Eric Salama is the CEO of Kantar, WPP’s data investment management division with more than 30 thousand employees and more than $4bn in revenues. Kantar has a mix of global and local clients, working on everything from innovation and new product development to optimisation of marketing spend, customer satisfaction, cultural insights, trends, brand health, cross media measurement, ROI, marketing strategy. Kantar’s brands include Kantar Consulting, Kantar Health, Kantar IMRB, Kantar Media, Kantar Millward Brown, Kantar Public, Kantar TNS, Kantar Worldpanel and Lightspeed.

Previously, Eric was a Main Board Director of WPP Group responsible for strategy and digital and MD of the Henley Centre and a researcher and speechwriter to The Labour Party Foreign Affairs Team in the House of Commons.

Eric has a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Trinity College Oxford and an MSc with distinction in Economics from Birkbeck College London. He is a Governor of Birkbeck College and was previously a non-executive director at DFID (the UK Government’s Department for International Development) and a former Trustee of The British Museum.

Earlier in September, Eric made a business visit to Bangladesh. During the visit, Eric sat for an exclusive interview with Bangladesh Brand Forum, excerpts of which are following.

Bangladesh Brand Forum: How has your Bangladesh experience been?
Eric Salama: It’s my first visit here in Bangladesh. Two of my previous visits got cancelled due to different reasons. We have a lot of more clients now who are talking about Bangladesh. Not just as a future opportunity, but as a present big market for them. Two of our biggest clients in the world now have Bangladesh as one of their primary growth drivers. So, Bangladesh has got huge importance for some of our clients. The population is very young and there’s a lot more women in the labor force which makes it even more important for us.

I visited some supermarkets and wet markets. I visited three different homes to understand how people are living, looked inside their fridges to see what they buy. Very few brands were there in the fridge. Most of the food items were home-cooked or bought from local market. I’m not suddenly a Bangladesh expert but it’s important to try and get some insight – curiosity goes a long way!

And the food has been to die for! I could live off the desserts.

Kantar has been ranked as number one in GRIT’s most innovative research companies list. What made Kantar stand out?
Two years ago we took away all of our internal silos and rebranded everything as ‘Kantar something’. People get to see a lot more of our works as it’s now all under the Kantar brand. We put a lot more focus on delivering innovation to our clients. And that’s in everything from new areas like e-commerce and analytics to make all of our works much more real-time and predictive – to how we use social media data to make our tracking more real time – to how we use technology platform for our clients to do more self-service – to how we use technology partners in order to really enable them to get real time customer satisfaction. We practiced innovation in combining media data with purchase data to understand ROI. We are spending a lot of time on that and making sure that we roll that out to clients around the world.

For our clients, it’s a very tough environment. They want to know that they are partnering with companies who really are going to help them navigate what is a much more complex environment. So, innovation is really at the heart of what we need to be able to do. Clients can’t and don’t want to adopt all new things, they rely on us to edit the useful from the interesting and to help them embed new approaches into existing ones.

How would you define innovation for research companies?
In two ways – one is doing what we do in a way which is faster or cheaper or better. For example, we use technology so we can test advertising in a day, rather than in three weeks; it’s cheaper and faster. Second is being able to do things we couldn’t do before. For example, understanding the impact of advertising on Facebook, which we couldn’t do before, can now be determined by combining lots of things. Taking our segmentation studies and working with media agencies we can now advise our clients on how to buy media more effectively or plan media better. That is something we weren’t doing before. So, I think it’s a combination of both.

Do you think research companies in South Asia are keeping up with global practices?
I think there are varieties all around the world. If you take digital, it varies across Asia, even within South Asia. China is very advanced from an e-commerce point of view. In South Asia, India has gotten more digital smartphone penetration than Bangladesh. However, if you look at Bangladesh’s social media penetration and active participation, it’s well advanced. So, it varies.

Bangladesh and South Asia will evolve quickly from a digital point of view and will make much greater use of smartphones even within poorer more rural communities. But it will continue to be more of a mixed face to face and mobile market than some other countries. And data quality will be more of an issue than in other parts of the world. We need to have shorter more engaging surveys and a bigger emphasis on data quality.

What are some of the global trends in the research industry?
If you look across the world, growth has become very difficult for big companies. Local companies are growing faster than multinational companies. That’s partly because of their approach in innovation, agility and speed. For multinationals, research companies are trying to figure out different ways so that they can compete more effectively. And unquestionably, digital is becoming important everywhere. Some are starting from a lower base, some from higher. But the trend has started and it will be there.

Tell us about your plans for Kantar’s operation in Bangladesh.
Our aim is to get the best of Kantar to all of our clients. We have got a good insights business in Bangladesh. We will be launching Kantar World Panel at the end of this year, to really look at the purchase behavior in a better way and increase the quality of that. We will be launching Kantar Public next year, which works with governments and NGOs on social research issues. We will accelerate our investment in the market.

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