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#IIeX: Frugal by Necessity or by Choice


By Jeffrey Henning

Jasmeet Sethi, a regional manager of consumer insights for Ericsson, based in India, framed his presentation around a quote from Soumitra Dutta of Cornell University: “Innovation happens in two situations — either you’re desperate or you’re inspired!”

Jasmeet said, “This is very apt if you look at what we are doing today. We are all desperate to make an impact on our business.” Jasmeet decided to illustrate the quote by sharing a day in his life when he was doing field research in India and a day in his life with his nephew.

Innovate through desperation

Ericsson was running a series of focus groups with farmers in the south of India to better understand the impact of mobile phones and the Internet on them. These are rural settings, without focus group facilities, so in one village they arranged to hold the focus group in a classroom at a school. Of 8 participants who were invited, only 2 showed up. The research firm said that it was peak sowing season, making it hard for farmers to have the spare time to meet. Disappointment and desperation.

As Jasmeet was leaving the village, a priest struck up a conversation with him asking what he was doing; after a brief explanation, the priest invited Jasmeet to use the temple for the focus group. “We invited 8 people, and had 25 people turn up!” Jasmeet continued, “Why did more people turn up? When the research team recruited participants, the participants felt they could not say no to going to the temple, that would have been disrespectful. So now we know temples are the best place for focus groups!”

Consumers are innovating through desperation as well. In this village, they don’t have a constant power supply and when they do it is of inconsistent capacity. A 14-year old boy sells charging services for mobile phones, sells prepaid phones and has “batteries that people can hire.” It was over 100 degrees when Jasmeet was visiting, and the heat and inconsistent power were making his adapter overheat and his computer behave abnormally. His research supplier gave him a bottle of water, “ties the bottle of water to the adapter, and it bloody works!”

“These are examples of the ingenuity of our consumers in these markets, and we have to find our own ways. Let us do more with less.”

Innovate through choice

“Where do good ideas come from? Where do my ideas come from?” Today’s biggest superhero is Iron Man, but Jasmeet’s superhero is his 12-year old nephew. “His superpowers include: sniff food prepared miles away, see traffic jams two miles ahead and hear the falsehoods in the voice of people.” He recently took Jasmeet to an excellent restaurant neither had ever been to, warned him of a long traffic jam that would affect his schedule, and found a shopkeeper with a $50 lower price on the same merchandise. He did this all using apps that he had downloaded for his smart phone: a restaurant finder, a navigation app, and a shopping comparison app.

Jasmeet said of his nephew, “Here is a guy, an early adopter, let me capitalize on this opportunity.” So he asked his nephew “What is your experience with mobile internet?” His nephew than shared the question on WhatsApp with his friends. Jasmeet was so impressed by the results, that he decided to do a research project using WhatsApp. “This is where consumers are, can we be there?” he asked his research firm. “Can we do something with WhatsApp? Of course, when you go to the agency and tell them you want to do something like this, they say it is unprofessional, amateur, not methodical. But a week later they said ‘we will do this for you’. They realized there was an opportunity of being part of something new.”

Jasmeet said, “We took research to the cloud, reaching 50 people across India. We chose to be frugal by choice. They were able to share updates, what they were experiencing in the moment. Of course there are a lot of issues with this methodology but it works for us.” The research agency nows offers WhatsApp projects as a service.

Just innovate!

Jasmeet concluded by asking, “Have we forgotten how to innovate outside of our codified bast-practice models? We need to consistently innovate
and have some level of the frugality market mindset. Forget ‘Perform or perish!’ No, it’s ‘Innovate or abdicate!’ Innovate or give up — be frugal by choice or by necessity.”

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3 responses to “#IIeX: Frugal by Necessity or by Choice

  1. Love this article Sethi. I remember years ago working on a rice farmers study in India. Our consultant had planned a most amazing field census which we were going to use to map farming behaviour. Now Indian researchers are fantastic but they tend to overkill on things like sampling design and this was one example. When our company representative in the area found out about the design he suggested a smart alternative. All farmers return to the village early afternoon so he recommended using household sampling instead. Field sizes were so consistent that we hardly had to deal at all with any biases and we avoided the huge costs of interviewing out in field. A very smart localized solution. Inspiration not desperation!

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