IBHADE INEGBENEKALO is the Managing Director, Market Trends International, one of the pioneer market and social research agencies in Africa. He takes a look at the changes on the methologies of doing research in this interview with Research Intelligence.
First of all I will like to know your area of specialization as a company?
Market Trend International is a full service market research organization. We have the capability to carry out any form of marketing and social research having been in operation for the past 32 years. The company as a matter of fact, was established in 1986 and since then it has been rendering professional services to both local and international clients. We specialize in both qualitative and quantitative market research using state-of-the-art technology. Market Trends International belongs to key international and local bodies such as ESOMAR, AMRA, AMA, NIMRA and MSPA. Presently, Market Trends International is the official representative of Gallup International in sub-Saharan Africa. So, we are well grounded in all areas of marketing and social research.
How has the marketing research industry in Nigeria evolved over the years?
Marketing research industry in Nigeria has had series of transformations. In the past decade, the game has completely changed because years back (I am talking about in the 70s and in the 80s) research was purely done manually with crude implements, such as manual typewriter. Manual typewriter was used for typing study instruments, proposals and reports. Pen and paper was the only means of administering questionnaires and the responses were manually collated, tallied, tabulated and analyzed.
The frequency, percentages and statistical analyses were manually done. You could imagine the time and error margin if an organization is carrying out a survey of 10,000 interviews with manual operations from fieldwork to report writing. If you want to do any statistical analysis like chi-square, test of significance, analysis of variance, the organization has to look for a professional statistician if it cannot afford to hire the services of an in-house resource statistician. In the process, human errors could be introduced; but with the advent of technology, the game has changed drastically. Today, things are done faster, cost effective and enhance quality deliverable.
At Market Trends International, 95% of all of our surveys are done electronically by using electronic devices (tablet, smart phone and laptop) to conduct interviews. Once fieldwork is completed the data will automatically ready because every completed interview that is uploaded will be stored in the central server. The software (survey-to-go, n-field and checker) we use have in-built quality controls that capture GPS coordinate indicating actual location and household where the interview was conducted. The GPS coordinate will indicate where the interview was done and the particular person interviewed whether the sampling gap, household selection and respondent selection were observed without being present in field. The software also captures voice recording of some sessions of the interview unknowing to the interviewer and the respondent. A team of IT experts can then play back the audio recordings to revalidate the interviews- whether the questions were properly asked or not. It also has time stamp. What that one means is that for each session of the questionnaire, there is a time bound. For instance, if the section is expected to last for 5 minutes and is done for less than 5 minutes such interview will be canceled because the interviewer may not have accurately asked all the questions.
Client can see the data live even in their office using the access code. They can provide feedback on the uploaded interviews as field work progresses. The software helps us to monitor interviewers in field and to track their daily performance because each interviewer will have access code and that is the code they will use throughout the duration of the study. Unlike pen and paper interview, you can monitor more than one person at a time. Another latest technology we use at Market Trends international is Checker software. With checker software, the whole processes of survey can be automated from scripting of questionnaire, data collection and report writing. For example, we did a survey recently that was over 10,000 sample size, 40 FGDs and 60 IDIs and I told the client when we went for presentation that we shall spend 28 days to complete the study. He was shocked and asked me if I was a magician. I said no, the era of using manual implement has gone; with the latest technology we use at Market Trends which is used globally you can turn around study within a short period. Latest technologies also paved way for online survey, SMS survey, email survey and web-based survey.
Another innovative technology for qualitative study is the online live streaming which enables client to view Focus Group Discussion and central location interviews live at the comfort of their office, home, car and on transit. If FGD is going on here in Nigeria, a client in Europe or America can view the group session live and if they want to make any input they can send a text message to the moderator. Market Trends International is one of the few companies that offer this type of service in Nigeria.
Looking at the industry-wise, there were handful of marketing research agencies in Nigeria in the 80s and 90s. Early 2000 experienced emergence of many players particularly in the field of data collection. In recent time, many research agencies are out of business because of stiff competition and slow growth of the economy. The industry is again returning to the status quo where the big players only exist.
Is it time to say good bye to pen and paper interview?
Yes, it is time to say good bye to pen and paper interview. Now, hardly would a client ask for quote for a job using pen and paper. This is one of the reasons why many small research agencies in Nigeria have folded up or battling to survive because they could not afford the devices and software needed for electronic data collection.
In what way can market research in Africa help investors in understanding consumer behaviors and attitude?
That’s an interesting question. Consumers being what they are switch consumption of products as a result of change in taste and preference. No matter how good a product is, over time there will be change in consumers’ taste and preference as a result of new brands, new products or new variants that are introduced into the market. For example, those days Macleans was the most popular toothpaste used in many homes. Even up until now, if I want to buy a brand of toothpaste, what comes to my mind first is Macleans when in the real sense I want to buy another brand because it has been a household name for toothpaste. That was the brand my parents were using and I grew up using it, but over time, there was changed in taste and preference with emergence of Close-Up, Colgate, Aqua Fresh and the rest of them. Marketing research helps manufacturers and investors to generate actionable data which they use for re-branding and repositioning their products.
The whole essence of marketing research is to provide solutions to marketing, social and environmental issues. Marketing research helps investors to ascertain the factors that drive consumers’ buying behavior, consumers’ habit, attitudes and usage of products, price consumers are willing to pay, consumers’ satisfaction, brand health and competitive analysis. For each product category you are looking at, there are factors that influence their buying behaviors. It also helps to do competitive analysis by examining the strength and weaknesses of competitive products or carry out SWOT analysis to identify the product’s strength, weakness, opportunity and threat.
