would be easier to believe”, “If this product had bananas or milk mentioned in it, it would be easier to associate with the calcium claim, juices are associated with vitamins.” In fact, it was after hearing this that we scoured the market landscape for examples of various products that claimed a health benefit from calcium fortification and found the Dabur Junior Juice example.

Lo and behold! Turned out that the nuance we picked up during the research was something that the brand team figured out in hindsight. Basis Sanjay Sharma, General Manager, Sales and Marketing, Dabur Foods, “The problem with Real Junior at the time of launch was more than one. First, it was promoted as a fruit juice rich in calcium, which did not sell. A fruit juice, is after all, a fruit juice, and branding it calcium-rich did not gel well.” (Source: interview given to Business Standard, in 2007)

There were other reasons for the failure too. Basis Sanjay Sharma, “Moreover, it was made available in tetra packs of 125 ml for Rs.10, because that was the quantity Dabur conceived children would be able to finish in one go. So, although the pack size was smaller, packaging costs did not come down and therefore a lower pricing did not bring in revenues. Moreover, other fruit-juices were also available for the same price and pack size, so people did not find much of a reason to switch to Real Junior.”


Looking ahead:

But the question to ask is whether Indian households are ready to buy separate products for different members of the household or would much rather prefer a common product that meets everyone’s needs.

In a recent study conducted about health foods and beverages, this is what we heard – “Unless there is something really specific in a product that is critical for the children only, we’d much rather buy a product that all the members in the family can consume”, “a common product helps us control our household expenses as well.”

If you look closely at the recent of Dabur Real ads – the key target are the children in the first and the entire family (child, mumma and dadoo) in the second – but the hook/ the first adopter of the product is the child.


So does Dabur really need to segment the market basis age groups or should it stick to its more successful strategy of segmenting basis benefits (Real Juice vs. Real Active)? What do you think? 



Roshni Jhaveri

March 7, 2012 at 6:40 am 4 comments

Manana is soon enough for me

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak – part 3

These were the questions we’d posed at the end of our first post in this series :

Why do most people fall short of their intentions? Do they try and then give up, or not even try? What do they do in order to stay healthy?

This post explores the answers to these questions.

Most people fall short of their intentions for one key reason –  ‘the man~ana factor’. ‘Man~ana’ is  Spanish for an indefinite time in the future, tomorrow or sometime later; ‘the man~ana factor’ is our term for procrastination, an attitude described with a lot of wit and a fair bit of accuracy in a popular song from decades ago with the refrain ‘man~ana is soon enough for me’.

While they are aware of long-term health problems and maintaining good health is important to them, most people don’t see it as a key problem for themselves; a previous post titled ‘everybody says I’m fine’ had described this attitude. Hence, while they intend to do something about it, it isn’t critical except when they are feeling unwell. As a respondent pithily expressed the fact that practising healthy habits is limited to when one feels unwell,“takleef gayi tho buri aadatein shuru”. Now add to this the fact that time is a commodity in short supply in everyone’s lives, and you know why intent doesn’t translate into action very often.

The people that do exercise regularly are of two types. One, those that are extremely health conscious or appearance conscious – this is the sliver of the population we’ve referred to in multiple posts (here and here). In addition, a chunk of this regularly exercising group is those that already have some health problem and need to manage it, for instance, those that have back pain and do yoga regularly, or those that have diabetes and walk every morning. Often, the shock of having and suffering from the ailment is the wake-up call that jolts them from a state of intent to one of action.

Women often exercise even less than men do;  one, the belief that housework itself constitutes sufficient exercise and two, a tendency to put anything related to themselves right at the bottom of their list of priorities. Even women that do take care of their health sometimes feel the need to rationalise it as necessary in order to ensure that they can take care of the rest of the family; as one woman expressed it, ‘agar tire hi achhi nahin hai, tho gaadi kaise chalegi?’ (‘if the tyres aren’t in good shape, how will the vehicle run?’). Yoga and walking are the preferred modes of exercise amongst women that do exercise regularly; one wonders whether the reason for the popularity of these two is that neither requires special equipment or surroundings, both of which would mean spending on themselves.

