Nielsen Next

For Mainak Mazumdar, Data Is the People Behind It

<!–tasks—from–>”We measure everything.”

It doesn’t get more comprehensive than that. But that’s how Mainak Mazumdar, our Chief Research Officer for media measurement, sees Nielsen’s role in the market—one characterized by myriad options and seemingly endless variety when it comes to media consumption.

Of course, that role has grown dramatically from when we started more than 90 years ago. Video and audio options have splintered across devices, giving consumers multiple ways to watch, stream and share digital content. While these changes present significant challenges for both Nielsen and our clients, Mainak and his team of more than 300 data scientists approach each new device as an opportunity to do what they do best—deliver cross-platform, representative media measurement in a way that is accurate, timely and useful to clients.

To do so, Mainak has set his team to cracking the codes hidden within the data, unearthing interesting patterns and data points. It’s these “outliers,” as Mainak calls them, that can significantly affect a client’s ability to make accurate predictions.

“Outliers are those use cases that are most interesting—the ones that actually tell you more than the mean,” explains Mainak. “So we are always looking for outlier cases or use cases that we could study, and that actually helps us to prepare for the future.”

The key to unlocking these outliers? For Mainak, it’s simple: Keep the people at the forefront.

The People Behind the Data

With an aura of zen that comes out any time he speaks, Mainak’s approach to data might surprise you. The main focus of his high-level mindset isn’t even necessarily about data.

“We are relentlessly focused on studying people,” he says. “We are not studying machines. We are not studying your cell phone or your television. … We collect data from them, but we are interested in understanding how a person, or a household, or a society, or region, or ethnicity, interacts with media. What do you consume? How often? Whom are you consuming with? And how are you reacting to the media? These are pretty important, big principles upon which our measurement framework is built.”

“We are relentlessly focused on studying people. … These are big principles upon which our measurement framework is built.”

An avid reader of poetry and literature, Mainak breaks the mold of the expected data guy by bringing his creative side into it. To effectively measure humans and the trail of data they leave behind, you need both sides of the brain, according to Mainak. And much like poetry, data has patterns, rhythms and structures that can make or break its quality.

In Search of Outliers

Social media is a prime example of where Mainak and his team’s eagle-eyed focus has been able to unlock patterns within the data to predict trends before they happen.

“If you look at the evolution of social media as a category, we have been studying that for the last 10 years. And we have actually predicted pretty well how it’s going to influence and evolve, and how, as a society and consumers, we’re going to embrace it.”

But knowing where the social media landscape is heading isn’t something that comes strictly from looking at data. Just like the people that use those networks, it’s about understanding the platforms, differentiating features and demographics that help make them up.

“When I’m not working, I spend a lot of time on social media, especially Twitter, and I try to consume as much as I can,” says Mainak. “And I do that because it gives me insights into where the media business is moving, and how we could prepare. This allows me to understand how people are consuming media—so when we are designing our measurement systems and processes in terms of the panel and methodologies, we are better prepared.”

“I spend a lot of time on social media. It gives me insights into where the media business is moving and how we could prepare.”

That clarity has led to some massive developments in how we use those social networks to adapt our models and our expand capabilities. Mainak was heavily involved in the implementation of our Digital Ad Ratings, “integrating our national TV panel with U.S. Census data and Facebook profiles,” as he explains it. “That’s some pretty seminal work, and, from a data science perspective, it opened up a lot of opportunities.”

So while many might think that algorithms and automation will be the lynchpins to success in a future where technology and data prevail, Mainak is keeping people at the heart of the data.

“The more technology becomes all-pervasive in our lives, the more important human judgment is. And I think that’s where a true data scientist can bring both. Yes, we work with a vast, massive amount of data and glean information from it, but we also bring human judgment and interpretation and make sure we’re giving the right insights.”


* Nielsen Total Audience Report, Q3 2016



For Yana Salimova, Data Science Is the Heart of Measurement in Russia

Can you imagine riding a bus long distances and then having to walk even further in freezing temperatures just to do your job? For members of our field team in Russia, this is a regular reality as they gather data from remote stores across the country. They literally go the distance to provide our comprehensive measurement.

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Yana Salimova, Operations Leader in Russia, understands these realities well. In her role, Yana works with associates in the field as well as those across our operations team to collect, produce and deliver our services to clients.