Marketing research also helps to segment the markets and identify new markets for a product. Over reliance on residual knowledge kills a brand faster than you could imagine. A well conducted research will unveil the locations with high market potential and demand for a product. Apart from geographical coverage, profiling of consumers can be used to meet the needs of some demographics that might have been left out. For instance, low sugar products emerged to meet the needs of people who do not consume much sugar. But the same product could have another variant that has high sugar particularly to target children and youth markets.
Marketing research can help to bridge the gap in consumption of some products by introducing different SKUs to serve different markets. Low income earners may not be financially buoyant to buy big SKU, but they have need for the product. The manufacturer can then come up with smaller SKUs to fill the identified gap in the market.
In a nutshell, the roles of marketing research are immeasurable as it cuts across government, industry and individuals. It is a pivotal of any marketing initiative.
The market research in Africa is growing but it contributes less than 3% of the global research business, how can we change this story?
Yes, it’s not a good story. It’s a fact though the marketing research in Africa is growing but it contributes less than 3% globally because Africa indigenous companies do not seem to appreciate the importance of marketing research. Only the big companies like multinational, NGOs that commission market research studies and in most times, these studies are commissioned to foreign market research agencies. It is only few indigenous companies in Nigeria that occasionally commission research studies. I think the problem is that of awareness and culture of over reliance on residual knowledge. Manufacturers take advantage of mass market to neglect market research because they believe whatever quantities that are produced will be sold. It is not like that in more developed countries of the world. For companies to maintain brand health of their products they need to continuously generate information about that product. In Western countries, governments don’t come up with policies without doing opinion poll and it’s the data they generate that guides their policies and that’s why most times their policies are better than the ones you can find in any African country. I will also say that slow economic growth is an issue because nobody wants to part with money. The question is always, why will I invest heavily on marketing research when I can simply advertise the product to create awareness and stimulate demand? The government is not encouraging the growth of marketing research in Nigeria and other African countries. Government in African countries hardly commission market research studies in formulating policies or to understand the burning needs of the people they govern. The few studies done by government are usually commissioned to foreign market research agencies that will now sub-contract the data collection to local market research agencies.
The theme of the AMRA conference is Building Tomorrow: Africa Leading. What are the things you need to put into perspective if you want to use market research to promote a formidable African economy?
Yes, many things need to be put in place. First and foremost, the research practitioners themselves have to prepare for tomorrow because a good product sells itself. There are so many marketing research agencies in Africa that are operating below what is obtainable in western world and if we are talking about building tomorrow then market research practitioners should be ready to invest in human capital and technology. In today marketing research world, many companies still believe in pen and paper method of data collection because they believe that to buy software and pay the IT staff will cost a lot of money, but on the long run it pays off for us to reposition and build the industry for a better tomorrow. There is a need for continuous training of manpower from top to the bottom. You will agree with me, taking the banking industry in Nigeria as a case study, from the top management to the least staff they have regular training for them either locally or in abroad. That is why they can easily adapt to the global practice. But in market research the reverse is the case. There are some senior management staffers that have not gone for a major training or seminar since they were junior research executive. This is one of the reasons why some of them cannot effectively and efficiently manage their organization because you cannot give what you don’t have. In the industry where we find ourselves, things change every day and tomorrow companies should be ready to align their human resources to what is happening globally to remain relevance and competitive. The training should cut across all levels of management to fully take advantage of the technological advancement.
Marketing research association in Nigeria and some African countries are not well recognized like other professional bodies. Advertising practitioner of Nigeria, for example, is well recognized and the industry can be easily regulated. Only few countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, etc that have formidable marketing research association. NIMRA for example, do not have Chartered status; which is a major set-back for the industry because it is very difficult to regulate its operations. It is paramount for marketing research association to obtain chartered status for it to be recognized by government and restrict influx of new entrants.
Marketing research associations should also organize periodic training programs for research practitioners and clients. This will enlighten clients on the importance of marketing research in managing their products and mapping out marketing strategies. Research Managers from client side that attend such training will always go back to their companies to recommend the services of market research to their management. This will tremendously grow the industry.
What are the things you want to take out from the AMRA event apart from paper presentation?
What I want to take out from AMRA event apart from paper presentation, is that they should make the presentation materials available online so that registered members can have access to all the materials presented online and the details of the presenter should also be showcased for people to make further enquire about the paper presented. It should provide opportunity for networking among the participants.
So finally what are the factors stalling market research development in Africa?
I have said that over and over. One of the factors that make the industry not to grow is lack of awareness of importance of marketing research. Local companies don’t have the culture of conducting marketing research studies as part of their decision making processes. They believe in residual knowledge.
Another factor that stalled market research development in Africa is slow growth of the economy. Many local companies are finding it difficult to cope with the high cost of operations. Companies would like to cut down on marketing cost since they have little control over production cost.
Lack of fund also limits the growth of market research industry in Africa. Many companies are struggling to survive. As you may know, market research service is expensive. It is almost impracticable to persuade a dying company to part with huge sum of money to finance market research study.
Lack of industry regulation affects growth of market research industry in Africa. Some companies might have had bad experiences with sub-standard market research agencies that do not believe in the professional ethics of the business. In a regulated industry, there are set standards of operations that limit the number of players.
Companies must have value for their investment in market research. The era of what I called “surface analysis” of just showing figures and percentages have gone. In-depth analysis and marketing insights should be drawn up to help investors solve their marketing and managerial problems. Until clients begin to see market research findings as Pastors see Bible, the industry will continue to experience epileptic growth. A pastor going to church cannot do without bible. Industry players must build clients’ confidence on the data and research findings to a point that they would continuously consult the report to address their marketing needs or solve a given problem.