Transforming Market Research with Qualitative Consciousness in post-liberalization India w/ Dr. Meena Kaushik and Madhuri Karak

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Dr. Meena Kaushik takes us through her story from the revolutionary idea in the late 1970s of applying semiotics to brand and market research to founding Quantum, which today is a global enterprise research organization in seven countries, through how they have digitally adapted insights research in the face of COVID.

Meena Kaushik started her journey as an academic studying the symbolism of death rituals in Hinduism. She conducted extensive fieldwork amongst the Doms of Varanasi, a low caste community working in the city’s cremation grounds, for her Ph.D. in Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics.

She ventured into qualitative market research by accident and fell in love. Her training in ethnography deepened how consumer behaviour, consumer culture and consumer psyche were being understood in India in the mid to late 1980s.

A consulting stint with the Indian Market Research Bureau soon became a full fledged position and she helped found the qualitative division at MARG as a Director of Qualitative Research. Kaushik adapted anthropological methods, semiotics, and social psychology to qualitative market research problems in India, giving qualitative approaches a credibility they’d never had in the past.

In 1990 she founded Quantum Consumer Solutions with Srilekha Agarwal and Meera Vasudevan, Asia’s first purely qualitative research firm. Today Quantum has operations in seven countries with 220 employees.

TAL spoke to Dr. Kaushik about the birth of this new “qualitative consciousness” in post-liberalization India, and how to create value for qualitative insights in industries that have been traditionally dominated by numbers.

We dig into:

  • How she brought anthropologist and qualitative insights to market research in India
  • Fairness and Skin Lightening Creams: How interdisciplinary social science can get a company to reframe brands around empowerment
  • Acknowledge privileges, like the cultural preference for lighter skin, without ignoring or pandering to it
  • Why we should be talking about insights research rather than qualitative research, and how her company has adapted to digital ethnography and new forms of research since COVID rocked the world
  • Digital ethnography methods to create a “semiosphere” > a holistic view of how people make meaning in their lives
  • Advice for transitioning into market research, skills agencies look for
  • Adapting from research as an output to design strategy, offering solutions on top of research insights
  • Commodities and the crisis of meaning: Why it’s essential for brands to have higher meaning and purpose in the lives of consumers

TAL Correspondent and this episode's host: Madhuri Karak is Community Engagement Lead at Rare’s Center for Behavior & the Environment, managing a virtual learning platform for practitioners blending behavioral insights with design thinking to solve our biggest environmental challenges. She is currently a Mellon - American Council of Learned Societies Public Fellow and has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology. You can find more of her work here.

Organization: https://www.quantumcs.com

Interview w/Kaushik: https://wow.outlookbusiness.com/meena-kaushik/

Credits

Production: Madhuri Karak and Adam Gamwell

Music: Zanzibar - Jones Meadow, Epidemic Sounds

Art: Adam Gamwell

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