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Research Insights for Marketers

“All about marketing in emerging markets.” That was the unwritten tagline of the Thought Leaders Conference on Managing Business and Innovation in Emerging Markets at the Indian School of Business over 26- 28 April, 2018.

What does the life cycle of international marketing joint ventures in emerging markets look like? Do digital businesses focus too much on customer acquisition, at the expense of customer engagement? What are the key insights on mobile telephony pricing in emerging markets? How does grassroots innovation spread? How should marketing managers think about product innovations for low income consumers in emerging markets?

The Thought Leaders Conference on Managing Business and Innovation in Emerging Markets was held at the Indian School of Business over 26- 28 April, 2018. “All about marketing in emerging markets” was its unwritten tagline. It included almost 40 plenary and parallel sessions, over 100 papers, and countless conversations. The themes? From product and brand management, social and digital media marketing, customer engagement, consumer behaviour, customer relationship to retailing, and more.

Among the presenters was a galaxy of thought leaders in the Marketing area – researchers, editors and practitioners. ISB Dean and Novartis Professor of Marketing Strategy and Innovation Rajendra Srivastava presided over the first plenary. Industry speakers from T-Hub, Amazon India and Dr Reddy’s helped sharpen the focus on practitioner concerns. Sameer Khetarpal of Amazon likened the current state of e-commerce in India to a world war. He argued that India is leapfrogging from informal retail to digital retail.

If the first plenary set the tone for sessions to follow, the second Editor’s Plenary linked these priorities to marketing research. V Kumar, Editor of the Journal of Marketing, explained the importance of the conference to research agendas. Of the 100 or so papers, about eight to ten would find their way into the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences (JAMS), one of the preeminent arbiters of research in the field. Rob Palmatier, Editor of JAMS, brought the research-practice interface into renewed focus. Research published in JAMS, he said, had to go beyond high empirical and theoretical quality. It also needs to be managerially relevant.

The key insights for marketing managers? Kumar highlighted the outcomes of a transformational marketing function for consumers. These encompassed personalised content, customisable offerings and higher efficiency.

If praxis was one axis that shaped debates at the event, the emerging markets context was the other. As Kumar suggested in his opening remarks, many of the visitors were at the conference to learn more about the Indian marketing landscape. Their curiosity was more than rewarded by the nuggets of insight scattered through the presentations. Piyush Sharma highlighted the Amazon-Flipkart rivalry. Shaphali Gupta argued that bottom-of-the pyramid consumers offer opportunities galore. And Dean Srivastava threw down the gauntlet. “If companies wait and don’t enter emerging markets, then it’s a risk of not taking the risk”, he stated.

One of the most important contributions of a gathering such as this? Setting the agenda for the future. Kumar listed the priorities for marketing research in years to come. The three major themes that drove the most interest? Mobile wallets, base of the pyramid consumers, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects in India. Watch out for more on these topics at next year’s edition of the conference.

With inputs from Jayant Nasa of the Fellow Programme in Management at ISB and Saichand C, a Research Associate at ISB.

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