Women either wake up early to do yoga (we’ve actually met women that got up at 4 a.m. in order to do an hour of yoga before their daily chores begin!) or do it in the afternoon. Yes, the spurt in the number of yoga channels such as Baba Ramdev’s has added to the popularity of this mode of exercise. Walking is another popular method, though they often cheat their conscience by accepting hot weather / rainy weather / cold weather, in fact, anything less than perfect weather as an excuse for not stepping out. One exceptional lady we met in Bombay though, solved this problem by deciding not to travel via vehicle to any place that was within 2 hours of home – so she walked to the grocer, walked to work, walked to her children’s school, etc. and this kept her fit as a fiddle.

Given the lack of time to exercise, most people rely more on controlling their diet – or trying to – than on regular exercise. Most people, both men and women, believe that eating fresh home-cooked food is one of the best things to maintain good health; hence being on a healthy diet is something that is not too difficult, except for those that have a job that involves travel. Within this broad framework, housewives also recognise the need for some amount of control, so they try to moderate the amount of rice, sugar, oil, etc. they consume and use for cooking, and to increase the amount of green leafy vegetables and cereals consumed. Sometimes leading to frustrating results; as one lady told us, her husband complained about the amount of oil she used and its effects on his health, but when she made parathas with less oil, he refused to eat them as they weren’t tasty enough ! Her solution, to make the parathas with ‘enough’ oil and then dab them with a paper napkin before serving them so that no oil was visible !

Unlike the belief that they are getting a reasonably healthy diet, most people recognise that they are getting nowhere near the required amount of exercise. Concerns about this cause a heightened awareness of exercise solutions available, and probably an over-stated intention to exercise in order to stay healthy as seen in the survey.

Before ending this post, let me mention that while most people believe that their diet is reasonably healthy, they also believe that they need to tweak it slightly in order to address certain specific health issues. Understanding which health issues these are and creating offerings that address them has been the key to many a successful product launch in the past, and it is only this understanding which can lead to the high growth rates that have been estimated for this sector.


Zenobia Driver

February 7, 2012 at 6:18 am 2 comments

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak – Part 2

In our previous post , we spoke about the recent Nielsen Study that explored the health-conscious sliver of the population and some of their attitudes.

One thing that jumped out amongst the findings of this study was the difference in preference of method to lose weight between health-conscious Indians and westerners. The preferred method of losing weight globally (i.e. western countries) is through dieting while in India it is through exercising.

These results got me wondering — why is this the case? Even if, as mentioned in the last post, we interpret the survey results as a reflection of intent and not actual practice, one still wonders about the reason for the difference. Are these reflections of the social, cultural and economic conditioning of these populations? Or is this a reflection of the current market forces?

What do you think is the reason for this difference?

Do write in to us and share your views.

To be continued in the next post ….



Roshni Jhaveri

February 2, 2012 at 5:11 am 5 comments

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak

In this post a few weeks ago we had discussed how a large proportion of Indians felt that they were healthy and did not need to exert themselves to maintain their health over the long term. We also mentioned that there was a section of the population that was conscious and worried about their health and did various things to stay in good health.

An online Nielsen survey – recently mentioned in this article in the Mint – explored this health – conscious sliver of the population and some of their attitudes. Do click on the link and go through the article, it’s worth a read. Am reproducing a few paragraphs from the article below :

According to the study’s findings, almost 42% of Indian respondents considered themselves overweight. Most of them want to burn off the fat through exercise, rather than make changes to their diet to slim down. Of those trying to lose weight, 79% indicated they preferred to exercise rather than change their food habits. Those who would try the latter option also made up 65% of respondents.

Still, to say that Indians would exercise rather than diet to lose weight may be a bit of a stretch, said Ishi Khosla, a New Delhi-based health counsellor and nutritionist……“We claim and probably in our minds we think that we’d rather burn calories than opt for diets. It may not be a representative sample,” Khosla said.

Based on extensive qualitative research conducted over the past year, we’d tend towards agreeing with Ms. Khosla, in that the survey results probably reflect intention or occasional effort rather than actual regular practise. We’ve seen that most Indians are aware of the benefits of regular exercise and a healthy diet, are aware of different forms of exercise, of what goes into a healthy diet, and have every intention of exercising regularly and eating healthy food; however, only a minority actually end up doing so.

Why do most people fall short of their intentions? Do they try and then give up, or not even try? What do they do in order to stay healthy? Our next post will tell you more about this, so keep reading.



Zenobia D. Driver

January 27, 2012 at 7:44 am 4 comments

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