“Russia is a very diverse market. We have modern, developed trade, such as supermarkets and hypermarkets, in big cities, and at the same time, we have small, traditional trade kiosks in little rural villages,” Yana explains. “We measure both modern and traditional trade.”

However, Russia’s modern and traditional trade are evolving. Internet use is rapidly increasing, opening the doors to new data for retailers and brands. As a result, Yana and her team are adapting how we measure. Fortunately, Nielsen’s presence in more than 100 countries around the world has given them some valuable insights.

“In emerging markets, big data is still a new concept. We have experience from developed markets to help companies analyze their data.”

“In emerging markets, big data is still a new concept. Increasing internet penetration helps them to gather better data, but not everybody knows how to use it,” says Yana. “And here, Nielsen can help. We have experience from developed markets to help companies analyze their data.”

Luckily, Yana thrives on change. She’s been with Nielsen for over a decade. And it’s the constant need to continue innovating—whether she’s using solutions developed from learnings abroad or creating something new to solve a challenge unique to her market—to meet our clients’ diverse needs that keeps her excited.

“I love Nielsen because Nielsen loves me back. In my 10 years at Nielsen, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to work in different areas and to learn something new every day,” says Yana. “Nielsen gives me the opportunity to work with people around the globe and to learn about different cultures.”

Navigating the Russian Retail Landscape

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Collecting data across a country as big as Russia requires an equally large field force within our data acquisition department. Nearly 1,000 employees work in nearly every single area in Russia—from big cities like Moscow to rural villages—to gather data on the shopping habits of the Russian consumer.

Some might question the literal lengths our field team goes to when collecting data. But while measuring trends in remote rural areas can be difficult and take time, it provides our clients with crucial knowledge to understand where to put their products and how to price them.

“Our field team does a great job to persuade these stores to cooperate and to let our people in the stores to collect the data,” Yana notes. “Then, we can collect the data either from a big supermarket or from a small kiosk in the village.”

One thing that has helped the field team develop into a measurement powerhouse able to track shopping habits across Russia’s diverse retail landscape: experience.

“There are a lot of people who have been with Nielsen 10 or even 20 years, and they spend all that time collecting data,” Yana explains. “They’ve built really good relationships with the stores. We have some stores that have been in our panel for years.”

Innovating for the Future

These powerful and long-lasting relationships underpin the quality and strength of our data. However, new innovations are helping us continue to provide the most comprehensive measurement for our clients. And it’s our data science team that’s hard at work developing the technologies to better measure both modern and traditional trade.

One way we’re improving our traditional trend measurements is with a newly deployed quality control tower. This tool allows us to see the field team in real time on a map and send them messages back and forth using the same online tool. This improves quality and speed of delivery for our traditional trade measurement.

“Innovation is the best thing to do. It’s exciting to work on new things and create new products.”

“Innovation is the best thing to do,” Yana says. “It’s true not only for me, but for other Nielsen employees, as well. It’s exciting to work on new things and create new products. In other roles, you don’t always see the results of your labors, but innovation does.”

For Yana, these innovations put data science at the heart of Nielsen’s business. It’s data science that combines different sources of information to find new insights for our clients as today’s retail landscape continues to evolve.

“In Russia, we are not yet using a lot of big data—we are just scratching the surface—but it already helps our clients,” Yana shares. “We had a pilot study with a Russian technology company to target ads to small areas within the cities. We helped our client to grow their share in the city.”

Finding Success Through the Unexpected

While many wouldn’t expect an operations team to work closely with clients, Yana believes it’s crucial to her team’s success. Good innovations solve problems, and understanding the challenge is the first step. Working directly with clients also allows her team to see the value in what they do.

“The only way to understand if you’re doing good work is to hear the feedback from our clients.”

“The only way to understand if you’re doing good work is to hear the feedback from our clients,” explains Yana. “At Nielsen, great ideas are coming from both our clients and our team members. When you understand client needs, you understand the context, you understand what sources of information we have. You can combine it all and bring something new to our clients.”

While Yana’s passionate about innovation and technology, as well as her clients, her personal key to success is to unplug.

“I really like to get disconnected from mobile and internet and just spend time in the high mountains breathing the fresh air, with no people and no technology around me,” Yana shares. “It’s the only way for me to recharge the batteries and go reenergized to the office.”